Figure 3: Millimeter wave massive MIMO (200 MHz, 64x64 antenna array) system. Click image to enlarge.
Mobile edge computing and massive MIMO techniques may imply consolidation of distributed base stations thereby hindering the move to Cloud RAN. In reality, limited spectrum necessitates leveraging merits of multiple different network architectures co-existing together to meet an ever increasing growth in demand for bandwidth. Cell densification enables reuse of a scarce spectrum resource. In coming years, this trend will result in distributed base station sites to become more like mini data centers. On the other hand, splitting Cloud RAN into numerous mini data center may be a way to overcome tight deterministic latency and synchronization requirements with remote radio head connectivity. The two architectures may appear to converge in the middle. Cloud RAN and MEC architectures can coexist to complement each other. Cloud RAN can rely on latency and the proximity merits of edge computing nodes and edge computing can benefit from centralized network deployment, management, and service provisioning. Only time will tell how these two architectures would see adoption in the next 3-5 years as industry gears up for 5G deployment. End user applications, operator preferences based on cost of network deployment and maintenance, and system solutions from equipment vendors may likely be key factors in dictating a delicate balance between the two.
In summary, heterogeneity in wireless network is expected to continue to increase. There is unlikely to be a clear winner. A good balance of Cloud enabled RAN and mobile edge compute equipment is needed to effectively serve wireless broadband services. Instead of letting the hype pendulum swing to one extreme, the broadband wireless ecosystem needs to make balanced investments to continue to build complimentary technologies to effectively serve the information society of 2020.