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Can We All Just Interoperate?

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Service providers are investing billions in building out 5G networks, and naturally, they want a return on those investments. What’s the best way to get one? There are two factors in the ROI equation – the revenues earned from delivering services, and the cost of delivering those services.

On the earnings side, providers should face the hard truth that ARPU is not going to go up enough to pay for a traditional 5G rollout based on a monolithic solution from one large provider. A Canadian study (The Communications Monitoring Report for 2019) showed that mobile phone ARPU actually declined by 35 percent (from around $80 to about $51) between 2016 and 2018, and other studies have shown ARPU to be flat at best. So even though 5G will deliver up to 100 times the bandwidth of 4G, that doesn’t mean that consumers will pay 100 times more (or even five times more) for it.

On the cost side, providers have been accustomed to buying monolithic network solutions from the likes of Ericsson or Nokia. These ‘walled garden’ solutions offer end-to-end functionality, but they come at a high price. When two or three large companies have a near-monopoly on the mobile telecommunications infrastructure market, they charge accordingly, and innovation often suffers.

Open and Interoperable

But 5G technology was designed in the Internet age, where open systems and interoperability prevail. The 3GPP reference architecture below shows nine discrete functions, and each can and is being handled by individual, interoperable systems from smaller companies. Just as the Internet fostered a new wave of competition in software and hardware that drove down prices dramatically, so the 3GPP model is fostering competition and lower costs in the mobile infrastructure space. In fact, using an architecture based on best-of-breed open systems infrastructure can save providers significant cost savings in the overall cost of a 5G network.

3GPP Architecture

Image Above: 3GPP Architecture Reference

So, what’s not to like? The problem is that most providers aren’t infrastructure experts, and they’re used to doing business a certain way. Going with a major, end-to-end equipment vendor simplifies procurement and deployment processes, while stitching together disparate systems from multiple vendors adds complexity. So even though the open systems approach is far less expensive in terms of CAPEX and greatly improves time to revenue and general ROI, many providers are reluctant to go that route because they fear complexity that could mean increased OPEX.

Intersystem Automation Reduces OPEX

However, OPEX can be significantly reduced by automation and self-healing, or automated remediation, networking systems that enable true network automation with autonomous spine and leaf switches. For example, by utilizing Kaloom’s fully automated fabric these open systems deliver advanced self-healing and self-discovery fabrics capable of automated discovery of incorrect network topology and cabling mistakes. Zero-touch provisioning of the virtual networking and virtual components enables a zero-touch fabric with minimal to no human intervention, reducing manpower costs, downtime and human errors. Zero-touch provisions in minutes vs. hours or even days with traditional solutions. Utilizing open software-based standards and architectures also enables automated software upgrades from open source organizations such as Linux, Kubernetes and others.

Where does that leave open, interoperable systems like Kaloom? Our job is to demonstrate that there’s far less complexity in best-of-breed open systems than the major vendors would have our customers believe. We do this through close relationships with partners like Accton (and their reseller arm – Edgecore networks), Intel/BXD (Barefoot Networks now part of Intel), Red Hat (with their cloud native offering as OpenShift Container Platform) and test equipment vendors like Emblasoft offering pre-tested systems that plug and play well with others.

Proving IT

Claes Löwnander, Executive Vice President Sales at Emblasoft Group AB had this to add about testing interoperability among solutions: “The opportunity to select different solutions and build out a multi-vendor 5G infrastructure is clearly recognized. However, doing so requires effective interoperability between those different systems. That’s where agile test solutions are essential. Operators need independent, neutral test solutions, such as those from Emblasoft, to secure the benefits of a diversified supply chain. By working with providers of such test solutions, operators can incorporate the necessary steps to demonstrate interoperability and to ensure consistency through DevOps-driven processes and continuous integration / delivery cycles. With the adoption of automated, neutral test solutions, operators can ensure - and continuously validate – the desired multi-vendor interoperability, enabling them to embrace this model and to benefit from a broader supply chain.”

In a KubeCon 2019 keynote address we demonstrated how our UPF switches interoperated with other systems to deliver an end-to-end 5G cloud-native network. More recently (September 2020), we presented product demonstrations with open source collaborators IBM and Red Hat at the Linux Foundation’s Open Networking and Edge Summit (ONES 2020), and Red Hat’s Open5GCon.

Our Kaloom Cloud Edge Fabric™ is the first fully automated data center network fabric with built-in support for network slicing featuring an embedded multi-Terabit per second (Tbps) 5G User Plane Function (UPF). We demonstrated our Virtual Central Office 3.0 (VCO 3.0) and 5G UPF capabilities at ONES 2020.

In our Cloud Edge Fabric, Kaloom uses best of breed programmable switches to deliver UPF functionality to deliver smooth integration with upstream session management (SMS) and data management systems. In addition, they deliver twice the available application servers as UPF systems from monolithic vendors, and for a lower price. An interoperable UPF from Kaloom delivers 10x the TCO reduction compared with traditional (x86 based) solutions with the flexibility of SW upgrade, as our solution leverages a highly programmable fabric based on the P4 language.

Today, nobody thinks much about the open systems interoperability that underlies the Internet. White box switches and servers are de facto standards in Internet infrastructure, and vendors support best-of-breed solutions by working closely with ecosystem partners and customers. 5G networks are no different: working with world-class vendors like Kaloom, Red Hat and others, mobile service providers can significantly improve time to revenue and ROI as they roll out their 5G services.