With legacy technologies like 2G still important to many, Samsung announces a virtualized 2G solution for mobile operators; Samsung expands its cloud-native vRAN portfolio, enabling operators to host multiple network tech generations in a single platform By Kiho Cho, Vice President and Head of Product Strategy at Samsung Networks.
We have lived through 2G, 3G and 4G—and now we are in the era of fifth generation cellular network technology: 5G. But, even as 5G networks make an incredible impact around the world, we can’t just switch off earlier network generations and walk away. The logical inclination is to let them fade in and fade out, offering a gradual, seamless transition from one network to the next, which could take over a decade.
However, some network generations continue to deliver key benefits far into the future. For instance, while mobile operators are gradually phasing out its 2G and 3G technologies, some operators—including European operators—still use 2G, with plans to leverage it beyond 2030, as it is the foundation for existing network technologies and basic cellular services.
Launched in the 1990s, 2G is still one of the most successful network technologies, representing a common layer of coverage and offering reliable services. In parts of the world, 2G is valued as one of the most important network technologies for Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications, Internet of Small Things (IoST)—which supports miniaturized components for devices including wearables—and voice communications for roaming services. While most of the operators are in the process of sunsetting 2G and 3G, some have kept GSM 2G, largely to support legacy M2M and IoST deployments that are used for supply chain logistics, vehicle tracking and smart meters. For example, vehicle tracking powered by 2G, enables rental car companies to keep track of the locations and movements of vehicles within their fleet, using an installed GPS device. Moreover, there are still mobile subscribers who rely on 2G for voice communications, especially in rural or remote areas in Europe.
Additionally, in other parts of the world, mainly developing countries, a lack of physical infrastructure has limited the reach of 4G and 5G services. With many subscribers still relying on a 2G network, it is important to bridge this digital divide by ensuring that those using a prior generation network are not left behind.
While GSM 2G is still the backbone of voice and IoT services in some parts of world, and 4G is widely used for data services, 3G is fading out relatively faster. Considering market demands, Samsung is focusing its development efforts in the virtualization of 2G and 4G.
Why virtualization is the key
Samsung continues to actively seek ways to help operators deploy 2G in the most efficient manner. The key to this effort is virtualization.
Today, Samsung announced it is gearing up to introduce a virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) architecture for 2G based on GSM. Once 2G vRAN is in the field, operators can leverage our solution for a seamless migration path—moving from a complex mix of 2G, 4G and 5G to a simple and unified overarching network architecture. Samsung will introduce its 2G vRAN solution in late 2022, beginning trials in the second half of 2022 and start delivering 2G vRAN solutions (including software and radio hardware) to global operators in 2023, including Tier One operators in Europe.
Virtualization of 2G will be an effective way for operators and enterprises looking to leverage this legacy technology, enabling operators to maintain 2G with more efficiency in deployment and management. It is also an optimal option for markets that are not ready for 4G or 5G, but still want to modernize networks and future-proof their technology investments.
Available for over three decades, most of the 2G network infrastructure is reaching the end of its life cycle. Legacy 2G network solutions are often outdated and take up too much physical space, with lower operational efficiency. By replacing traditional hardware-based 2G network equipment with a software-centric approach, operators can benefit from site simplification, centralized management, deployment efficiency and cost savings.
Virtualization also aids in ensuring a smooth migration path to more advanced network technologies. When the time arrives that traffic diverts away from 2G, operators can phase it out, making room for and allocating resources to newer technologies. This can be easily done with a vRAN architecture, which can turn 2G on or off at any time—and use freed up server capacity for 4G and 5G traffic, rather than having to physically remove hardware infrastructure from cell sites.
Overall, a software-centric approach is a better way of optimizing 2G, helping to simplify physical and logical architecture, enabling more flexible deployments and management efficiencies. In addition to architectural advantages, there are energy consumption benefits. Operators can save energy costs through centralization of servers or optimization of resources, simply by turning off features that are not in use anymore.
Delivering through experience
As the global leader in vRAN, Samsung is committed to delivering on the benefits of vRAN in any network scenario. With large-scale 5G vRAN commercial deployment experience with Tier One operators in North America, Europe and Asia, Samsung’s vRAN delivers on the software-centric proposition, bringing high performance, reliability and agility and proven capacity for operators.
Samsung’s fully virtualized 5G vRAN splits the baseband functions into a disaggregated virtualized Distributed Unit (vDU) and virtualized Central Unit (vCU). This separates the RAN software from customized hardware, enabling the software to run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers.
vCU processes non-real-time portion of the baseband while vDU processes real-time portion of the baseband. Simply put, Samsung is offering both vDU and vCU software, and this has been the key driver of Samsung’s competitive advantage in vRAN.
While Samsung commercialized its vCU as early as 2019, we commercialized our fully virtualized, 100 percent software-based 5G vRAN in 2020, adding a vDU to its vCU so the entire baseband is virtualized. Based on this architecture, Samsung’s 5G vRAN is currently servicing millions of users in the U.S., including in C-band, which is a prime mid-band spectrum. With proven reliability and performance of its 5G vDU, Samsung has expanded its collaboration with operators in Japan and the U.K. to support their rollout of virtualized networks.
With extensive experience in 5G vRAN, Samsung is equipped to expand its virtualization capabilities to 2G and 4G, and gearing up to help operators leverage this technology. With our expanded virtualization solutions portfolio, Samsung delivers a diverse set of options, supporting operators with a smooth migration path and empowering them through network innovation.