Japanese telecom giant NTT Docomo broke new ground this week at MWC Las Vegas by deploying the first 5G network to use graphics processing unit-accelerated wireless technology in a commercial setting.
The deployment is the product of collaboration under the 5G Open RAN Ecosystem Experience, or OREX, service brand, combining the efforts of 13 tech companies, including Nvidia Corp., Fujitsu Global and Wind River Systems Inc.
The companies are addressing various challenges related to the integration, interoperability, performance and operational complexity of Open RAN, which stands for Open Radio Access Network. This is significant because Open RAN allows multiple vendors to interoperate, breaking the hold of traditional single-vendor setups. Different companies can work together when deploying wireless networks instead of just one company controlling everything. This vendor lock-in has been common in telecom for years and has driven up operational costs and arguably slowed down innovation.
The newly implemented network in Japan incorporates a high-performance 5G virtual RAN, or vRAN, developed by Fujitsu, built on Nvidia’s Aerial 5G vRAN stack and converged accelerators. The network is entirely defined by software and cloud so that operators can match their resources with the data traffic of mobile users — something that was hard to achieve with older fixed network setups.
Additionally, the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning facilitates automatic network slicing, enhancing service quality, resource control and user experience. Forthcoming systems can automatically adjust in real time using AI based on user traffic conditions. These advancements, mainly in automating tasks, will be made through updates to the software, Masaki Taniguchi, senior vice president and head of Fujitsu’s Mobile Systems Business Unit, explained during a pre-briefing announcing the 5G network launch.
Adding accelerators like GPUs to wireless networks has other benefits as well. NTT Docomo says it can reduce total costs by up to 30% and network design utilization by 50%. On top of that, it can improve both power consumption and power efficiency, similar to building a car that uses half the fuel but still delivers high performance.
“We are not only continuously innovating this breed of software but also building technology for the entire network using high-efficiency wireless products,” said Taniguchi. “This will allow us to reduce power consumption by more than 50% compared with current RAN products.”
As for Nvidia, its Aerial platform is designed for software-defined, GPU-accelerated, cloud-native 5G networks. Its versatility supports GPU acceleration of the 5G stack, and it can be used for only physical layer 1 or the full stack over time, enhancing additional functions with tech partners like Fujitsu, according to Ronnie Vasishta, senior vice president of telecom at Nvidia. This will make it possible to run both vRAN applications on the hardware as well as AI applications.
“We now have a live network completely software-defined with a GPU, enabling telecommunications acceleration on RAN,” said Vasishta. “This is a significant milestone. We have also demonstrated AI applications, such as intelligent video analytics, that can run on exactly the same hardware. So, in addition to the network, there are benefits of having a GPU within the enterprise.”
Wind River, the other key partner, provides a cloud platform for deploying the OREX 5G vRAN. Wind River Studio is a distributed cloud, automation and analytics solution based on open source. Operators use the solution to deploy and manage their 5G networks on a global scale.
The deployment in Japan marks a pivotal first step in demonstrating the commercial viability of these key technologies, as part of a multivendor partnership. They are being bundled by NTT Docomo under the OREX brand, with three packages available to network operators: OREX RAN for virtualized radio base stations and wireless equipment, OREX SMO for software enabling autonomous equipment operation, and OREX Services for Open RAN adoption.
A key benefit for operators utilizing OREX is being able to select vendors without worrying about integration since it’s handled entirely by NTT Docomo and its partners, said Sadayuki Abeta, NTT Docomo’s global head of Open RAN solutions. This signifies more than just the integration of cutting-edge technologies but a future where networks are more efficient, adaptable and user-friendly.