The 5G era will eclipse its predecessors through new and compelling services built on open software and hardware platforms operating in end-to-end fully virtualized environments deployed at web-scale and operating at web-speed. The new momentum is being driven to satisfy the imperative of fundamentally changing network economics and increasing operator revenues - increasing shareholder value and enhancing customer experiences.
Open Interfaces are Achievable
To make the virtualized, programmable and software-defined network a reality from the core to the edge, open interfaces are vital in all parts of the system. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) unlock the flexibility, manageability and cost savings that operators require by breaking open the proprietary stronghold that legacy vendors have on networking equipment and software. Open APIs prevent so-called vendor lock-in by giving operators more choice of suppliers. Open interfaces also drive innovation by allowing more companies and startups to participate in the development of vRAN and vEPC solutions, creating a broad, competitive ecosystem.
Industry momentum is building for open interfaces in mobile networks, as evidenced by initiatives such as the ORAN Alliance, launched in February 2018, which brings together the xRAN Forum and the C-RAN Alliance. Other organizations in this area include Mobile Central Office Re- architected as a Datacenter (M- CORD) and the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).
The ORAN Alliance, which counts many leading operators among its members, is working on decoupling control and user planes in the RAN, building a software stack that operates on COTS hardware and publishing open northbound and southbound APIs. Its xRAN specification was released in September 2018.
Importantly for vRAN implementations, the group is working on an industry imperative, open interoperability between RRUs and vBBUs from different vendors as well as address future use cases and a variety of deployment scenarios.
The goal is to establish a fronthaul spec that is vendor agnostic and interoperable.
The work of the ORAN Alliance dovetails with the edge computing efforts of the open source M-CORD project, which AT&T, Google, SK Telekom, and Verizon are leading to create an open reference solution for software-driven 5G architectures. The two groups are working together to create an open reference implementation for xRAN within M-CORD. That is, M-CORD will embrace and implement the ORAN Alliance’s standard APIs, which broadens the applicability of both group efforts across the industry.
Future of OPEN
In another key open source project at the Linux Foundation, ONAP is addressing Management and Orchestration (MANO) issues by creating a framework for policy-driven software automation of VNFs. With a community of major network operators, vendors and software providers, the group continues to gather industry support for its efforts to provide a neutral automation platform for SDN and NFV implementations.
Led by some of the world’s largest operators, the impetus for driving open interfaces is strong. While building consensus and creating frameworks takes time, the progress achieved by these groups show a keen commitment to break from proprietary legacies.