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Vodafone announces slew of ambitious Open RAN plans with multiple partners

The operator is looking beyond accelerating its own Open RAN goals to those of Europe and the global industry writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

October saw a raft of announcements from Vodafone. First, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO signed an MoU agreeing to cooperate on harmonising mobile operators’ system integration and test processes. This includes testing criteria and experiences to create common test scripts – software instructions to conduct tests – so vendors can avoid duplicating effort arising from every operator doing everything slightly differently. Their work will adhere to the specifications of the 3GPP and the ORAN Alliance and is intended to improve interoperability between vendors’ systems across 4G and 5G Open RAN networks globally.

The two companies also aim to maximize the benefits of the Service Management Orchestrator – part of the Open RAN Network Operation Support System – and the RAN Intelligent Controller platform (SMO/RIC). To these ends, they will identify the key features of SMO/RIC, determine their probable evolution and define the underlying software architecture.

Through their joint efforts, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO want to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators by enhancing the efficiency of RAN technologies, integration processes, AI and machine learning, and automation techniques, with a view to publishing a whitepaper.

Expanding Europe’s ecosystem

The operator said it will partner Nokia to advance the Open RAN ecosystem in Europe. They claim their efforts mark “a significant milestone for the mobile industry and a major boost to Europe’s competitiveness”.

They are to combine Nokia’s ReefShark system on chip (SoC) technology, developed in cooperation with Marvell, with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers in a solution based on the ORAN Alliance’s specifications. They say this will put their solution’s performance on a par with traditional mobile radio networks. Nokia’s ReefShark SoC boosts Layer-1 processing which is integral to connecting users to mobile base stations and support high levels of data traffic.


Commercial pilot in Germany

Open RAN should allow for far great levels of automation than have been possible previously: Vodafone has set a target of 30% of its European networks running on Open RAN by 2030 and announced it will launch a commercial Open RAN pilot in Germany after successful field tests earlier this year in Plauen. The pilot will use software and radio equipment from Samsung, and will take place in south-east Bavaria and north-east Lower Saxony, and from there be rolled out across Germany over the next two to three years.

Santiago Tenorio, Director of Network Architecture for Vodafone, noted the pilot “brings timely resilience to the supply chain, allowing us to work with a greater number and more diverse pool of suppliers. Greater competition also encourages innovation, leading to a better mobile experience for our customers.”


Marvell – another starring role

 Vodafone, Samsung Electronics Co. and Marvell are also to collaborate in an effort to accelerate the performance and adoption of 5G Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) across Europe. They will use Marvell’s OCTEON Fusion processor/accelerator which is optimised to carry out the complex calculations normally carried out by central processing units (CPUs) in existing virtualized mobile networks.

When combined with Samsung’s vRAN software, the chip speeds up the data processing for complex radio network functions, “enabling Open RAN to deliver features, security and performance like those of a traditional mobile radio networks”. Further improvements are promised, but the energy efficiency of mobile sites should improve immediately after deployment through needing fewer CPUs.

Boosting Massive MIMO

Accelerators can also deliver Massive MIMO to serve many customers in dense urban areas such as shopping centres, sports arenas and business parks – and Vodafone is hedging its bets, announcing the next stage of its collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies.

The two are to develop, test and integrate 5G distributed and radio units with Massive MIMO capabilities powered by the Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card and the Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform. The solutions are expected to use less power and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) for Massive MIMO with 64T64R and 32T32R capabilities.

This joint announcement builds on the companies’ commitment in April 2021 to develop technical blueprints to help equipment suppliers build 5G networks on Open RAN technology.

Cutting the cost of upgrading 4G sites to 5G

And finally, Vodafone is deploying new disaggregated cell site gateway (DCSG) routers to cut the cost of upgrading 4G cell sites to 5G and of bringing new ones online. The routers link mobile sites to the core network. The DCSG routers are based on the same principles as Open Radio Area Network (RAN) equipment. Santiago Tenorio, Director of Vodafone Network Architecture, said, “By opening the door to greater vendor diversity and network automation, we can stay ahead of the curve and bring new mobile sites online more quickly and cheaply.”

Vodafone is using hardware from Edgecore Networks Corporation, a subsidiary of Taiwanese company Accton Technology Corporation, with software from the German networking and software company ADVA, for the roll-out in Turkey. The Vodafone DCSG router is described as “easy to install”, and software changes and capacity upgrades can be made automatically, making it cheaper to extend coverage.

Hard on the heels of that announcement by Vodafone, Orange said it has jointly created the world’s first disaggregated switch with Edgecore Networks that has accessible software. The developers code all the Edgecore switch’s functions using the principles of the SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) open source movement.

Orange stated, “This bold move towards disaggregation and community open-source software is part of a major upgrade of Orange’s access network infrastructure”.

Cloud infrastructure market on the up, service assurance gets a makeover

It’s been a busy month for new products and solutions that will power future networks. Contributing editor Annie Turner provides a whistlestop tour.

Analysys Mason estimates that the network cloud infrastructure sector for telecoms will quadruple from $6.9 billion in 2020 to $30.1 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28%. It expects the growth to be mainly driven by operators’ 5G investments in vRAN, the standalone core and network edge. The analyst house splits the market into five main sub-segments: network cloud hardware; virtual infrastructure management (VIM); container-as-a-service (CaaS); virtualisation layer and data centre software-defined network control. It reckons vRAN will be the fastest growing cloud domain in terms of spending (with a CAGR 58%) with investment in this area reaching $12 billion by 2026.

Dell Technologies is introducing a cloud infrastructure solution, engineered with Wind River, to help operators simplify and accelerate cloud-native network deployments. Dell’s telecom partner certification programme should allow technology partners to validate and integrate their products within a “growing open technology ecosystem”. Dell points out that unlike clouds typically used by enterprises, clouds for mobile networks must address distributed geographic areas and strict service level agreements (SLAs) while supporting a range of software, compute and networking technologies that have made these deployments complex and costly.

Cloud Metro for scale and security

Juniper Networks has applied cloud principles to architect, build, and operate metro networks. The firm describes it as “an experience-first network,” which “provides a quality service instead of mere packet transport, with automated and AI-aware operations at the forefront of new approach.” Juniper argues that metro traffic is estimated to grow 500% by 2027, but the cost per bit is not sustainable, and network cannot scale efficiently. Also, security is challenging, as is the shortage of skills, plus ITU standards require greenhouse emissions to be reduced to 45% by 2030. In short, traditional metro isn’t up to it, but Juniper says its Cloud Metro offer is.

Viva Las Vegas!

Rakuten Symphony announces Symops Service Assurance at MWC in Las Vegas. According to the company, it has already been deployed in commercial networks and delivered modern monitoring, network change management and navigation of daily operational tasks in 40% less time than usual. It also claims that configuration errors can be cut by 70% and trouble tickets halved. It points out that these “enablers” are usually sold separately but that fault, performance and configuration management, automation engine, data management and analytics, are all part of the Symworld platform. Further, this consolidation of operational domain data (RAN, core, transport, BSS, and security) and end-to-end data management “leads to transformational outcomes versus traditional approaches”.

Still more from MWC

VMware unveiled several new products and partnerships at MWC Las Vegas, designed to accelerate 5G core, RAN and edge deployments, and lifecycle management. This includes VMware an expanded version of its Telco Cloud Platform Ecosystem so operators can upgrade the control plane and worker node pools separately, and secure their 5G networks with intrusion detection and prevention system (IDPS) for east-west network traffic. VMware says is also can speed the deployment of network services due to a growing partner ecosystem of more than 275 virtual- and cloud-network functions (VNFs and CNFs) including Mavenir’s Converged Packet Core.

VMware launch its Telco Cloud Service Assurance 2.0, which DISH Wireless will test to monitor its distributed-cloud infrastructure and collect metrics and logs for actionable insights and to facilitate closed-loop automated provisioning and management. The VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN 2.0 is intended to simplifying deployments across distributed RAN sites with “cloud-smart automation”. This release apparently improves performance, operability and scale.

TCS opens two new telecom arms

India’s The Economic Times reports Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has created two new business unit dedicated to telecom and 5G solutions. They are the network solutions and services unit (NSS) to cater for 5G deployment and engineering. The cognitive enterprise network unit (CEN) is to offer intelligent network management solutions. NSS will focus on solutions including: product engineering for wireless services and radio frequency; network roll-out for wireline services; intelligent networks; network virtualisation and automation; 5G services and network planning. TCS is India’s largest IT services company by revenue and is reportedly in the final stages of closing a potential $2 billion 4G network implementation deal with state-run operator BSNL.


HFCL announced the launch of 5G Lab-as-a-Service to accelerate roll-out of 5G solutions and services. From prototyping to end-to-end testing, HFCL’s 5G Lab are intended to enable telecom operators and ecosystem partners to co-create 5G solutions, services and business models and build new 5G use cases. HFCL says the lab is relevant to sectors including manufacturing, transportation, healthcare and retail and that it will provide access to highly skilled teams with expertise in 5G networks and devices including expertise in DevOps, continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD), Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies for testing in 5G environments.


Network slicing Down Under, revitalised BSS/OSS and very different greenhouse effects

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at some of the market and technology moves around network automation over recent weeks. 

Telstra is claiming a world first is on the way – a suite of 5G Standalone automated and orchestrated services for enterprises. Ericsson says the two companies have stepped out of the lab “to deploy an automated standards-based network slicing service orchestration capability in the commercial network, using Ericsson Orchestration and Ericsson Inventory”.

New functions include: interworking with fully automated 5G network slicing; Local Packet Gateway which provides enterprise customers with on-site local data breakout; and 5G enterprise routers with network slicing capabilities, delivered by the Ericsson unit Cradlepoint.

With the 5G RAN and dual-mode 5G Core, Telstra should be able to offer enterprise customers differentiated services that deliver assured networ nk characteristics such as throughput, latency and resilience for digitised operations and processes.

And all that Jazz

Pakistan’s 4G operator, Jazz, has chosen Juniper Networks to build an expanded and upgraded data centre network to underpin Jazz’s services delivery platform for its 74.9 million subscribers. Jazz’s objective was to refresh its architectural approach, leveraging continuous automation, assurance and data-driven insights to deliver a better network user experience, at scale, while simplifying operations.

Jazz chose Juniper after a rigorous technology appraisal that focused on the operational and cost efficiencies made possible by network automation. According to the press release, “Juniper’s advanced automation capabilities, transforming the entire network management lifecycle process within a single system, were a standout in the market”.

Automation is the future

In early September, BT gave a progress report on its ambitious plans, outlined in summer 2021, to modernise its infrastructure. It reckons it can shave £500 million off its operating costs by getting rid of a long list networks and services based on legacy technologies by the end of the decade, with overall network running costs reduced by about 30%.

In a media session at its new London HQ, BT’s CTO Howard Watson said, “There remains a real challenge to earn a return on capital and we are a very infrastructure-intensive business and technology lifecycles are actually quite short”. BT’s Chief Architect, Neil McRae, added, “The future is about automation and network capability where you need it. With legacy that is not possible, and we want to shut that down.”

Still growth in BSS/OSS

Omdia’s practice leader, James Crawshaw, said he expects the telco IT market to exceed $40 billion by 2027, up from more than $30 billion in 2021. He explained that although BSS/OSS are seen as mature technologies, parts of that market thrived during the pandemic as service providers invested in better automation and customer experience for those platforms.

In particular he noted that over the last year, Amdocs, has enjoyed 8% organic growth, up from 2% where it had been for some years, and even that had been driven by acquisition to some extent. He also cited Netcracker’s success in this sphere, and Nokia and Ericsson’s significant presence, adding, “We try and work out what the revenues are of all of the major players and there’s a long tail…we track…or estimate the revenues of around 100 companies, but it’s really the top 10 that make up probably 40% of the revenue…that’s we get to for our estimate about $30 billion [now].”

Google Cloud joins TM Forum

Just in time for TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World in Copenhagen, Denmark, Google Cloud has joined the global association to help the telecoms industry unlock “growth and potential”. The hyperscaler is to work with the Forum and its members to realise the value of cloud-native automation in network evolution. This includes applying AI, like machine learning, to improve customers’ experience, and leveraging cloud computing to open new areas of growth and monetization.

Further, Google Cloud will work with the Forum’s members to help them “access a single source of truth around their data through better data management, automation, and data governance in multi-hybrid cloud environments”. This includes the two organisations demonstrating use cases that show how AI can optimise and modernise networks and helping to develop closed-loop APIs.

A different greenhouse effect

Vodafone has deployed a 5G private network at a Bayer greenhouse in Monheim, Germany, to improve its research into insecticides. The greenhouse covers 11,000 square meters and consists of 133 chambers, in each of which climatic conditions can be simulated with different temperatures and humidity, day lengths and so on. The network will support tools like autonomous robots, AI and digital imaging.

Alexander Saul, head of corporate customers at Vodafone Germany. “The basis for this is the 5G network with high bandwidths and extremely short response times to handle the amount of data generated transport and reliably maintain the flow of information.”

Autonomous robots can obtain knowledge about plants’ health quickly using AI and digital imaging via a series of 5G antennas that provide the greenhouse with a 5G Standalone connection, which Vodafone brands as 5G+.

BT private 5G partnership buoys Ericsson, while declarative code gets a grip

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at some of the market and technology moves around network automation over recent weeks. 

BT and Ericsson (UK and Ireland) signed multi-million-pound partnership to provide commercial 5G networks. The two claim this is the first commercial 5G private network agreement of its kind in the UK. They also said it would “combine BT’s expertise in building converged fixed and mobile networks with Ericsson’s leading 5G network technology and enterprise solutions”.

Ericsson ended May on something of high, having had a torrid 2022 so far. In January it reported what Bloomberg called “stellar results”, with year-on-year profits up by 41%, but activist investor Cevian Capital, took the opportunity to complain about the Swedish vendor’s low share price, its $6.2 billion Vonage acquisition last November, and a lack of clarity about the enterprise market. Ericsson’s share price and reputation subsequently took a serious battering when allegations of payments to ISIS in Iraq surfaced.

BT’s Paul Murnaghan with Joe O’Neill from Belfast Harbour

Remedial measure

In the face of fierce criticism, in mid-May Ericsson announced it was restructuring to drive growth, which includes setting up a new division for Business Area Enterprise Wireless Solutions, comprising Cradlepoint and Dedicated Networks. George Mulhern is appointed head of the unit and will join the Ericsson executive team. The new structure will be in place from 1 June.

BT and Ericsson have worked together on major projects incorporating private 5G networks, including Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland. They say their contract paves the way for BT to sell 5G products to enterprises in sectors from manufacturing to defence, education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.

Getting your ducks in a row

Sinéad Pillion, Head of Operations Ericsson Athlone, with Minister of State Robert Troy and Denis Dullea, Head of R&D Ericsson Athlone

Just before the contract was announcement, BT said it would invest almost £100 million over the next three years in its Division X unit which is supposed to accelerate the development of customer solutions which embed tech including 5G, IoT, edge compute, cloud and AI. Division X is led by Marc Overton.

For its part just ahead of the announcement with BT, Ericsson said it would recruit will hire 250 cloud native software developers, engineers and architects to its Athlone R&D centre in Ireland to work on 5G projects.

Ericsson says its Irish operation has grown 25% over the past five years and that it also intends to attract software developers, data scientists, architects, cloud and mobile communication engineers to the centre over the next three years.

Denis Dullea, Head of R&D at Ericsson Athlone said the moves are “to enhance our capability to deliver the benefits of cloud native technologies to our global customer base via our RAN, Management, Automation and Orchestration offerings.”

DIY declarative code gathers pace

There were some interesting findings in the Nemertes Network Automation Research Study 2022, published in May 2022. It looked at how organisations with a lot of Cisco kit in their infrastructure implement network automation. Turns out that fewer than 20% use its flagship DNA Center network controller and management dashboard to automate provisioning and change management.

By contrast, more than 40% of those surveyed provide their own automation solutions from a combo of imperative scripting or programming (Python in the main), while about half use a model other than imperative or in addition to it – declarative automation.

We explored the importance of declarative coding in our recent interview with Philippe Ensarguet, Group CTO of Orange Business Services. In short, declarative coding (such as HTML) describes the desired outcomes and achieves them using reconciliation loops to fix any deviations from the pre-set desired state.

Most programming is imperative – a series of ‘If this happens, do that and then if X happens do Y’. Accuracy is critical: it is not forgiving if the sequence isn’t correct or the coder includes more or less than is required.

The study found 33% of the organizations interviewed used Red Hat’s Ansible for network automation because of the increased use of DevOps and its infrastructure as code approach. It started out as imperative but then graduated to declarative around five years ago. Gluware is designed for network automation in Cisco-heavy environments.

As M. Ensarguet explained, a declarative approach can support full automation so that as data centres, networks and storage are softwarised, the people working in these areas make all employees affected by this shift “more effective, more productive,” He added. “If you are not able to automate longer or deeper than with the CI/CD [continuous integration/continuous delivery], then you have no lever to manage the scaling – and that’s critical to the whole [automation] thing.”

It looks like that message is increasingly well understood from the Nemertes research, and we’ll leave them with the last word from the study (see ‘Recommendations’ image).


Google moves further into telco, HPE automates the RAN and DISH ponders 5G deadline

The Linux Foundation, the open source community, said it has formed project Nephio in partnership with Google Cloud and telecoms “leaders”.

Nephio’s mission is “to deliver carrier-grade, simple, open, Kubernetes-based cloud native intent automation and common automation templates that materially simplify the deployment and management of multi-vendor cloud infrastructure and network functions across large scale edge deployments.”

Nephio is all about cloud-native network automation. Airtel, Bell Canada, Elisa, Equinix, Jio, Orange, Rakuten Mobile, TIM, TELUS, Vapor IO, Virgin Media O2 and WindTRE are involved from the operator community. The network function, service and infrastructure vendors who are participating are Aarna Networks, Arm, Casa Systems, DZS, Ericsson, F5, Intel, Juniper, Mavenir, Nokia, Parallel Wireless and VMware.

They plan to “enable faster onboarding of network functions to production including provisioning of underlying cloud infrastructure with a true cloud native approach, and [reduce] costs of adoption of cloud and network infrastructure.”

Google Cloud acquires MobiledgeX

After the Nephio announcement, Google Cloud went on to acquire MobiledgeX, which was set up by Deutsche Telekom (DT) back in 2018 to develop the trusted control plane and common orchestration layer for edge computing assets. The technology was deployed by SK Telecom, Telefónica and Singtel as well as DT. After little publicity for a year, due to pandemic lockdowns according to CEO Jason Hoffman, in April last year, MobiledgeX said it supported Google’s telecom-friendly Anthos, announced by Google in December 2020.

No financial information was released about the transaction, but Hoffman is not moving to Google Cloud having left MobiledgeX a week or so before the announcement.

This acquisition and Google Cloud’s involvement Nephio demonstrate how the hyperscaler is striving to appeal to operators in the throes of transforming their networks to cloud native. Caroline Chappell, Research Director, Cloud, at Analysys Mason told telecomTV, “Google is gunning for Red Hat’s position in the network cloud domain while Azure and AWS are taking on VMware with their proprietary stances.”

She pointed out that Google is being more successful at attracting operators “compared with the other big cloud providers,” in multi-domain partnerships, which she said “are five to10 year multi-billion-dollar deals that transform multiple aspects of an operator’s business, for example, across IT, network and enterprise services domains.” Bell Canada, Jio, Ooredoo and Telenor all signed up with Google in the second half of last year, joining the likes of Telecom Italia and XL Axiata.

AT&T’s big contract with Azure seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

HPE strives to speed up RAN deployment

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) wants to accelerate RAN deployments with automation and simpler management for Open RAN and traditional RAN techs. On 21 April, it announced Open RAN Automation, a service management and orchestration solution to provide multi-vendor management and automation for any RAN. The press note said, “This cloud-native solution, delivered as a service, offers zero-touch management…and is a key part of the HPE Open RAN Solution Stack and has been validated and optimized  the HPE ProLiant DL110 Gen10 Plus – Telco server”.

At the press briefing, Tom Craig, VP and GM, HPE Communications Technology Group, “The winners will be those who embrace automation and commit to a disaggregated, open, multi-vendor future.”

The new solution is based on HPE’s OSS and AI and machine learning technologies and orchestrates the lifecycle of both virtual Distributed Units (vDUs) and virtual Centralized Units (vCUs), so operators can dynamically configure radio frequencies and optimise their use of radio access resources and spectrum. At the press briefing, HPE executives stressed that few RAN environments are greenfield, and the most pressing need is to manage multi-technology RANs as efficiently and simply as possible.

DISH in danger of missing 5G deadline?

DISH Network must provide 20% of the US population with 5G coverage by 14 June 2022 with the first 5G Standalone network in the US and 70% by June 2023, in line with the agreements it made with regulators in 2019.

DISH’s 5G deadline looks like it’s going to be a close-run thing. In February, Charlie Ergen, DISH’s chair was reported saying, “We’re six months behind where we thought we’d be. It’s my fault. We just didn’t maybe anticipate that we would have to do as much on the technical side.”

DISH’s open RAN network design means its build out costs should be much lower. It spent $1 billion in network CapEx last year, including cell towers and cloud-based software-driven operations which will rise to $2.5 billion this year. In comparison, T-Mobile spent $2.9 billion in three months on its 5G network including real estate, equipment, and 5G upgrades in the final quarter of 2021.

Delays could prove eye-wateringly expensive though: DISH pledged it would voluntarily pay fines of up to $2.2 billion for missed deadlines.

Multi-cloud dangers for telcos, automating fixed networks and the future of network slicing

March kept up the pace of developments for future networks that was set by MWC in February writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

A multi-cloud strategy could be extremely dangerous for any telco according to Brad Casemore, VP of Research, Datacenters and Multicloud Networking at IDC. He was speaking at a roundtable hosted by the company. His view was supported by guest speaker Ranga Rajagopalan, Chief Architect at hypervisor specialist VMware and Security specialist Stewart Parkin, CTO at Assured Data Protection. He explained that a telco in a state of cloud incongruity has own data protection frustrations as protecting its data and recovering it from ‘any cloud’ to ’any cloud’, in reasonable time, is virtually impossible.

He added that now people expect things to happen at the click of a button, essential tasks like data protection, back-up and recovery are left for a rainy day. Parkin warned that, “On that day, they will become the single most important thing in the telco’s business”.

Inmarsat has chosen Sandvine’s Application and Network Intelligence for its OpenStack private telco cloud in a three-year deal. It give Inmarsat better control of its ORCHESTRA network, a global dynamic mesh network combining L-band and Ka-band satellite networks, with terrestrial 5G as well as targeted low earth orbit satellite capacity. Inmarsat’s relationship with Sandvine started with network policy control in 2015, and has evolved towards 5G network architecture for emerging 5G and satellite services.

Orange Poland has completed the roll-out of new OSS across the country to support its FTTH roll-out and operations, based on the Comarch Cognitive OSS Suite. The operator’s CIO, Bertrand Grèzes-Besset, commented, “This implementation is a major component in the digital transformation of Orange Poland. With the permanent support of Comarch throughout the last year, we have been able to establish a new foundation for our information systems. As a major part of our growth strategy, we will now be able to focus on even deeper automation in our processes, leveraging artificial intelligence in many cases”.

According to Comarch, the benefits to Orange Poland include: built-in automation mechanisms to improve the delivery of innovative products to end-customers; API-based access to resource orders by sales systems and customer service systems; and automatic preparation of work orders in the workforce management systems.

In neighbouring Germany, alternative fibre network provider (altnet) and wholesaler Deutsche Giga Access (DGA) selected Adtran’s SDX Series of fibre access platforms to launch its FTTH services. The decision was down to DGA’s CTO, Andreas Bamberg, who said, “We chose Adtran because its approach allowed us to build a new, open-access wholesale network for future-proof services that can be controlled by an end-to-end automation management system”. He said that this “creates tremendous operational savings” as the rapidly growing German altnet market races to bring fibre broadband to every household in Germany.

Stuart Broome, VP, Sales for at Adtran said that local and regional operators will need a reliable wholesale network supplier for local support and unlimited capacity which his company’s Combo PON (passive optical network) offers as one port can supply many fibre strands.

Vodafone has embarked on a proof of concept with Nokia to create multi-access fixed network tech for Europe and Africa. They are experimenting with Nokia’s Altioplano software-defined network manager and controller (SDN-M&C) and, if successful, will start to deploy it later this year. Nokia said Vodafone chose Altiplano to span its diverse, multi-generational technology from many different vendors kit to manage multi-access networks. Vodafone said it is addressing a potential fixed broadband market of 143 million homes in Europe.

Nokia’s SDN management and control functions will be used to simplify, automate, visualise, optimise and improve Vodafone’s broadband networks and support its Network-as-a-Platform (NaaP) approach. It will also help Vodafone customise other services for customers. It does this by using open, standaridised APIs and open source, where applicable, according to Sandy Motley, President of Nokia’s Fixed Networks.

Meanwhile, in mid-March, Vodafone and Ericsson demonstrated their slicing ambitions for Europe with a demo of on-demand network slices in the UK, using a theoretical 5G Standalone network performing network slicing in an imaginary retail centre. Ericsson has already launched its Dynamic End-user Boost app with Hong Kong’s SmarTone which is designed to speed up 4G and 5G services and improves the quality of the data, as shown in this video by Ericsson. The vendor plans to launch the app in Europe for consumers and enterprises through various service providers when the time is right. SmarTone launched 5G in Hong Kong in May 2020 and claims to have the widest coverage.

At the end of March, Frinx landed its first big telco deal in Europe, with VodafoneZiggo. Within days it  was acquired by Elisa Polystar to complement Elisa Polystar’s zero-touch automation and analytics offering.

Frinx is a Slovakian start-up, founded in 2016, that specialises in the automation of provisioning and other network services. It started out as an open-source services firm with expertise in OpenDaylight then developed capabilities that could run on top of its open-source packages. This evolved into FrinxMachine – a controller, workflow system and resource manager within a single platform.

Frinx will support VodafoneZiggo’s business services delivered via fibre and hybrid fibre/coax (HFC) networks. It already works with Facebook Connectivity, SoftBank and China Telecom. Frinx’s open-source library includes configurations for multiple generations of devices plus device drivers. This provides it with a single view of what device configurations should look like so the firm can see exactly what code-level changes are necessary to update a device’s configuration automatically – some achievement considering there might be 20,000 lines of code per device.

Intelligent infrastructure was at the heart of this year’s MWC

This year’s theme was Connectivity Unleashed, and so it was, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

This year’s MWC was the first to be held in its normal slot of early spring in Barcelona since 2019 because of the pandemic. It was a smaller – with about 60,000 visitors instead of the 100,000+ as usual – and more focused event than the most recent ones that sprawled in every sense. Whereas in previous years devices dominated, infrastructure was very much back in the driving seat, with 5G deployment, Open RAN, sustainability and the coming together of IT and telecoms as the major themes.

Microsoft announced new services and solutions to upgrade Azure for Operators. Azure Operator Distributed Services are to be added soon, which it described as a carrier-grade hybrid cloud platform for 5G networks, along with a 5G Standalone product for operators’ edge deployments on the Azure platform. It also announced Azure Private core and Azure public MEC for low-latency requirements.

VMware unveiled several products and partnerships designed to enable service providers to modernise their networks faster and monetise new services, including innovations in the RAN. Several service providers are trialling the VMware Radio Intelligent Controller (RIC) in their networks.

Vodafone recently completed a proof-of-concept to make more efficient use of spectrum and ran a new app from Cohere Technologies, the Spectrum Multiplier, on the VMware RIC connected to a Capgemini 5G RAN. Vodafone doubled its 5G spectral efficiency and, effectively, its cell site capacity.

Muneyb Minhazuddin, Vice President, Edge Computing, Service Provider, and Edge, VMware, said his company is working with an ecosystem of RAN vendors to test it as well. He explained, “In the Open RAN architectures, a RIC platform [can] host apps that enable these new capabilities such as automation, network optimisation, service customisation, and such. It can host both near-real-time and non-real-time applications. We are bringing the RAN intelligence to help monetize the RAN which will be a driver for adoption.”

Maybe soaring energy prices will finally boost the smart home and provide a great opportunity for network providers. A recent study published by the CTIA found that 20% of US carbon reduction by 2050 could be achieved by 5G and from automation in smart transit, smart buildings and remote working, among other things.

Accenture showed off a smart home platform that can track the energy efficiency of domestic devices and could help operators develop new managed services offerings for consumers customers by combining their 5G networks and IoT expertise. The platform uses AI and machine learning to track various aspects of home devices, from the warranty of a light bulb to a fridge’s temperature and the specific energy consumption of even very old devices.

Data appears on a dashboard that can drill down into the detail of which devices are consuming energy and where, so that consumers can make informed decisions to reduce their soaring energy bills. Apparently Accenture is yet to decide whether the platform will be offered as a plug-and-play solution for service providers to brand and offer, or as an operator-specific offering. Either way, it is being trialled by unnamed operators in North America and demand is soaring too.

Rakuten Symphony has been all over the news of late. There were several announcements at MWC. It announced the planned acquisition of Silicon Valley start-up, Robin.io. Rakuten Mobile already uses the company’s automation and orchestration solutions for deployment in its virtualised mobile network and Rakuten Capital led Robin.io’s $38 million funding round last June.

Symphony also extended the Rakuten group’s collaboration with Cisco which began with Rakuten Mobile four years ago. Symphony and Cisco signed an MoU pledging to bring together Symphony’s cloudified app store for telcos – which offers a suite of network provisioning, automation and operations software – with Cisco’s mobile, routing, switching and automation products.

Jonathan Davidson, EVP and GM of Cisco’s Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group, said, “With Rakuten Symphony, we have the unique opportunity to offer global service providers an alternative to legacy RAN, with a turnkey option to transform their networks to be more intuitive and automated to support the ever-evolving needs for connectivity.”

Nokia has also agreed to add its cloud-native applications to Symworld, and will be the platform’s sole vendor of certain mobile core products which include including IP multimedia subsystem (IMS), shared data layer (SDL), and IoT platform.

Nor is Symphony’s partnerships limited to vendors: AT&T has agreed a deal to co-develop network planning and deployment tools. Symphony’s charismatic CEO, Tareq Amin, has said that more third-party components will be added “as we get all the right toolings for Symworld”.

MTN ups network automation ante across its entire footprint

Elsewhere Jio celebrates accolades for its pioneering use of API and clouds continue to gather, Contributing Editor Annie Turner writes.

One of Africa’s largest operator groups, MTN Group, has launched Ambition 2025, a strategy to make better use of its network assets and platforms, according to a report. Network automation is its central plank: MTN intends to raise autonomy in all its opcos to Level 4 by 2025. TM Forum defines Level 4 as a system that enables, analyses and makes decisions based on predictive or active closed-loop management of service- and customer experience-driven networks.

MTN is deploying Huawei’s Autonomous Driving Network (ADN) solution to move towards autonomous networks with self-serving, self-fulfilling, self-assuring capabilities to provide zero-wait, zero-touch and zero-trouble experience. MTN successfully trialled the Sleeping Cells Self-Healing Solution and the Intelligent IP Private Line Solution based on the Huawei ADN solution on its journey to autonomous networks.

India’s Reliance Jio became the first operator to attain Platinum certification for its use of Open APIs from TM Forum. Certification was awarded for implementing more than 20 Open APIs to integrate software that runs its IT and networks. Vendors Comviva, Inspur, Tecnotree, Totogi and Whale Cloud also have Open API Platinum Certification. According to the Forum, “The Open APIs make integration straightforward between software applications from Jio’s suppliers as well as their own software.”

Ruth Welter, Vice President, Strategic Alliances, Colt Technology Services

Regarding APIs and network automation, Ruth Welter, Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Colt Technology Services wrote in an article that carriers often want access to connectivity beyond their own footprint and, “Now we’re seeing APIs and automation across the complete lifecycle, starting with quotes, then moving through the ordering process, the implementing of operations, and the coordinating of ticketing systems so one carrier can directly see what’s happening in the network of another. We’re also noticing a drive to provide services on-demand, in other words the offer of real-time access to connectivity. APIs and automation are essential to providing this.”

Bas Burger, CEO, BT Global

BT said its customers will benefit from the integration of Rackspace Technology’s cloud management expertise and automation, analytics, and AI tools with its own network and security capabilities. Its new managed hybrid cloud offer will be deployed in BT’s data centres through the Rackspace Fabric management layer. Bas Burger, CEO of BT’s Global unit, said, “This innovative partnership with Rackspace Technology accelerates our plans to build a world-class hybrid cloud portfolio.”

Still in the UK,  first phase of British Sugar’s multi-site private mobile network went live in the UK as Wissington in Norfolk (pictured). The 4G network is provided by Virgin Media O2 Business, which has a seven-year contract with the firm and will span a total operational area of 2.17km2. The plan is to automate the manufacturing process for sugar and other co-products including IoT, robotics, automation and health & safety drones. The infrastructure is described as “easily upgradable to 5G where necessary”, as British Sugar looks to introduce more complex processes needing higher speeds and lower latency.

In another first, Nokia and OIV Digital Signals and Networks are to build first Croatia’s first 5G SA industrial private network at Zagreb for automotive component maker AD Plastik. Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) will cut latency and secure 5G wireless connectivity for equipment, machinery and applications at the manufacturing campus, replacing the Wi-Fi infrastructure. The implementation will comprise network equipment, a cloud-based operations monitoring system and industrial connectors that can configure connectivity for both standard and industry-specific protocol.

And another win for Nokia’s DAC as technology service provider Tech Mahindra (TechM) formed a pact with the Finnish vendor “to drive 5G private wireless adoption globally”. TechM claims its enterprise network services cover the entire network stack and it will use the DAC system for customers across industries to automate 5G Private Wireless network management as a service running in the cloud. TechM said it aims to help enterprises tackle the four critical areas of performance: production efficiency; operating maintenance cost; inspection/error related downtime; and training costs.

Ericsson launched its Dynamic Network Slice Selection solution to support multiple, tailored slices to 5G devices. This will allow operators to separate services in their 5G network and improve traffic steering to maximise quality of experience on a single device, the vendor says. From the users’ point of view, they can have, say, a generic mobile broadband slice for basic consumer services, a faster slice for a service like gaming and a highly secure slice for enterprise applications.

Sony has unveiled its first Vision-S02 concept car and launched a new division to enter the electric vehicle (EV) market. It has been working with Vodafone Deutchland’s 5G Mobility Lab in Aldenhoven since spring 2021. The electric car has completed driverless circuits, steered by a human driver in Tokyo, more than 9,000 km away. The biggest issue is the volume of data generated by the car is immense. Vodafone’s aim is a latency of 10 milliseconds between robotic drivers and cars – roughly equivalent to human reaction time, but robots do not fall asleep or become distracted.

AWS Outage Fails to Encourage Migrating Network to Public Cloud

Contributing Editor Annie Turner takes a brief look at recent network automation highlights – and low-lights.

Neil McRae, Chief Architect at the UK's BT Group
Neil McRae, Chief Architect at the UK’s BT Group

AWS’ outage on 9 December provoked responses from BT and Deutsche Telekom. “Still want to put your network core into the public cloud? #suckers,” tweeted Neil McRae, Chief Architect at the UK’s BT Group as details of the failure emerged. The US’ east coast was affected the worst, where services including Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, Slack, Amazon’s own Ring and DoorDash were affected.

T-Mobile's President of Technology, Neville Ray
T-Mobile’s President of Technology, Neville Ray

Light Reading reported similar sentiments from T-Mobile’s President of Technology, Neville Ray, who is responsible for running T-Mobile’s $60 billion five-year, 5G network upgrade programme. “The phone isn’t going to ring, the data session is not going to happen unless that core service is up and running,” Ray said at an investor event. “I’m not at the point yet where I would put that in the hands of a third party.”

ToolTester reported that AWS had suffered 27 network failures in the US in 12 months before the December meltdown, hence NS1’s December launch of a solution to mitigate the effects of internet outages on users was superbly timed. NS1 specialises in traffic intelligence for applications and automation, and its new solution combines managed and dedicated domain name servers (DNS) to provide redundancy and failover, in parallel with its own filter chain tech. By driving traffic through the filter chain, teams can route traffic between multiple clouds or content distribution networks to accommodate peak traffic loads or divert traffic to other resources if a provider has problems.

Nothing daunted, Verizon and Google Cloud announced they are partnering to move cloud closer to mobile and connected devices at the edge of Verizon’s network. By combining Verizon 5G Edge with Google Distributed Cloud Edge, they intend to bring Google’s compute and storage services to the edge of Verizon’s local network. This will support bandwidth and low latency needed for applications like autonomous mobile robots, smart logistics and factory automation.


Verizon and Google Cloud also plan to develop public 5G mobile edge computing for developers and enterprises, enabling developers to build and deploy applications at the edge at locations throughout the US.

In parallel Ericsson will collaborate with Verizon to pilot 5G Edge with Google Distributed Cloud Edge as part of a proof of concept at its USA 5G Smart Factory. Niklas Heuveldop, President and Head of Ericsson North America, commented, “Testing this technology with autonomous mobile robots in our Smart Factory is an important step on the journey to the factory of the future.”

Still with factories, Nokia chose Orange Polska as a partner to build a private 4G and 5G network at its Polish factory at Bydgoszcz. The solution, powered by the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC), works at the factory in Bydgoszcz and manages automated vehicles including a drone, and allows push to talk and video communications.

The location in Bydgoszcz includes three R&D centre buildings, which are part of an ecosystem of Nokia factories and R&D centres in Poland, employing more than 6,000 people. Here Nokia integrates and tests ICT systems and networks for telecoms operators and customers from the industry, transport and energy sectors.

In turn, Nokia announced it is developing a 5G private network for Volkswagen at Wolfsburg in Germany, also using its DAC to enable real-time data processing at the network edge. Volkswagen will try out new operational use cases and test if the 5G technology meets the requirements of vehicle production with the goal of increasing the efficiency and flexibility of series production in future.

Initial use cases include wireless upload of data to manufactured vehicles, intelligent networking of robots and wireless assembly tools. The deployment ensures all data remains on campus, processed at the network edge in real time, giving Volkswagen full control. The network is operating in the dedicated 3.7-3.8 GHz band for local private wireless networks, that Volkswagen applied for and was allocated by the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur or BNetzA).

Perhaps the BNetzA reserving 5G spectrum for German businesses is why they expressed the highest level of interest, at 40%, in deploying private 5G networks, followed by 28% of UK firms, 26% of Japanese firms and 24% of American firms. This is according to a report, Private 5G here and now, which was commissioned by NTT and developed by Economist Impact. Note, NTT has been offering Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) since last August and claims it is a world first.

The report found that 90% of the 216 CIOs and senior decision-makers surveyed from Germany, Japan, the UK and US expect “private 5G will become the standard network choice”.

Most (80%) of respondents agreed that COVID-19 has made it easier to secure the budget needed for 5G deployment. This attitude is strongest in Germany (93%), followed by the US (83%), the UK (77%) and Japan (65%). The report notes, “To remain relevant, companies are increasingly compelled to leverage Industry 4.0 technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

AWS launches Private 5G – an automated, managed network out of the box

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at November’s biggest moves in network automation.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced AWS Private 5G, a new managed service to help enterprises set up and scale private 5G mobile networks. AWS says it takes days, rather than months to set up.

Via the AWS console, customers specify where they want to build a mobile network and the network capacity needed for their devices. AWS delivers and maintains the required small cell radio units, servers, 5G core and radio access network (RAN) software, and subscriber identity modules (SIM cards).

AWS Private 5G automates the set-up and deployment of the network, and scales capacity on-demand to support additional devices and increased network traffic. There are no upfront fees or per-device costs, and customers only pay for the network capacity and throughput they request.

Customers can start with small networks and few devices using AWS Private 5G, analyse their network needs once it is in operation, and leverage the elasticity and pay-as-you-go pricing of AWS to scale their private mobile network as they add more devices.

A ‘preview’ of the service is in use by DISH Network, Amazon Fulfillment and Koch Global Services, “among other customers and partners” according to AWS. It will soon be available in other countries, either direct from AWS or via its operator partners according to AWS’ CEO, Adam Selipsky, speaking at the AWS Re:Invent 2021 event on 30 November.

CityFibre, the UK’s largest independent full-fibre provider, announced the deployment of its first 800 Gbps backbone ring in partnership with Ciena. The network operator says this is the first phase of its national, multi-terabit, dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) network deployment and a milestone in its mission to pass up to 8 million premises in the UK.

The new backbone will support “virtually unlimited data transfer requirements” and enable “a fully automated, cloud-based platform with open access API integration,” according to CityFibre. As well as boosting regional aggregation of capacity, the use of colourless, directionless, contentionless (CDC) optical technology means that in future CityFibre can offer Ethernet and wavelength services of up to 400 Gbps for wholesale.

David Tomalin, Group CTO at CityFibre, said, “We are already using full CDC in all our major nodes and will scale this across our entire backbone network over time. Its automation capability will enable additional rapid network restoration in the event of fibre or hardware failure, plus greater flexibility to grow capacity, balance, and re-programme our network based on the evolving needs of our customers.”

Telefónica and Wipro, a global IT, consulting and business process services company, are to “initiate the transformational journey towards network operations”. They will introduce continuous integration, continuous deployment and continuous testing (CI/CD/CT) in Telefonica’s German and Brazilian markets, and might extend the work to Spain and the UK. These are Telefonica’s four key markets, as outlined in its strategy in late in 2019.

The solution will be developed by Wipro using open-source tools and built to evolve and adapt to future technological changes. Common repository test tools will be used and could be integrated with the CI/CD/CT pipeline in future. The two companies will work together to automate network operations thereby enabling the transition the telco cloud and adoption of virtualised network functions.

The framework they create will allow them to industrialise the process so that it can scale to handle greater volume and complexity of network functions and deploy an Agile methodology in parallel to the wider industry.

The Broadband Forum released a new version of YANG to improve the interoperability of network automation. Craig Thomas, VP, Strategic Marketing and Business Development at Broadband Forum, noted, “Operators are constantly looking for ways to make their operations more efficient and cost-effective. Automating the configuration and control of network elements is one way of doing this but as a growing concept, ensuring interoperability has been and continues to be a key concern.

“This work addresses the challenge by ensuring interoperability between network components of different vendors to allow effective automation, defining YANG data models for functionality which is common across access network elements supporting various physical layer technologies.”

Hence this latest release builds on YANG data models, improving quality of service for large scale deployments and statistics for debugging services. It also lays the groundwork the introduction of a set of common YANG modules and types that will be used by the specification. The modules enable efficient management of various broadband services across any access technology.

The size of the global network automation market is predicted to reach $22.58 billion by 2027 growing at a compound annual growth rate of 24.2% between 2020 and 2027. In 2019, the global market was worth $4 billion. The report, from Fortune Business Insights, reckons is attributable to surging investment in the development and implementation of advanced technologies and more connected devices that favour adoption of network automation solutions globally.

DISH add Helium to 5G, IBM buys Volta to manage cloud resources

News in brief: a lot went on in October in network automation. Were you paying attention? Contributing Editor Annie Turner reports.

DISH Network announced it will expand its 5G network using the infrastructure that start-up Helium is creating through its customers. Helium’s customers own and operate 5G transmitters and are paid in cryptocurrency for carrying traffic – it’s the biggest effort yet to build decentralised wireless infrastructure. Chris Ergen, Head of the DISH’s Office of Innovation, said in a statement: “As we build out Dish’s 5G facilities-based network, we will continue to look for innovative technologies and business models that complement or support our wireless business”. Dish signed an agreement in 2019 with T-Mobile and the US Department of Justice to start providing commercial 5G services across “significant portions” of the US from 2022.


Nokia and research house Analysys Mason have been collaborating to quantify the benefits of network optimisation. A new study found that IP network automation can save operators 65% of operational costs, based on evidence from operators worldwide, covering 60 data points. For example, the study shows that avoiding cost in the domain controller is a due to combination of factors: process automation reduces labour time taken by manual workloads by up to 68% which, in turn, means that the time to roll out new services is reduced by up to 88%. Fewer manual tasks result in fewer human errors and more predictable outcomes. Elsewhere, standardised scenarios lowers order fallout and other issues requiring manual correction overall reducing the time to fix errors by 85%. Automating alarm correlation and root cause analysis can cut mean time to repair by 71%.

IBM acquired Volta Networks, whose cloud router is esteemed by telcos as it enables customers to run tens of virtual routers on cheap hardware. Volta was set up in 2015 by former Cisco and Juniper execs, and has raised about $23 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Andrew Coward, GM of Software-defined Networking at IBM, was reported by Light Reading saying that, “We acquired Volta Networks to extend our leadership in network automation and analytics. We’re applying the Volta technology to help manage cloud network resources, and this will fit into a wider framework of our Cloud Pak for Network Automation (CP4NA), IBM Edge Application Manager and IBM SevOne products.”


Australia’s rising start, CSG, has continued its buying spree, acquiring DGIT Systems. Ken Kennedy, COO and President of Revenue Management and Digital Monetization at CSG, said few configure, price and quote (CPQ) products address the specific needs of telcos like DGIT’s does. DGIT also does order management. Kennedy stated, “DGIT’s products make processes easier through automation and intelligence, rather than simplifying functionality and limiting the capabilities of the CSP to take to market.” The two firms have been partners for several months and seen, “positive interest and results from our combined solutions,” he said.

Juniper Networks reported its revenues were up 4% year on year in Q3, but while cloud revenues grew 20% year on year and enterprise grew 7%, its service provider revenue declined 6%. CEO Rami Rahim said that it still achieved double digit growth for service providers, but that revenues were impacted by timing issues caused by “supply constraints”. He nevertheless remained optimistic about the future growth of Juniper’s automation software, and metro routing portfolios as service providers’ 5G deployments take off over the next year.

On that note, Ericsson and MTS Russia’s largest mobile operator and provider of media and digital services are to develop private 5G-ready networks for industrial enterprises in Russia. Since 2019, the two have implemented more than 15 pilot projects for private networks across various industries. “This agreement signals a new era of cooperation between MTS and Ericsson. Dedicated networks are vital infrastructure that Russian enterprises need for digitalization and automation of key production processes” according to Inessa Galaktionova, SVP Telecom, MTS. Target industries include mining, metallurgy, oil and gas, petrochemistry, energy, engineering and transport and logistics she added.


Meanwhile, China is looking to narrow its use case focus, moving away from more showy, look-what-5G-can-do applications to more humdrum commercial ones. The Economic Observer [translated via Google Translate] reported that “model-room” use cases – – like remote surgery and VR in stadia – had been supported by the government to spark innovation and interest in 5G, but 2022 will be a pivotal year in which it will be up to the mobile operators and industries to show that industrial 5G services can be profitable and scalable. Hence the main 5G players are more interested in mines, ports and steel plants, and have begun to build 5G bases stations out to more remote industries that are important in terms of the national economy and employment.