In network architecture, AI-RAN refers to the application of automated artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the radio-access network (RAN).

While AI-RAN is not an individual technology, it adheres to the same virtualization and optimization principles as AI integration. The goal of AI-RAN is to improve mobile network efficiency, reduce power consumption and retrofit existing infrastructure, paving the road for telecommunications firms to unleash new economic prospects through AI, assisted by 5G and future 6G systems.

AI has the potential to be useful for almost every aspect of RAN design, according to a study from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Most of the research around AI-RAN focuses on individual RAN problems and uses AI that is customized to meet certain locations or conditions. This strategy is called "AI model specialization." Here, specialized AI models benefit from less computing complexity and straightforward state reconstruction (few model inputs, for example), but at the expense of being unable to handle the variety of RAN deployments and conditions.

AI-RAN concept

A system built for artificial intelligence algorithms, where a single AI algorithm could learn and govern most networking processes, from the physical layer to radio resource management (RRM), is a comprehensive concept of an AI-native RAN.

Even though a comprehensive vision of an AI-native RAN sounds enticing, implementing it would almost definitely go against the rationale of established communication protocols. It is also likely to be hampered by the standardized systems, such as those that adhere to the IEEE and 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), which are currently used to ensure the interoperability of radio communications across national borders and system vendors.

Attention around AI-RAN has increased since the news at Mobile World Congress 2024 that AWS, Ericsson, Microsoft, Nokia, NVIDIA, Samsung Electronics, T-Mobile USA, and other significant vendors would be teaming up to form the AI-RAN Alliance. Members of the AI-RAN Alliance intend to deploy AI services at the network edge using RAN to boost efficiency and provide new services to users, as well as combine AI and RAN operations to make better use of infrastructure.

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