Samsung looks to 5G-A, vRAN OPEX gains in 2024

Samsung Networks told Silverlinings that it will be talking about 5G-Advanced (5G-A) and more at Mobile World Congress (MWC) next year.

5G-Advanced - which will be finished as part of 3GPP Release 18, probably in March 2024 — will definitely contain more artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms, noted Alok Shah, Samsung’s VP of Network Strategy in conversation with us in lower Manhattan last week.

He also anticipates power and energy saving opportunities within the standard, and expects to see higher order multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antenna arrays coming to the fore. These systems are often more compact than current MIMO arrays.

“What’ll be interesting with 5G-Advanced is whether it drives another equipment deployment cycle. If it does, it’s another opportunity for operators to introduce vRAN and Open RAN into their networks,” Shah said, noting that any time mobile operators have to change out a baseband unit BBU), they may put in a virtualized distributed unit (vDU) at that point.

While another equipment deployment cycle remains to be seen, the Samsung team was happy to talk about the cloud-native virtualized 5G wins they’ve scored in 2023. “It’s just been about rollout and adoption,” Shah said of this year.

Among those wins, Samsung has supported Dish’s greenfield 5G deployment this year, helping to push the fledgling wireless operator to their June announcement that it covers 70% of the U.S. population with 5G. Of course, it couldn’t save Dish from the financial woes that have plagued it throughout 2023.

Shah said that Samsung has “many thousands” of vRAN sites with Dish, as well as “well north of 10,000 with Verizon.” He noted that the vendor has made “good progress” this year with Vodafone in the U.K. and KDDI in Japan.

It has been three years since Verizon first rolled out a vRAN site. Samsung is now on its vRAN 3.0 software, which won the cloud-native 5G innovation award from Silverlinings this year. Expect more enhancements to the code at MWC.

“Next year, the big story will hopefully be around operators who were early adopters being able to actually see the OPEX improvements that we know that vRAN is going to bring,” Shah claimed.

Being able to bring down operational expenditure (OPEX) through changes in the network infrastructure, like virtualized RAN and AI, is one of the ambitions of many carriers.

Of course, they don’t want to spend cash money on it — so we shall see how 2024 shapes up.