According to a recently published report from Dell’Oro Group, preliminary estimates suggest that the 2G-5G radio access network (RAN) market ended the year 2020 on a high note, with the full year 2020 revenues marking a new record since we started tracking the program in the year 2000.
“While we correctly identified the overall trajectory of the market going into the year and maintained the positive outlook even as the pandemic intensified and economists adjusted their GDP projections sharply downward,” said Stefan Pongratz, Vice President and analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “We also need to recognize that we completely underestimated the magnitude and the breadth of the ascent in the fourth quarter and for the full year 2020, reflecting stronger than expected results in multiple regions,” Pongratz added.
Additional highlights from the 4Q 2020 RAN report:
- Initial estimates suggest that vendor rankings remained stable between 2019 and 2020, while revenue shares were impacted to some degree by the state of the 5G rollouts in China and North America.
- Ericsson and Nokia maintained their No. 1 and No. 2 RAN revenues rankings excluding China. Both suppliers improved their RAN revenue shares outside of China, accounting for 35 percent to 40 percent and 25 percent to 30 percent of the overall RAN market, respectively.
- Huawei maintained its No. 1 ranking for the global RAN market, reflecting share gains in China.
Dell’Oro Group’s RAN Quarterly Report offers a complete overview of the RAN industry, with tables covering manufacturers’ revenue, transceivers or RF carrier shipments, macro cell and small cell BTS shipments for 5G NR Millimeter Wave, 5G NR Sub 6 GHz, and LTE. The report tracks the RAN market by region and includes market data for Massive MIMO. The report also includes a four-quarter outlook. To purchase this report, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In December 2020, Dell’Oro forecast the overall RAN market to advance for a fourth consecutive year in 2021. In North America, low-band activity is expected to remain elevated while mid-band activity is projected to improve. However, the timing of the C-band availability remains uncertain (especially since there was no FCC requirement for C-band spectrum bidders to actually build and deploy cellular networks).
5G core capex should grow at a faster pace than 5G NR (RAN/RIT) revenues. Dell’Oro believes that the 5G Core/5G RAN revenue ratio will trend below historical core/RAN averages in the initial 5G wave and then gradually improve as operators start embracing 5G SA.
Small Cells to Account for 10% to 20% of Total RAN
The global growth outlook for small cells – including sub 6 GHz and mmWave – remains favorable, underpinning projections the technology will play an increasingly important role supporting the overall RAN network as operators and enterprises navigate new technologies, spectrum bands, and use cases.
Small cell RAN revenues are projected to approach 10% to 20% of the overall RAN market in 2021. Within the small cell mix, Sub 6 GHz capex is expected to characterize the lion share of the investments, driven partly by the reduced gap between macro and small cell radios associated with upper mid-band deployments.
Open RAN to Account for 1% to 2% of Total RAN Market in 2021
Open RAN and Virtual RAN continues to gain momentum, bolstered by Ericsson now formalizing its support with its Cloud-RAN announcement. The uptake remains mixed between the various Open RAN segments, as noted with Dell’Oro’s 3Q20 Open RAN update. These trends are expected to extend into 2021, with adoption accelerating in some RAN settings while the uptake remains weak in other RAN segments.
GlobalData, a leading market data and analytics company, has rated Huawei’s LTE RAN portfolio to be a leader in the market. In competitive analyses of five major RAN vendors, GlobalData evaluated 4G LTE base station portfolios according to four key areas important to mobile operators: baseband unit (BBU) capacity, radio unit portfolio breadth, ease of deployment and technological evolution. GlobalData found Huawei to be a Leader in all four categories and a Leader overall among its peers.
Editor’s Note/ Disclaimer:
We don’t know whether Huawei paid Global Data (?) to evaluate 4G LTE vendor portfolios or if that was done indepedently on Global Data’s own initiative. It’s disturbing that we could not find a related report or media press release on the company’s website after doing multiple searches.
LTE RAN Basics: In the RAN, radio sites provide radio access and coordinate the management of resources across the radio sites. User Equipment (e.g. wireless network endpoints) are connected to Nodes (base stations or small cells) using LTE. Radio Network Controllers are wirelessly connected to the core network which for LTE is called the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). This is depicted in the illustration below:
Source: Research Gate
Huawei has introduced new advances in its LTE RAN portfolio to enhance the coverage and capacity of mobile networks. It also offers solutions to aid the coordination of 4G and 5G networks and to enable new services for operators. The Chinese IT behemoth has the highest BBU cell capacity – in terms of both LTE carriers and Narrowband IoT – of any major RAN vendor. It also offers more radio units and more Massive MIMO options than other vendors and supports a wide array of 4G spectrum bands. To make deployment easier, Huawei offers multiple novel solutions, including its Super Blade Site and Bracelet Kit offerings. And to help operators evolve their networks technologically, Huawei has been proactive in commercializing spectrum-sharing capabilities such as its CloudAIR solution, which allows various access technologies (2G/3G/4G/5G) to use the same spectrum, and its SuperBAND solution, which can improve user experience under multi-frequency networks.
This portfolio is well-suited to meet the diverse needs of the world’s mobile operators, and Huawei continues to expand its RAN portfolio to help operators prepare for the future and maximize the value of their LTE networks.
Adequate network coverage is an essential characteristic for ensuring quality mobile services. It becomes especially important in LTE networks as 5G is deployed in high-frequency bands whose coverage footprint areas are more limited. LTE must cover the areas that 5G does not.
To enhance the coverage of 4G/5G networks, Huawei has introduced the Blade Pro solution. The Blade Pro Ultra-Wideband Remote Radio Unit (RRU) is a pole-mountable RU that supports three low or medium Frequency-Division Duplex (FDD) bands simultaneously: it currently supports 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz; and in late 2021, it will support 1.8 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.6 GHz.
By supporting three frequency bands in a single 25-kilogram unit, the Blade Pro eliminates the need for two boxes, reducing the load on poles, easing the burden on installers and making deployment faster, smoother and less expensive. Making installation easier means operators are better able to increase coverage by expanding or densifying their networks.
Operators face the eternal challenge of keeping up with ever-increasing user demand for data at faster speeds in the space of finite spectrum. One way to add network capacity without finding additional spectrum is to deploy greater antenna arrays, upgrading radios with two transceivers to those with four or eight, for example, or adding Massive MIMO antennas bearing 32 or 64 arrays.
Huawei’s LTE RAN portfolio now includes a radio unit with eight transceivers and receivers for enhanced capacity, useful for urban hotspot areas. The “Smart 8T8R” solution also gives operators flexibility in their migration to 5G. The FDD 8T8R RRU is hardware-ready for 5G NR, and the antenna array is software-defined, meaning its configuration can be adjusted – without changing the hardware – for example, to six sectors for LTE and three sectors for 5G. The solution also dynamically adjusts the power supply allocated to sectors according to how users are distributed. This flexibility can be helpful in allowing operators to serve specific needs on a site-by-site basis and to adapt in real time to changes in user behavior. On TDD side, meanwhile, Huawei leverages its considerable research in TDD-LTE to offer an 8T8R IMB (Intelligent Multi-Beam) solution, which is also based on a software-defined antenna and promises to deliver 1.8-2.2x capacity gains compared with more common products.
For even higher capacity needs, Huawei has introduced the “Smart Massive MIMO” solution, a dual-band 5G-ready 4G radio with 32 transceivers and receivers promising three to five times the download speeds compared with more common products. Like the Smart 8T8R solution, Smart Massive MIMO automatically adjusts the power allocated to individual beams based on user traffic patterns. This lends efficiency in two ways, since Massive MIMO beamforming is itself a more efficient use of mobile spectrum than traditional antenna arrays, and the Smart Massive MIMO solution uses its power supply more efficiently than typical Massive MIMO gear.
In addition to the ways Huawei’s aforementioned gear balances and coordinates 4G and 5G networks, its portfolio also includes other solutions to further optimize the relationship between the two.
Its SuperBAND solution uses artificial intelligence (AI) to aggregate network scheduling – the coordinated allocation of radio resources to mobile signals – among multiple frequency carriers, essentially boosting network capacity beyond the divisions and fragmentation of various spectrum bands. In 4G/5G networks, SuperBAND can perform this aggregation across both 4G and 5G, maximizing spectral efficiency and, ultimately, optimizing the quality of the user experience.
Meanwhile, Huawei also offers Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) as part of its CloudAIR solution. DSS allows 4G and 5G traffic to share the same spectrum bands, increasing spectral usage efficiency; it also allows 4G and 5G traffic to dynamically switch from one band to another, regardless of radio access technology, in response to congestion on specific bands, ensuring the best use of spectrum even as user behavior changes. CloudAIR goes even further, applying a similar spectrum-sharing function to 2G and 3G traffic as well for a more comprehensive capability that is especially relevant to markets where legacy networks remain.
New Service Enablement:
Enhancing and optimizing the network are important aims, but from a commercial perspective, one of the most important imperatives operators face is the need to deliver new revenue-generating services. Huawei’s LTE RAN portfolio addresses this requirement in multiple ways.
Huawei’s Voice-over-LTE solution, VoLTE Plus, helps operators migrate voice traffic from legacy technologies like 2G and 3G to LTE, not only achieving higher quality voice service but also allowing operators to sunset their legacy networks and repurpose their VoLTE investments for the future. In addition, Huawei’s latest VoLTE solution, goes further, adding four new capabilities that help protect the quality of voice service in 4G/5G networks:
- 5G-to-LTE EPS fallback
- LTE-to-5G fast return
- New Enhanced Voice Services capabilities
- Dedicated services that allow for optimization on LTE
Beyond voice, Huawei’s LTE portfolio also supports Narrowband IoT, to capture opportunities in the Internet-of-Things space. The vendor’s roadmap also targets support for 5G NB-IoT in particular, which will allow operators with existing IoT services to migrate those services to their 4G/5G network and replace disparate or ad-hoc legacy networks with a unified network that yields multiple revenue streams from a common infrastructure investment.
Huawei’s portfolio also enables new services via fixed wireless access (FWA) products. Amid the global pandemic, the increase in telecommuting and home-based learning based on video connections has increased the demand for residential broadband networks. Where fiber isn’t available, FWA is vital in building these residential networks. Huawei’s LTE-based FWA solutions have achieved enviable momentum in the market. The vendor has also added 4G/5G customer premises equipment to its portfolio, giving these networks a future-proof migration path to continued service enablement.
Huawei’s LTE RAN portfolio continues to evolve in order to help operators maximize the value of their networks as they prepare for the future. New solutions in the portfolio enhance the coverage and capacity of LTE networks as well as maximize network efficiency by coordinating 4G and 5G operations. Meanwhile, Huawei offers multiple solutions aimed at enabling the delivery of additional services that can help operators grow revenue in a variety of ways, including VoLTE, the Internet of Things and FWA.
Dell’Oro has upgraded its near-term outlook for the RAN market to reflect stronger-than-expected activity in China, Europe and North America. The market researcher now expects the market to approach USD 70-80 billion over the combined 2020 and 2021 period.
The improved outlook in Dell’Oro’s Q3 RAN market report indicates continued positive momentum. The upswing begun in the second half of 2018 extended into the third quarter, with surging demand for 5G propelling the RAN market to robust year-over-year growth, the researcher said. It estimates that the overall 2G to 5G RAN market advanced 10-20 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, meaning annual growth in eight out of the last nine quarters.
“While we correctly identified that the RAN market would appear disconnected from the underlying economy throughout this year, we also underestimated the pace and the magnitude of these 5G rollouts,” said Stefan Pongratz, analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “This shift from 4G to 5G, including low-band-and mid-band 5G NR, continued to accelerate at a torrid pace in the quarter, underpinned by stronger-than-expected 5G activity in multiple regions.”
Additional highlights from the 3Q20 RAN report:
- RAN revenue shares were impacted to some degree by the state of the 5G rollouts in China and North America, resulting in share gains for both Huawei and ZTE over the 1Q20-3Q20 period.
- The near-term outlook remains favorable for both macro and small cells, with combined 2020 and 2021 2G-4G and 5G base station shipments projected to eclipse 10 M units.
- We have adjusted the near-term RAN market outlook upward, to reflect stronger than expected activity in China, Europe, and North America, with total RAN projected to approach $70 B to $80 B for the combined 2020 and 2021 period.
Editor’s Note: The RAN market today is almost entirely provided by a handful of vendors making cellular base stations and small cells. Those are: Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, ZTE, and Fujitsu. In the future, there is a movement to both Open RAN and Cloud RAN which would disrupt the current deployments with disaggregated hardware and open software. We are very skeptical of those two over hyped industry initiatives.
Radio Access Network illustration from Resource Gate
Dell’Oro Group’s RAN Quarterly Report offers a complete overview of the RAN industry, with tables covering manufacturers’ revenue, transceivers or RF carrier shipments, macro cell and small cell BTS shipments for 5G NR Millimeter Wave, 5G NR Sub 6 GHz, LTE, and WCDMA/GSM. The report tracks the RAN market by region and includes market data for Massive MIMO. The report also includes a four-quarter outlook. To purchase this report, please contact us by email at email@example.com.
Dell’Oro Group is a market research firm that specializes in strategic competitive analysis in the telecommunications, networks, and data center IT markets. Our firm provides in-depth quantitative data and qualitative analysis to facilitate critical, fact-based business decisions. For more information, contact Dell’Oro Group at +1.650.622.9400 or visit https://www.delloro.com