In a move that will help promote multi-vendor interoperability, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) today announced the formation of the SD-RAN project (Software Defined Radio Access Network) to pursue the creation of open source software platforms and multi-vendor solutions for mobile 4G and 5G RAN deployments. Initially, the project will focus on building an open source Near Real-Time RAN Intelligent Controller (nRT-RIC) compatible with the O-RAN architecture.
The new SD-RAN project is backed by a consortium of leading operators and aligned technology companies and organizations that together are committed to creating a truly open RAN ecosystem. Founding members include AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Intel, NTT, Radisys and Sercomm. All the project members will be actively contributing, and this includes the operators contributing use cases and trialing the results, according to the ONF. However, the larger cellular base station vendors that are ONF members, Nokia, Samsung, ZTE, Fujitsu, NEC were silent on their participation in this SD-RAN project.
There may be some confusion caused by ONF’s SD-RAN project as it is the third Open RAN consortium. The O-RAN Alliance and TIP Open RAN project are working on open source hardware and open interfaces for disaggregated RAN equipment, like a 4G/5G combo base station.
In a brief video chat yesterday, Timon Sloane, VP of Ecosystem and Marketing for ONF told me that this new ONF SD-RAN project would be in close contact with the other two Open RAN consortiums and distinguished itself from them by producing OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE for disaggregated RAN equipment—something he said the O-RAN Alliance and TIP Open RAN project were NOT doing.
That should go a long way in dispelling that confusion, but it nonetheless presents a challenge on how three consortiums can effectively work together to produce meaningful open source software code (ONF) and hardware (O-RAN Alliance and TIP) specifications with joint compliance testing to ensure multi-vendor interoperability.
Sloane told Matt Kapko of SDXCentral: “The operators really are pushing for separation of hardware and software and for enabling new innovations to come in in software without it being tightly coupled to the hardware that they purchase. And xApps are where the functionality of the RAN is to be housed, and so in order to do this in a meaningful way you have to be able to do meaningful functions in these xApps,” Sloane said.
However, no mention was made in the ONF press release of a liaison with either 3GPP or ITU-R WP5D which are producing the standards and specs for 5G and have already done so for 4G-LTE. Neither of the aforementioned O-RAN consortiums have liaisons with those entities either.
There are other complications with Open RAN (independent of SD-RAN), such as U.S. government’s attempt to cripple Huawei and other China telecom equipment vendors, need for a parallel wireless infrastructure, legacy vs greenfield carriers. These are addressed in Comment and Analysis section below.
Central to the project is the development of an open source near-real time RIC called µONOS-RIC (pronounced “micro-ONOS-RIC”).
µONOS is a microservices-based SDN controller created by the refactoring and enhancement of ONOS, the leading SDN controller for operators in production tier-1 networks worldwide. µONOS-RIC is built on µONOS, and hence features a cloud-native design supporting active-active clustering for scalability, performance and high availability along with the real-time capabilities needed for intelligent RAN control.
µONOS-RIC is designed to control an array of multi-vendor open RAN equipment consistent with the O-RAN ALLIANCE architecture. In particular, the O-RAN ALLIANCE E2 interface is used to interface between µONOS-RIC and vendor supplied RAN RU/DU/CU RAN components.
xApps running on top of the µONOS-RIC are responsible for functionality that traditionally has been implemented in vendor-proprietary implementations. A primary goal of the SD-RAN project (and, not coincidentally, for the operators who founded the O-RAN consortium) is to enable an external intelligent controller to control the RAN so that operators have both visibility and control over their RAN networks, thus giving operators ownership and control over how spectrum is utilized and optimized along with the tools to deliver an optimal experience for users and applications.
Relationship to O-RAN Alliance, O-RAN Software Community and TIP:
The participating members of the SD-RAN project plan to implement, prototype and trial an advanced architecture that enables intelligent RIC xApps to control a broad spectrum of SON and RRM functionality that historically has been implemented as vendor-proprietary features on bespoke base station equipment and platforms. SD-RAN’s focus and goals are complementary to various efforts across the industry, including work taking place within the O-RAN ALLIANCE, the O-RAN Software Community and the TIP OpenRAN Project Group.
SD-RAN will follow O-RAN specifications as they are developed and will also make use of components of existing open source to facilitate interoperability. As the project pioneers new functionality, all extensions and learnings that come from building the system will be contributed back to O-RAN ALLIANCE, with the intent that these extensions can inform and advance the O-RAN specifications.
The SD-RAN work inside the ONF community will take place in parallel with work being contributed to the O-RAN Software Community. The intent is for interoperable implementations to come out of both efforts, so that a mix of open source and vendor proprietary components can be demonstrated and ultimately deployed.
Timing and Availability:
The SD-RAN project already has a working skeleton prototype of the µONOS-RIC controller above a RAN emulation platform through the E2 interface. This implementation is demonstrating handover and load balancing at scale, supporting over 100 base stations and 100,000 user devices with less than 50ms handover latency (less than 10ms latency for 99% of all handovers).
The SD-RAN community is advancing towards a field trial by early 2021, working with RAN vendors to integrate carrier-grade RU/DU/CU components while in parallel implementing xApps to demonstrate SON and RRM functionality. Interested parties are encouraged to contact ONF for additional information.
Quotes Supporting the SD-RAN Project:
“AT&T strongly supports the development of specifications and components that can help drive openness and innovation in the RAN ecosystem. The O-RAN ALLIANCE’s specifications are enabling the ecosystem, with a range of companies and organizations creating both open source and proprietary implementations that are bringing the open specifications to life. The ONF SD-RAN project, along with the O-RAN OSC, will expand the ecosystem with an nRT-RIC that can support xApps and help demonstrate their interoperability. This project will help accelerate the transition to an open RAN future.”
Andre Fuetsch, President and Chief Technology Officer, AT&T Labs
“China Mobile co-founded O-RAN in order to promote both the opening of the RAN ecosystem for multi-vendor solutions and the realization of RAN with native intelligence for performance and cost improvement. An open nRT-RIC with support for open xApps that go beyond policy-based control and SON to also enhance Radio Resource Management (RRM) will make it possible for operators to optimize resource utilization and application performance. We are excited to see the development of an open nRT-RIC and xApps in the SD-RAN project led by ONF, and expect this work to help advance the state-of-art for open and intelligent RAN.”
Dr. Chih-Lin I, Chief Scientist, Wireless Technologies, China Mobile
“China Unicom has been a long-term partner with ONF. We continue to see the benefits of the ONF’s work and the impact it has on our industry. The SD-RAN project is now applying the ONF’s proven strategy for disaggregating and creating open source implementations to the 5G RAN space in order to foster innovation and ecosystem transformation. We are excited by this work, and are committed to trialing a solution as it becomes available.”
Dr. Xiongyan Tang, Network Technology Research Institute, China Unicom
“Deutsche Telekom is a huge believer in applying disaggregation and open source principles for our next-generation networks. DT has ONF’s mobile core platform (OMEC) in production and we are taking ONF’s broadband access (SEBA/VOLTHA) platform to production towards the end of 2020. This journey has shown us the tremendous value that is created when we can build solutions based on interoperable multi-vendor components intermixed with open source components. ONF’s SD-RAN project is leveraging these same principles to help accelerate innovation in the RAN domain, and we are excited to be an active collaborator in this journey.”
Dr. Alex Jinsung Choi, SVP Strategy & Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom
“Connectivity is an integral part of Facebook’s focus to bring people closer together. We work closely with partners to develop programs and technologies that make connectivity more affordable and accessible. Through our collaboration with ONF on their SD-RAN project, we look forward to engaging with the community to improve connectivity experiences for many people around the world.”
Aaron Bernstein, Facebook’s Director of Connectivity Ecosystem Programs
“Google is an advocate for SDN, disaggregation and open source, and we are excited to see these principles now being applied to the RAN domain. ONF’s SD-RAN project’s ambition to create an open source RIC can help invigorate innovation across the mobile domain.”
Ankur Jain, Distinguished Engineer, Google
“Intel is an active participant of the ONF’s SD-RAN project to advance the development of open RAN implementations on high volume servers. ONF has been leading the industry with advanced open source implementations in the areas of disaggregated Mobile Core, e.g. the Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC), and we look forward to continuing to innovate by applying proven principles of disaggregation, open source and AI/ML to the next stepping stone in this journey – the RAN. SD-RAN will be optimized to leverage powerful performance, AI/ML, and security enhancements, which are essential for 5G and available in Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors, network adapters and switching technologies, including Data-Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX).”
Pranav Mehta, Vice President of Systems and Software Research, Intel Labs
“NTT sees great value in transforming the RAN domain in order to foster innovation and multi-vendor interoperability. We are excited to be part of the SD-RAN ecosystem, and look forward to working with the community to develop open source components that can be intermixed with vendor proprietary elements using standard O-RAN interfaces.”
Dai Kashiwa, Evangelist, Director of NTT Communications
“Radisys is excited to be a founding member of the SD-RAN project, and we are committed to integrating our RAN software implementation (CU & DU) with O-RAN interfaces to the µONOS-RIC controller and xApps being developed by the SD-RAN project community. This effort has the potential to accelerate the adoption of O-RAN based RIC implementation and xApps, and we are committed to working with this community to advance the open RAN agenda.”
Arun Bhikshesvaran, CEO, Radisys
“As a leading manufacturer of small cell RAN equipment and an avid supporter of the open RAN movement, Sercomm is excited to collaborate with the SD-RAN community to open E2 interfaces and migrate some of our near-real-time functionalities from the RAN equipment into xApps running the μONOS-RIC controller. This is a nascent yet dynamic area full of potential, and we are committed to working with the SD-RAN ecosystem to build solutions ready for trials and deployment.”
Ben Lin, CTO and Co-Founder, Sercomm
“TIP’s OpenRAN solutions are an important element of our work to accelerate innovation across all elements of the network including Access, Transport, Core and Services. We are excited about the collaboration between our RIA subgroup and ONF’s SD-RAN project to accelerate RAN disaggregation and adoption of open interfaces. Through this collaboration we will enable the OpenRAN ecosystem to leverage the strengths of data science and AI/ML technologies to set new industry benchmarks on performance, efficiency and total cost of ownership.”
Attilio Zani, Executive Director for Telecom Infra Project (TIP)
Comment and Analysis of Open RAN Market:
Disclaimer: Like all IEEE Techblog posts, opinions, comment and analysis are ALWAYS by the authors and do NOT EVER represent an opinion or position by IEEE or the IEEE Communications Society. This should be obvious to all in the 11 1/2 years of this author’s contribution to the IEEE Techblog and its predecessor- ComSoc Community blogs.
Besides NOT having a liaison with either 3GPP or ITU-R, the following Open RAN issues may limit its market potential. These are NOT specific to the ONF SD-RAN project, but generic to Open RAN deployments.
- U.S. officials promoting Open RAN as a way to decrease the dominance of Huawei, the world’s biggest vendor of mobile equipment by market share and also to thwart the rise of other vendors like ZTE and China Information and Communication Technology Group (CICT) which recently won a small part of s China Mobile contract. Obviously, China’s government will fight back and NOT allow any version of Open RAN to be deployed in China (likely to be the world’s biggest 5G market by far)! That despite China Mobile and China Unicom’s expressed interest in Open RAN (see Quotes above). Remember, that the three big China carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom) are all state owned.
- Dual infrastructure: If a legacy wireless carrier deploys Open RAN, existing wireless infrastructure equipment (base stations, small cells, cell tower equipment, backhaul, etc) must remain in place to support its customers. Open RAN gear (with new fronthaul and backhaul) won’t have wide coverage area for many years. Therefore, current customers can’t simply be switched over from legacy wireless infrastructure to Open RAN gear. That means that a separate separate and distinct WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE NETWORK must be built and physically installed for Open RAN gear. Yet no one seems to talk or write about that! Why not?
- Open RAN is really only for greenfield carriers with NO EMBEDDED WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE. Rakuten and Dish Network are two such carriers ideally suited to Open RAN. That despite a lot of noise from AT&T and Deutsche Telekom about Open RAN trials. All the supporting quotes from legacy carriers are indicative of their interest in open source software AND hardware: to break the stranglehold the huge wireless equipment vendors have on cellular infrastructure and its relatively high costs of their proprietary network equipment and element management systems.
- Open RAN should definitely lower initial deployment costs (CAPEX), but may result in INCREASED maintenance cost (OPEX) due to the difficulty of ensuring multi-vendor interoperability, systems integration and MOST IMPORTANTLY tech support with fault detection and rapid restoration of service.
Considering all of the above, one may conclude that traditional cellular infrastructure, based on vendor specific equipment and proprietary interfaces, will remain in place for many years to come. As a result, Open RAN becomes a decent market for greenfield carriers and a small market (trial or pilot networks) for legacy carriers, which become brownfield carriers after Open RAN is commercially available to provide their cellular services.
Given a smaller than commonly believed market for Open RAN, this author believes the SD-RAN project is a very good idea. That’s because it will make open source software available for Open RAN equipment, something that neither the O-RAN Alliance of TIP Open RAN project are doing. Of course, having more vendors producing Open RAN white boxes and software does add to the systems integration and tech support that only large (tier 1) telcos (like AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, NTT and cloud companies (like Google, Facebook, Microsoft) have the staff to support.
In a follow up phone conversation today, Timon Sloane told me that network operators want a fully functional and powerful RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) to gain visibility and control over their RANs, but that has yet to be realized. To date, such controllers have been proprietary, rather than open source software.
The ONF µONOS-RIC is a key software module to realize that vision, Timon said. It is very much like a (near) real time operating system for an Open RAN. If successful, it will go a long way to promote multi-vendor interoperability for Open RAN deployments. Success and good luck ONF!
On April 2nd, the O-RAN Alliance and the Linux Foundation jointly announced the creation of the O-RAN Software Community (O-RAN SC). The O-RAN SC will provide open software aligned with the O-RAN Alliance’s open architecture. As a new open source community under the Linux Foundation, the O-RAN SC is sponsored by the O-RAN Alliance, and together they will develop open source software enabling modular, open, intelligent, efficient, and agile disaggregated radio access networks. The initial set of software projects may include: near-real-time RAN intelligent controller (nRT RIC), non-real-time RAN intelligent controller (NRT RIC), cloudification and virtualization platforms, open central unit (O-CU), open distributed unit (O-DU), and a test and integration effort to provide a working reference implementation. Working with other adjacent open source networking communities, the O-RAN SC will enable collaborative development across the full operator network stack.
Background: The telecom industry is experiencing a profound transformation and 5G is expected to radically change how we live, work, and play. This means it’s critical to make network infrastructure commercially available as quickly as possible to ensure business success for operators. It’s time to turn to open source, as it is one of the most efficient ways to accelerate product development in a collaborative and cost-efficient way.
“This collaboration between the O-RAN Alliance and the Linux Foundation is a tremendous accomplishment that represents the culmination of years of thoughtful innovation around the next generation of networks,” said Andre Fuetsch, Chairman of the O-RAN Alliance, and President of AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer at AT&T. “The launch of the O-RAN SC marks the next phase of that innovation, where the benefits of disaggregated and software-centric platforms will move out to the edge of the network. This new open source community will be critical if 5G is to reach its full potential.”
“We are really excited to see the establishment of the O-RAN Open Source Community,” said Chih-Lin I, chief scientist of China Mobile, co-chair of the O-RAN Technical Steering Committee and member of the Executive Committee of the O-RAN Alliance. “The O-RAN Alliance is aiming at building an ‘Open’ and ‘Smart’ Radio Access Network for future wireless systems. From day one, the Alliance has embraced open source as one of the most powerful means to achieve its vision. The O-RAN Open Source Community is the fruit of a yearlong extensive deliberation between the O-RAN Alliance and the Linux Foundation. We believe that the power of open source will further the momentum and accelerate the development, test, commercialization and deployment of O-RAN solutions.”
“We are excited to collaborate with O-RAN Alliance in bringing communities together to create software for this important access area of Telecommunications,” said Arpit Joshipura, general manager, Networking, Edge & IOT, the Linux Foundation. “This step towards execution marks another major milestone in networking partnerships across standards and open source organizations.”
About O-RAN Alliance
The O-RAN Alliance is a world-wide, carrier-led effort to drive new levels of openness in the radio access network of next generation wireless systems. Future RANs will be built on a foundation of virtualized network elements, white-box hardware and standardized interfaces that fully embrace O-RAN’s core principles of intelligence and openness. An ecosystem of innovative new products is already emerging that will form the underpinnings of the multi-vendor, interoperable, autonomous RAN, envisioned by many in the past, but only now enabled by the global industry-wide vision, commitment and leadership of O-RAN Alliance members and contributors.
More information about O-RAN can be found at www.o-ran.org.
About the Linux Foundation
Founded in 2000, the Linux Foundation is supported by more than 1,000 members and is the world’s leading home for collaboration on open source software, open standards, open data, and open hardware. Linux Foundation’s projects are critical to the world’s infrastructure including Linux, Kubernetes, Node.js, and more. The Linux Foundation’s methodology focuses on leveraging best practices and addressing the needs of contributors, users and solution providers to create sustainable models for open collaboration. For more information please visit us at www.linuxfoundation.org.
Assessment of Open Networking:
While Open Source Software (e.g. ONAP from ONF, Sonic from OCP) and Hardware (from OCP, TIP, Open RAN consortiums, ONF, etc) for networking is advancing rapidly, Open Networking via SDN, NFV, SD-WAN is really a euphemism for closed networking. That’s because almost all such “Open Networks” are proprietary to either the service provider (e.g. Amazon, Google, AT&T, etc) or SD-WAN vendor (many).
Some hyper-scale cloud providers (e.g. Microsoft) use a mix of open source software and purpose built proprietary software. Others (like Amazon and Google) use only their own (proprietary) software. Open Networking hasn’t much of an impact on the enterprise network yet, because of complex support and training issues. It seems like the main beneficiary of open networking will be Facebook (which started the OCP and TIP) and global telcos/ISPs (e.g. Yahoo Japan).
Telco Focused Open Source Projects:
Telcos such as AT&T, Verizon, China Mobile, DTK, and others have embraced open source technologies to move faster into the future. And LF Networking is at the heart of this transformation. AT&T seems to be the leading open source software telco. The company contributed their own software on virtual networks as ONAP to the Linux Foundation. The project is now being used by in production by other companies, and AT&T in return is benefiting from the work the competitors are doing to improve the code base.
AT&T also led the effort on Project CORD (Central Office Rearchitected as a Data center). CORD combines NFV, SDN, and the elasticity of commodity clouds to bring data center economics and cloud agility to the Telco Central Office. CORD lets the network operator manage their Central Offices using declarative modeling languages for agile, real-time configuration of new customer services. Major service providers like AT&T, SK Telecom, Verizon, China Unicom and NTT Communications are already supporting CORD.
AT&T contributed to the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) work on multi-gigabit PON virtual optical line termination hardware abstraction (VOLTHA), which is an open source software stack for PON networks. ONF is now working on integrating the ONAP operating system with multi-gigabit passive optical networks. ONAP was created by the merger of the Open ECOMP platform created by AT&T Labs with a similar, preexisting open source development project.
AT&T and the ONF will build on ongoing field trials of XGS-PON technology designed to support speeds up to 10 Gbps. The current XGS-PON trial is testing multi-gigabit high-speed internet traffic and providing AT&T DirecTV NOW video to trial participants. “Collaboration and openness across AT&T, the ONF and VOLTHA teams will be key to bringing this 10 Gbps broadband network to customers faster,” said Igal Elbaz, AT&T senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in the press release. “Now that we’ve proven the viability of open access technology in our trials, we can start the integration with our operations and management automation platform – ONAP.
ONF also provides a variety of Reference Designs, which are are “blueprints” developed by ONF’s Operator members to address specific use cases for the emerging edge cloud. Each Reference Design is backed by specific network operator partner(s) who plan to deploy these designs into their production networks and will include participation from invited supply chain partners sharing the vision and demonstrating active investment in building open source solutions.
The Telecom Infra Project aims to collaborate on building new technologies, examining new business approaches, and spurring investment in the telecom space. TIP Project Groups are divided into three strategic networks areas that collectively make up an end-to-end network: Access, Backhaul, and Core and Management. TIP members include operators, suppliers, developers, systems integrators, startups, and other entities that have joined TIP to build new technologies and develop innovative approaches for deploying telecom network infrastructure. Most telco members are outside the U.S. However, Century Link, Cox Communications, Sprint, and Windstream are U.S. based members. Representatives from Deutsche Telekom, BT, Vodafone, and Telefonica are on the TIP Board of Directors.
“From 1876 to 2013 telecom and network equipment design was proprietary….We are now in the 3rd phase of open networking transformation,” said Arpit Joshipura, Linux Foundation GM of Networking at the 2018 OCP Summit. The network equipment design transformation is shown in the figure below:
During his OCP Summit keynote speech, Arpit announced a partnership between OCP and the Linux Foundation to further the development of software and hardware-based open source networking. The organizations will work together to create stronger integration and testing, new open networking features, more scalability, a reduction in CAPEX/OPEX, greater harmonization with switch network operating systems, and increased interoperability for network functions virtualization (NFV) network transformation.
Virtualization of network functions and the resulting disaggregation of hardware and software have created interest in open source at both layers. OCP provides an open source option for the hardware layer, and The Linux Foundation’s OPNFV project integrates OCP along with other open source software projects into relevant NFV reference architectures. Given this alignment, OCP and OPNFV already have been collaborating on activities such as plugfests and joint demos. Now they have committed to expanded collaborative efforts which will accelerate the megatrend of totally open networking.
“It’s exciting to see the principles of open source software development come to hardware, and OCP has already made a substantial contribution to some Linux Foundation project plugfests and demos,” said Arpit Joshipura in the referenced press release. “We see OCP as an integral partner as we explore new opportunities for NFV deployments, performance, features, and footprint. Global network operators agree and ranked OCP very high on a list of the most important projects for OPNFV in a recent survey. We look forward to continued and intensified collaboration across ecosystems.”
The key market disruptors- virtualization of equipment functions, software defined networking and disaggregation of equipment are shown below with the applicable software and hardware entities on the left, and sample open source projects on the right of the figure below.
Arpit said the drivers behind this huge move to open source software running on open source hardware are 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). Mandatory automation of functions (e.g. provisioning and configuration) are (and will be) required to support the high speeds/low latency of 5G and the huge number of IoT endpoints.
The Linux Foundation Networking (LNF) group’s vision includes automating cloud services, network infrastructure, and IoT services as shown in this illustration:
The Linux Foundation Open Source Networking activities include participants from telecom carriers, cloud computing, and enterprises. As shown in the illustration below, 9 out of 10 of the most important projects of participants will use open source software with all 10 of the largest network equipment vendors actively involved and 60% of global subscribers represented. Shared innovation and a 15 minute “new service creation time” are selected goals of the LFN projects.
The .Linux Foundation is leading the way forward to harmonize open source software efforts and get them into the community. In the figure below, the services, software and infrastructure are shown on the left, the various open source projects are shown in the center, and the various standards organizations (but not the actual standards) are shown on the right. It should be duly noted that there are no official standards bodies working on open networking specifications to provide multi-vendor interoperability of exposed interfaces or even APIs within a single piece of equipment.
To clarify that point, Arpit wrote via email: “LFN (which hosts ONAP), is working on de-facto automation open source aspects independent of 5G/4G. The 5G services mandate automation due to IOT and new services that are coming up. The specific specs of 5G are out of scope for Networking Automation. OCP and LFN partnership is limited to what I spoke at the OCP Summit keynote.”
Note: There are more than 20 open source projects for networking currently active at the Linux Foundation (see above illustration). LF also has expanded lately into areas as diverse as software for IoT devices, storage and blockchain. It remains to be seen if the OCP – LNF partnership will create defacto standards (e.g. for virtualization of functions in 5G or IoT) or try to enforce interoperability through certification programs. The current motivation seems to come from carriers like AT&T which are demanding open source software on open source hardware to lower their CAPEX/OPEX and to improve automation of network functions.
Mr. Joshipura asserted that the LFN+OCP partnership would produce the very best of Open Source Software & Hardware. The total community collaboration will include: Hardware Vendors + Silicon Vendors + OEM/Manufacturers + Software Vendors, Systems Integrators + End Users.
Arpit provided a strong conclusion via email:
“Open source networking software is creating de-facto platforms that result in faster innovation across many IT communities. Collaboration between the leaders in open hardware (OCP) and Open Source Software (Linux Foundation Networking) will help propel this even further and broaden the scope of true open networking. This industry collaboration allows faster deployment, but still offers innovation on top.”
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is gaining a lot of awareness and market traction, judging by last week’s very well attended TIP Summit at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The number of telecom network operators presented was very impressive, especially considering that none were from the U.S. with the exception of AT&T, which presented on behalf of the Open Compute Project (OCP) Networking Group. It was announced at the summit that the OCP Networking group had formed an alliance with TIP.
The network operators that presented or were panelists included representatives from: Deutsche Telekom AG, Telefonica, BT, MTN Group (Africa), Bharti Airtel LTD (India), Reliance Jio (India), Vodafone, Turkcell (Turkey), Orange, SK Telecom, TIM Brasil, etc. Telecom Italia, NTT, and others were present too. Cable Labs – the R&D arm of the MSOs/cablecos – was represented in a panel where they announced a new TIP Community Lab (details below).
Facebook co-founded TIP along with Intel, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom, and SK Telecom at the 2016 Mobile World Congress event. Like the OCP (also started by Facebook), its mission is to dis-aggregate network hardware into modules and define open source software building blocks. As its name implies, TIP’s focus is telecom infrastructure specific in its work to develop and deploy new networking technologies. TIP members include more than 500 companies, including telcos, Internet companies, vendors, consulting firms and system integrators. Membership seems to have grown exponentially in the last year.
During his opening keynote speech, Axel Clauberg, VP of technology and innovation at Deutsche Telekom and chairman of the TIP Board of Directors, announced that three more operators had joined the TIP Board: BT, Telefonica, and Vodafone.
“TIP is truly operator-focused,” Clauberg said. “It’s called Telecom Infrastructure Project, and I really count on the operators to continue contributing to TIP and to take us to new heights.” That includes testing and deploying the new software and hardware contributed to TIP, he added.
“My big goal for next year is to get into the deployment stage,” Clauberg said. “We are working on deployable technology. [In 2018] I want to be measured on whether we are successfully entering that stage.”
Jay Parikh, head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook, echoed that TIP’s end goal is deployments, whether it is developing new technologies, or supporting the ecosystem that will allow them to scale.
“It is still very early. Those of you who have been in the telco industry for a long time know that it does not move lightning fast. But we’re going to try and change that,” Parikh said.
TIP divides its work into three areas — access, backhaul, and core & management — and each of the project groups falls under one of those three areas. Several new project groups were announced at the summit:
- Artificial Intelligence and applied Machine Learning (AI/ML): will focus on using machine learning and automation to help carriers keep pace with the growth in network size, traffic volume, and service complexity. It will also work to accelerate deployment of new over-the-top services, autonomous vehicles, drones, and augmented reality/virtual reality.
- End-to-End Network Slicing (E2E-NS): aims to create multiple networks that share the same physical infrastructure. That would allow operators to dedicate a portion of their network to a certain functionality and should make it easier for them to deploy 5G-enabled applications.
- openRAN: will develop RAN technologies based on General Purpose Processing Platforms (GPPP) and disaggregated software.
The other projects/working groups are the following:
- Edge Computing: This group is addressing system integration requirements with innovative, cost-effective and efficient end-to-end solutions that serve rural and urban regions in optimal and profitable ways.
- This group is pioneering a 60GHz wireless networking system to deliver gigabits of capacity in dense, urban environments more quickly, easily and at a lower cost than deploying fiber. A contribution was made to IEEE 802.11ay task force this year on use cases for mmW backhaul.
Above illustration courtesy of TIP mmW Networks Group
- Open Optical Packet Transport: This project group will define Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) open packet transport architecture that triggers new innovation and avoids implementation lock-ins. Open DWDM systems include open line system & control, transponder & network management and packet-switch and router technologies.
- The Working Group is focused on enabling carriers to more efficiently deliver new services and applications by using mobile edge computing (MEC) to turn the RAN network edge (mobile, fixed, licensed and unlicensed spectrum) into an open media and service hub.
- The project is pioneering a virtualized RAN (VRAN) solution comprised of low-cost remote radio units that can be managed and dynamically reconfigured by a centralized infrastructure over non-ideal transport.
- project group will develop an open RAN architecture by defining open interfaces between internal components and focusing on the lab activity with various companies for multi-vendor interoperability. The goal is to broaden the mobile ecosystem of related technology companies to drive a faster pace of innovation.
A complete description, with pointers/hyperlinks to respective project/work group charters is in the TIP Company Member Application here.
TEACs – Innovation Centers for TIP:
Also of note was the announcement of several new TEACs – TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Centers, where start-ups and investors can work together with incumbent network operators to progress their respective agendas for telecom infrastructure.
“By bringing together the key actors – established operators, cutting-edge startups, and global & local investors – TEACs establish the necessary foundation to foster collaboration, accelerate trials, and bring deployable infrastructure solutions to the telecom industry.”
TEACs are located in London (BT), Paris (Orange), and Seoul (SK Telecom). .
TIP Community Labs:
TIP Community Labs are physical spaces that enable collaboration between member companies in a TIP project group to develop telecom infrastructure solutions. While the labs are dedicated to TIP projects and host TIP project teams, the space and basic equipment are sponsored by individual TIP member companies hosting the space. The labs are located in: Seoul, South Korea (sponsored by SK Telecom); Bonn, Germany (sponsored by Deutsche Telekom); Menlo Park, California, USA (sponsored by Facebook). Coming Soon Rio de Janiero, Brazil – to be sponsored by TIM Brasil. At this summit, Cable Labs announced it will soon open a TIP Community Lab in Louisville, CO.
AT&T’s Tom Anschutz (a very respected colleague) said during his November 9th – 1pm keynote presentation:
“Network functions need to be disaggregated and ‘cloudified.’ We need to decompose monolithic, vertically integrated systems into building blocks; create abstraction layers that hide complexity. Design code and hardware as independent modules that don’t bring down the entire IT system/telecom network if they fail.”
Other noteworthy quotes:
“We’re going to build these use-case demonstrations,” said Mansoor Hanif, director of converged networks and innovation at BT. “If you’re going to do something as difficult and complex as network slicing, you might as well do it right.”
“This is the opening of a system that runs radio as a software on top of general purpose processes and interworks with independent radio,” said Santiago Tenorio, head of networks at Vodafone Group. The project will work to reduce the costs associated with building mobile networks and make it easier for smaller vendors to enter the market. “By opening the system will we get a lower cost base? Definitely yes,” absolutely yes,” Tenorio added.
“Opening up closed, black-box systems enables innovation at every level, so that customers can meet the challenges facing their networks faster and more efficiently,” said Josh Leslie, CEO of Cumulus Networks. “We’re excited to work with the TIP community to bring open systems to networks beyond the data center.” [See reference press release from Cumulus below].
“Open approaches are key to achieving TIP’s mission of disaggregating the traditional network deployment approach,” said Hans-Juergen Schmidtke, Co-Chair of the TIP Open Optical Packet Transport project group. “Our collaboration with Cumulus Networks to enable Cumulus Linux on Voyager (open packet DWDM architecture framework and white box transponder design) is an important contribution that will help accelerate the ecosystem’s adoption of Voyager.”
Closing Comments: Request for Reader Inputs!
- What’s really interesting is that there are no U.S. telco members of TIP. Bell Canada is the only North American telecom carrier among its 500 members. Equinix and Cable Labs are the only quasi- network operator members in the U.S.
- Rather than write a voluminous report which few would read, we invite readers to contact the author or post a comment on areas of interest after reviewing the 2017 TIPS Summit agenda.
Timon Sloane of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) provided an update on project CORD on November 1st at the Telecom Council’s Carrier Connections (TC3) summit in Mt View, CA. The session was titled:
Spotlight on CORD: Transforming Operator Networks and Business Models
After the presentation, Sandhya Narayan of Verizon and Tom Tofigh of AT&T came up to the stage to answer a few audience member questions (there was no real panel session).
The basic premise of CORD is to re-architect a telco/MSO central office to have the same or similar architecture of a cloud resident data center. Not only the central office, but also remote networking equipment in the field (like an Optical Line Termination unit or OLT) are decomposed and disaggregated such that all but the most primitive functions are executed by open source software running on a compute server. The only hardware is the Physical layer transmission system which could be optical fiber, copper, or cellular/mobile.
Author’s Note: Mr. Sloane didn’t mention that ONF became involved in project CORD when it merged with ON.Labs earlier this year. At that time, the ONOS and CORD open source projects became ONF priorities. The Linux Foundation still lists CORD as one of their open source projects, but it appears the heavy lifting is being done by the new ONF as per this press release.
A reference implementation of CORD combines commodity servers, white-box switches, and disaggregated access technologies with open source software to provide an extensible service delivery platform. This gives network operators (telcos and MSOs) the means to configure, control, and extend CORD to meet their operational and business objectives. The reference implementation is sufficiently complete to support field trials.
Illustration above is from the OpenCord website
Highlights of Timon Sloane’s CORD Presentation at TC3:
- ONF has transformed over the last year to be a network operator led consortium.
- SDN, Open Flow, ONOS, and CORD are all important ONF projects.
- “70% of world wide network operators are planning to deploy CORD,” according to IHS-Markit senior analyst Michael Howard (who was in the audience- see his question to Verizon below).
- 80% of carrier spending is in the network edge (which includes the line terminating equipment and central office accessed).
- The central office (CO) is the most important network infrastructure for service providers (AKA telcos, carriers and network operators, MSO or cablecos, etc).
- The CO is the service provider’s gateway to customers.
- End to end user experience is controlled by the ingress and egress COs (local and remote) accessed.
- Transforming the outdated CO is a great opportunity for service providers. The challenge is to turn the CO into a cloud like data center.
- CORD mission is the enable the “edge cloud.” –>Note that mission differs from the OpenCord website which states:
“Our mission is to bring datacenter economies and cloud agility to service providers for their residential, enterprise, and mobile customers using an open reference implementation of CORD with an active participation of the community. The reference implementation of CORD will be built from commodity servers, white-box switches, disaggregated access technologies (e.g., vOLT, vBBU, vDOCSIS), and open source software (e.g., OpenStack, ONOS, XOS).”
- A CORD like CO infrastructure is built using commodity hardware, open source software, and white boxes (e.g. switch/routers and compute servers).
- The agility of a cloud service provider depends on software platforms that enable rapid creation of new services- in a “cloud-like” way. Network service providers need to adopt this same model.
- White boxes provide subscriber connections with control functions virtualized in cloud resident compute servers.
- A PON Optical Line Termination Unit (OLT) was the first candidate chosen for CORD. It’s at the “leaf of the cloud,” according to Timon.
- 3 markets for CORD are: Mobile (M-), Enterprise (E-), and Residential (R-). There is also the Multi-Service edge which is a new concept.
- CORD is projected to be a $300B market (source not stated).
- CORD provides opportunities for: application vendors (VNFs, network services, edge services, mobile edge computing, etc), white box suppliers (compute servers, switches, and storage), systems integrators (educate, design, deploy, support customers, etc).
- CORD Build Event was held November 7-9, 2017 in San Jose, CA. It explored CORD’s mission, market traction, use cases, and technical overview as per this schedule.
Service Providers active in CORD project:
- AT&T: R-Cord (PON and g.fast), Multi-service edge-CORD, vOLTHA (Virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction)
- Verizon: M-Cord
- Sprint: M-Cord
- Comcast: R-Cord
- Century Link: R-Cord
- Google: Multi-access CORD
Author’s Note: NTT (Japan) and Telefonica (Spain) have deployed CORD and presented their use cases at the CORD Build event. Deutsche Telekom, China Unicom, and Turk Telecom are active in the ONF and may have plans to deploy CORD?
- This author questioned the partitioning of CORD tasks and responsibility between ONF and Linux Foundation. No clear answer was given. Perhaps in a follow up comment?
- AT&T is bringing use cases into ONF for reference platform deployments.
- CORD is a reference architecture with systems integrators needed to put the pieces together (commodity hardware, white boxes, open source software modules).
- Michael Howard asked Verizon to provide commercial deployment status- number, location, use cases, etc. Verizon said they can’t talk about commercial deployments at this time.
- Biggest challenge for CORD: Dis-aggregating purpose built, vendor specific hardware that exist in COs today. Many COs are router/switch centric, but they have to be opened up if CORD is to gain market traction.
- Future tasks for project CORD include: virtualized Radio Access Network (RAN), open radio (perhaps “new radio” from 3GPP release 15?), systems integration, and inclusion of micro-services (which were discussed at the very next TC3 session).
Addendum from Marc Cohn, formerly with the Linux Foundation:Here’s an attempt to clarify the CORD project responsibilities:
- CORD is an open reference architecture. In that sense, CORD is similar to the ETSI NFV Architectural Framework, ONF SDN Architecture, and MEF LifeCycle Services Orchestration (LSO) reference architectures.
- As it is a reference architecture, it is not an implementation, and is maintained by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which merged with ON.LAB towards the end of 2016.
- OpenCORD is a Linux Foundation project announced in the summer of 2016. It is focused on an open source implementation of the CORD architecture. OpenCord was derived from the work undertaken by ON.LAB, prior to the merger with ONF in 2016.
- For technical details, visit the OpenCORD Wiki
- Part of the confusion is that if one visits the Linux Foundation projects page, CORD is listed, but the link is to the OpenCord website.
Windstream Communications has become a corporate member of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) Linux Foundation project, joining an open-source technology initiative for the first time.
ONAP was formed through the merger of open source ECOMP (contributed by AT&T) and Open Orchestrator Project (OPEN-O), two of the largest open source networking initiatives. It was the big hit of the 2017 Open Networking Summit as we reported in this blog post.
The ONAP Project is focused on creating a harmonized and comprehensive framework for real-time, policy-driven software automation of virtual network functions. ONAP includes participation by prominent networking suppliers and industry-leading service providers from around the world. It’s primary objective is to enable software, network, IT, and cloud providers and developers to rapidly create new services which can be monetized.
The ONAP draft architectural principles, presented at their May 2017 meeting at AT&T Bell Labs in NJ, can be read here.
“Combined with our rapid advances in SDN, Windstream’s participation in ONAP increases the value of our network for all of our customers, as we move to virtualization and cloud-based technologies that offer affordable and efficient next-generation services,” said Art Nichols, vice president of network architecture and technology for Windstream.
“For example, not only does our SDNow solution offer automation and accelerated service delivery, but it forges the path that will allow us to deliver flexible, on-demand services across our multi-vendor network ecosystem.”
“Traditionally, we have always worked with engineering groups and maybe a little bit with IT on the back side” in planning this kind of transition, Windstream’s Jeff Brown told Light Reading in an interview.
“In this new world, you are blending IT and engineering and a lot of crossover resources. So, from the IT perspective, [ONAP] was called out as a group that was taking the leadership role as far as developing open standard work with other companies we have similarities with and with some of our vendors as well.”
Windstream has been informally monitoring multiple open source efforts and supporting the concept of open source for some time now, Brown told Light Reading. The move to more actively engage in orchestration through ONAP was driven by the growing influence of Windstream’s IT department in its transition to software-defined networking, he added.
“In any type of industry forum, whether standards-based or not, you have to make the determination of what kind of resources you can dedicate to it,” Brown notes. Having just come out of meetings around MEF and proofs-of-concept for its 2017 event, he says the same discussions come up there. “We don’t have groups allocated that can do that type of thing and work with vendors,” he says.