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Initiatives toward a more open and virtualized infrastructure proliferate

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Initiatives and laboratories to verify and implement the operation of more disaggregated, virtualized and open infrastructures, based on the cloud, are succeeding at a forced marches. Ericsson opened an Open Lab at the beginning of April for customers and partners to experiment with virtualized 5G technologies and Orange will have several 5G laboratories available for testing this semester, where it has networks. Vodafone launched an open network integration and verification center in the UK last week, and Mavenir will soon follow suit. More important is the decision by Dish Network, the fourth US operator, to run its entire new 5G network through Amazon’s public cloud.

Network equipment manufacturers and operators alike are beginning to see the near future with more disaggregated, virtualized, cloud-based 5G telecommunications infrastructures and less dependent on proprietary interfaces. Thus, little by little, the concept of a more open link network is being introduced as an alternative to the link network (RAN) closed to a single supplier. They are not strictly open link networks, but neither are traditional RANs owned by a handful of vendors. These are infrastructures with greater dependence on software and much less on closed components.

The opening up of telecommunications networks is not limited to link networks, although the development and promotion of the Open RAN concept in its various variants, especially by European operators, is what gives the most talk. Now what is being promoted is that the complete infrastructure of telecommunications networks is managed through the cloud, with more disaggregated and virtualized hardware, and that the bulk of its operation is done through software. And everything, as automated and orchestrated (another term in vogue, like resilience) as possible.

Ericsson, Vodafone, Orange and Mavenir have opened several 5G open network technology testing and verification labs to explore, with their customers and partners, different business models for the near future

This vision of open and configurable networks according to needs is no longer little more than a chimera and work is being done to make it a tangible reality in the near future. The great flexibility of the concept and the implementation of the cloud everywhere, whether public, private or mixed, makes it feasible, together with the operation of the global infrastructure of each operator through software. Obviously, cables, antennas and all the processors and physical components in between will continue to exist, but their virtualization and the much greater prominence of software is undeniable.

In recent weeks, the main network equipment manufacturers, traditionally reluctant to open their equipment, seem to be accepting and participating in the development of the new paradigm of open telecommunications networks, a diffuse but unstoppable concept. In the middle of the month, the president of Huawei, Eric Xu, proclaimed that his company was turning to software development to better adapt to the new times.

Nishant Batra, head of technology and strategy at Nokia, said a couple of days later that “the future of 5G networks is in the software.” Samsung, the Korean manufacturer that also wants to gain a foothold in the network market, is promoting virtual link networks (vRAN), controlled from the cloud, especially in the United States. And Börje Ekholm, CEO of Sweden’s Ericsson, responding to an analyst’s question during the virtual presentation of the third quarter results, said that he “saw a lot of discussions about Open RAN, with advantages and disadvantages”.

It is important to remember that Ericsson is a key Open RAN partner and will continue to be, Ekholm added. “We believe that Open RAN is something that will clearly happen and we do everything necessary to be well placed.” Therefore, he specified, “we need to make the transition to achieve higher billing with software.” The head of Ericsson believes that Open RAN will not have a great impact in the 2021-22 period, but then it will begin to impact and make business models evolve, as has happened with other technological changes. “It is about us leading this development and then we will have a very good opportunity,” he added.

Ericsson lab to explore open RAN

Ericsson opened an Open Lab on March 31 “to collaborate and innovate with Ericsson Cloud RAN customers and ecosystem partners to drive virtualized 5G RAN technologies.” It is a virtual and physical space to make new deployments and use cases, increase automation and reduce manual intervention, with initial emphasis on Ericsson’s Cloud RAN but with room to explore more Open RAN technologies. The laboratory will be accessible to all customers in a virtual way and the activities will be supported from the company’s headquarters around the world, says the company’s statement, and is physically located within the research laboratory that Ericsson has in Ottawa, capital. from Canada.

“We have created this laboratory to develop common operating standards and architectures that complement today’s 5G technology,” says Fredrik Jejdling, vice president and head of business networking at Ericsson. Open technology underpins the miracle of modern mobile communications, connecting more than 8 billion terminals to a set of global standards. “With Ericsson Open Lab, we invite our customers and partners to co-create and achieve new innovations in the 5G cloud,” he adds.

Collaboration in the lab will not be limited to Ericsson’s native cloud infrastructure technology and advancements in networking with commercial servers and acceleration hardware but will also seek further cooperation in areas such as machine learning, network automation and optimization of communications with service providers and industry partners, the statement insists. Several operators have agreed to use it, such as KDDI, Orange, SoftBank, Ooredoo, and Tukcell. 100 MHz of spectrum in the middle band and 60 MHz of spectrum in the interior and exterior, also in the middle band, will be available for testing.

Dish Networks puts the deployment of the entire infrastructure and management of its 5G network in the United States, virtualized and based on Open RAN, in the hands of AWS, which should cover at least 70% of the population by June 2023

Orange’s chief technology officer, Michael Trabbia, pledged last Wednesday to deploy Open RAN-compatible equipment on its networks starting in 2025, although he emphasized that this did not constitute an attack on the current participation of European network providers, Ericsson. and Nokia. “Open RAN will be important to achieve more agility and more automation in our network, but the goal is not to bypass our current suppliers,” he insisted, “but to give new entrants more opportunities to replace companies restricted in Europe [read Huawei] in specialized areas ”. Orange wants a strong European Open RAN ecosystem, supposedly in line with the memorandum signed with three other major operators last January.

Orange has announced the opening of nine 5G Labs throughout this semester, seven in France, one in Spain and one in Romania, and soon one near the port of Antwerp. The Orange initiative is designed to support the testing, experimentation and development of 5G networks, both from the practice of current uses and solutions and to start experimenting with new business models and processes of 5G networks and extract their full potential. Access will be both physical and virtual.

Vodafone also opens an Open RAN laboratory

Vodafone continues its efforts to promote open networking, especially through the TIP association’s OpenRAN developments, and has just announced the creation of an OpenRAN test and validation laboratory on the Newbury UK campus. The laboratory will initially have 30 engineers but their number could grow as new partners are added, according to a statement.

The head of the Vodafone network, Andrea Dona, considers that the development of Open RAN “is still in its infancy”, but the company wants to avoid a deadlock situation, one in which operators expect perfect products and manufacturers demand it. needed to get started. For this reason, Vodafone takes the step of opening the laboratory and also enhancing “the role that the United Kingdom plays in the development of this important new technology.”

Matt Warman, head of digital infrastructure in the British Government, assured that he wants to put the United Kingdom “at the forefront of the telecommunications revolution and the creation of new jobs and opportunities.” Just last week, a task force commissioned by the British government for the diversification of telecommunications presented a report recommending that operators use alternative providers or Open RAN in 25% of their networks by 2025.

The report, commissioned last August and led by Ian Livingston, former chief executive officer of British Telecom, sets four priorities: that telecommunications standards promote security and openness of networks, that a diversified environment is created through government interventions and regulatory, that Open RAN technology is developed and that it invests in long-term R&D so that the UK is strong in current and future generations of telecommunications.

As the British press assures, Oliver Dowden, head of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports portfolios in the British Government, was alarmed last year when the British telecommunications network was at the mercy of Ericsson and Nokia due to the outright exclusion of Huawei and fell in love with OpenRAN technology. But, as Jean-Christophe Plantin of the London School of Economics and Political Science points out in a paper of April 14, “the open RAN model reveals how the US government wants to promote this nascent technology to create opposition among its own networks. of telecommunications open in front of the proprietors and that presumably lack confidence based on foreign equipment like Huawei ”.

For the academic, a careful look at the benefits of open RAN to increase network security or open the equipment market reveals, in this case, “how the openness of networks is an ambiguous notion that can be used by Governments to exclude foreign commercial enemies while advocating on the other hand for reliance on telecommunications networks ”.

The point is, only Vodafone is enthusiastic about OpenRAN in the UK. Howard Watson, BT’s CTO, does not see Open RAN technology likely to feature prominently on the UK network until 2017. BT’s network will be in the coming years from Ericsson and Nokia, with whom it has already signed contracts, while its competitor Three has gone from Huawei to Ericsson and its top manager ensures that open technology comes too late to develop. O2, now that the Virgin merger has been accepted, does not have Huawei equipment in its network, so relying on Nordic suppliers does not present a problem. In any case, the Mavenir company, which develops Open RAN equipment, has also just announced its commitment to open an Open RAN laboratory in Great Britain.

In continental Europe, the future of the Open RAN may be more favorable than in Great Britain if the commitment between Vodafone, Telefónica, DT and Orange to promote and roll it out in a very few years is maintained. It should also be taken into account that the broad concept of Open RAN (with two separate words, compared to the more restrictive OpenRAN of TIP) allows a wide range, together with the trend towards virtualization.

Dish Network ties its future to AWS

Another important agreement was also announced last week, and its conclusion will surely be closely followed by those responsible for technology from large and small global operators. It is that Dish Network has decided to put its entire telecommunications network in the hands of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Not just your servers and central telecommunications systems or backbone functions, but your entire telecommunications infrastructure.

Dish is the fourth telecommunications operator in the United States, the result of the acquisition of certain assets of Sprint and T-Mobile US, which had to be disposed of from them to achieve the merger. Dish must cover, according to the commitment agreed with the FCC regulator, 20% of the US population in June 2022 and 70% a year later. Marc Rouanne, head of technology at Dish and previously with similar positions at Alcatel-Lucent and later at Nokia, says his company has studied 18 alternatives in the last 18 months before opting for AWS.

Charlie Ergen, co-founder and president of Dish Network, specifies that “thanks to the collaboration with AWS, we will operate not only as a provider of telecommunications services but also as a provider of digital services thanks to the combined power of 5G connectivity and the cloud.” Dish follows a model similar to Rakuten, which bases its entire business model on the cloud and full virtualization, but with the important difference that the entire infrastructure will be supported by AWS.

In the joint statement, the excellence of the agreement is sung naturally by both parties, without giving too many details beyond the fact that it is a SA 5G network based on a native cloud with Open RAN technology. For AWS, the deployment and development of this network in the United States is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity to export this model to other parts of the globe. As with the Rakuten network, which has not been talked about so much lately, this network managed by the ambitious and with huge resources AWS will give a lot to talk about.