Orange announced the official launch of a new research project starting in July, describing it as Europe’s first fully cloud-native 5G standalone network. Running over a two-year period, the experimental network in Lannion (Britanny) will reach further locations in 2022 and be tested by several hundred end-users. It will explore the benefit of a ‘zero-touch’ approach, relying on software-enabled automation and artificial intelligence to minimize human intervention in its operations.
Editor’s Note: Orange’s announcement comes just two days after TIM (previously known as Telecom Italia) said they were launching Europe’s first 5G SA Cloud Network. Both the TIM and Orange 5G SA networks are experimental tests rather than actual 5G SA commercial deployments.
Orange’s experimental network will be a 100% software-enabled network, be data and AI-driven, fully automated and cloud-native. Crucially, it will also encompass Open RAN technology – underlining its commitment to this technology. By implementing and operating this network it will enable Orange to better understand how these technologies co-exist and their impact on the network lifecycle.
Furthermore, it will enable Orange to better understand the customer experience benefits of a fully cloudified network as well as the full potential of AI and Data. It will also enable Orange to determine the future skills needed – a key strand of its Engage2025 strategy to ‘co-create a future-facing’ company, as well as the environmental benefits – another key pillar of its strategy.
Built on a single Kubernetes-based infrastructure (containers), the network will combine elements from several partners, including the 5G Open RAN software developed by Mavenir. Orange has also selected Casa Systems (cloud 5G SA core network), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (cloud 5G SA subscriber data management), Dell Technologies (servers supporting RAN centralized unit, distributed unit and core) and Xiaomi (devices) as partners in the project.
Network and service management will be automated using orchestration open source tools from GitLab and ONAP. The scope of the forthcoming trials also covers OSS and BSS integration aspects.
The new network sees the setting up of Open RAN and 5G core functions on a single Kubernetes-based infrastructure fully managed by Orange and deploying a fully automated core. From July, the network will start using and testing O-RAN radio equipment, CNF’s (Containerized Network Functions) on a cloud infrastructure, network data collection and AI automation. The experimental network will also host Information System OSS (Operations Support System – network inventory management and network operations), BSS (Business Support System – CRM and billing) as well as scaling Orange’s ambition using AI to secure and optimize the network and predict its behavior. In 2022, the network will expand to further locations to increase the number of users and to test vertical use-cases leveraging dynamic network slicing.
Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Orange, commented: “Our ambition is to prepare Orange for the operator of the future by building more resilient and auto-adaptive networks that offer best in class quality of service in each situation. This experimental network represents an important milestone on our way to implement and deploy Open RAN and AI technologies to prepare on-demand connectivity and zero touch operator capabilities.”