Vodafone, together with Benu Networks, Casa Systems, Cisco and Nokia, have successfully tested a system based on a Broadband Forum specification which will make it quicker and easier to deliver faster fixed broadband services to new and existing customers across Europe.
In a world first, the companies applied a new open architecture to the Broadband Network Gateway (BNG) – a critical component for connecting multiple users to the Internet – to enable it to work using separate software and hardware from multiple vendors. This is an important step in opening up the current single-supplier, monolithic broadband gateways to greater technological innovation from a more diverse supply chain.
Called Disaggregated BNG, the technology will change the way broadband networks are built. Using the global TR-459 standard devised by the Broadband Forum, the test allowed the core control functions of the gateway, such as authenticating a user and increasing bandwidth to support streaming services, to be separated and managed efficiently in the cloud whilst ensuring multi-vendor interoperability. Vodafone can then separately upgrade, scale and deploy new features and add more capacity, enabling greater agility and faster time to market when making enhancements across its pan-European broadband network.
Johan Wibergh, Chief Technology Officer for Vodafone, said: “We are already driving a more diverse and open mobile ecosystem with Open RAN, and now we are targeting fixed broadband. As an industry, and with government support, we owe it to people with no or slow internet access to quicken the rollout of new capabilities on fast, fixed broadband.”
Disaggregated BNG will also lower development costs for existing and new ecosystem partners and allow deeper integration with 5G.
Broadband Forum specification – multi-vendor interoperability
The test used Control and User Plane Separation technologies defined by both the Broadband Forum and the global mobile standard 3GPP, which means there will be more opportunity for converged fixed and mobile service delivery. It was conducted between test labs in Belgium (Nokia), Ireland (Casa Systems), India (Cisco) and the United States (Benu Networks).
The Broadband Forum TR-459 specification describes how a traditionally monolithic function is split into two main components – the Control Plane and the User or the Data plane. The Control Plane is the brain of the system and is responsible for managing the interactions with the customer home router, authenticating the user and determining the services and policies that should be applied. The User or Data Plane is then responsible for forwarding the users’ traffic to the correct services and enforcing any required policies such as Quality of Service (QoS).
Standardization of Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) enables the Control Plane from one vendor to control the User Plane from a different vendor.
“We applaud Vodafone for taking a strong industry leadership role by driving standards-based interoperability between vendors,” said Ajay Manuja, CTO and VP of Engineering at Benu Networks. “Benu has specifically designed our cloud-native, disaggregated SD-Edge platform to be an open system for BNG and 5G convergence, supporting over 25 million broadband-connected homes and businesses.”
“Our goal is to simplify network transformation and make it easy for service providers to be more agile and innovative,” said Jerry Guo, CEO of Casa Systems. “Working with Vodafone, we were able to prove the interoperability and scalability of our standards-based disaggregated BNG solution that allows operators to break away from legacy infrastructures and deploy new services to their customers faster.”
“Cisco is committed to driving solutions to expand broadband penetration worldwide.” said Andy Schutz, Product Management Senior Director for Cisco. “We believe the work being done in the Broadband Forum is fundamental to these efforts, especially in the area of creating greater flexibility and choice of control and user planes from different vendors leveraging the TR-459 standard.”
“As a leading BNG vendor, Nokia is pleased to demonstrate support for a wide range of BNG deployment models including Broadband Forum’s disaggregated BNG architecture,” said Vach Kompella, VP and GM of Nokia’s IP Networks Business Division. “Nokia envisions a significant evolution in BNG architecture with the introduction of CUPS in fixed, wireless and 5G fixed wireless applications which will allow rapid feature introduction, optimal user plane placement and selection, as well as improved operations.”
Ken Ko, managing director of Broadband Forum, told Fierce Telecom the BNG has traditionally been a “monolithic piece of equipment,” meaning operators might have to purchase a second BNG if they want to scale up or add capacity. This in turn could leave them with control plane capacity they don’t need but paid for anyway.
But with a disaggregated BNG, operators can deploy the control and user planes in a new way, centralizing the former and distributing the latter to reap myriad benefits, he said. For instance, the user plane can be deployed closer to the customer, delivering improved performance for users and giving the operator the option to scale in more flexible increments.
Additionally, by centralizing the control plane, operators not only gain scale benefits, but can also eliminate the need to set up a control plane for each individual BNG that’s rolled out. Ko pointed to improved resilience and streamlined orchestration as two other benefits of the disaggregated BNG.
For its part, Vodafone argued disaggregated BNGs would also enable “greater technological innovation from a more diverse supply chain” by lowering development costs for new and existing ecosystem players. It also highlighted the potential for deeper integration with 5G since the same control and user plane separation technology is also defined by 3GPP specifications.
Ko said the test “is a really important milestone,” adding “just the fact that we’ve got all of these players working together on this test shows that we’re getting to real deployable solutions.”
Fiber and cable networks are dominating the global broadband market, with the technologies now servicing 77% of fixed subscriptions, new figures from Point Topic have revealed.
According to the Global Broadband Statistics, which take into account subscriptions up to the end of 2017, more than 50% of people in more than 40 countries, including Singapore (97%), China (89%), United States (87%), and the UK (55%), are connected via full-fiber, fiber-fed copper or cable.
Point Topic Research Director Dr Jolanta Stanke told the Broadband Forum:
“We are finding that customers across most global regions increasingly prefer faster broadband services delivered over fiber and cable platforms, as opposed to ADSL. This trend will continue as more bandwidth-hungry young consumers become paying decision makers, even though superfast 4G LTE and 5G mobile broadband services will compete for their wallets.”
Fiber-fed subscriptions – including Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), Fiber-to-the-Building (FTTB), Fiber-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC), Very High Bitrate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL), VDSL2 and G.fast – accounted for 57% of broadband subscriptions, with more than 530 million connections. Stanke agreed VDSL and Gfast were together largely responsible for the growth that fiber has seen, with more than 30 operators across all continents deploying or trialing G.fast.
“G.fast gives operators a more cost-effective variant of fiber that will be used by operators who want to upgrade their existing networks quicker and more easily,” she added. “This could enable them to serve more customers in less densely populated areas, where direct fiber investment is less economically feasible.”
In total, cable, including hybrid fiber-coaxial, accounted for 20% of all fixed broadband connections. According to the report, the latest standard of this technology is currently deployed across several markets, being especially popular in North America, and can deliver gigabit download speeds.
Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh said the figures reflect the fact that new technologies that let operators deploy fiber deep into the network without having to enter buildings themselves are quickly moving from trials to mass deployment.
“If operators want to deliver competitive broadband services, maximizing their investments through the use of technologies like G.fast is vital,” said Mersh. “Expanding the footprint of their existing fiber networks in this way is cost-effective and delivers the gigabit speeds consumers crave. The growing trend towards fiber, whether its fiber-fed copper or full fiber, and cable deployments highlighted by Point Topic’s report confirms that the Forum’s work on interoperability and management of ‘fiber-extending’ technologies is vitally important.”
The voracious demand for connectivity is evident in the increased demand for fiber, cable and coax despite the parallel growth of LTE and MAYBE (?) “5G.”
Though “5G” is in currently proprietary to each wireless network operator, huge investments in fiber, coax and copper are being made because strategic planners expect 5G to be mainstream in the next several years (we think NOT until late 2021 at the earliest when IMT 2020 recommendations are finalized and implemented in base stations and endpoint devices.
Last month, Broadbandtrends’ Global Service Provider G.fast Deployment Strategies surveyed 33 incumbent and competitive broadband operators from across the globe. The market research firm found that four in five service providers have G.fast plans for this year and that 27% are in active deployments. AT&T is a huge supporter of G.fast while Verizon is not.
About the Broadband Forum
Broadband Forum, a non-profit industry organization, is focused on engineering smarter and faster broadband networks. The Forum’s flagship TR-069 CPE WAN Management Protocol has now exceeded 800 million installations worldwide.