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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.

https://newsroom.bt.com/bt-and-ericsson-sign-multi-million-pound-partnership-to-provide-commercial-5g-networks/
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.

News in Brief: Open RAN breaks into an autumn gallop

A brief look at developments in network automation in September by Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

Telefónica had a busy month. It announced it will conduct Open RAN trials with NEC in its four core global markets – Brazil, Germany, Spain and the UK. The operator’s goal is to deliver commercial options to at least 800 sites across the four markets in 2022. NEC will lead system integration for the multi-vendor trials and work on implementing Open RAN technologies and use cases in Telefonica’s Technology and Automation Lab in Madrid. They will include applications built on AI-driven RAN intelligent controllers (RICs) and service lifecycle automation based on service management and orchestration.

Telefónica is a major proponent of Open RAN. It partnered Rakuten Mobile to jointly develop Open RAN on the world’s first cloud-native telecom infrastructure and worked with IBM on Open RAN in Argentina.

It has now signed a strategic, multi-year agreement with Big Blue for intelligent automation software and services to implement UNICA Next  – “Telefónica’s first-ever, cloud-native, 5G core network platform”. The operator’s plan is to “have an open, secured, intelligent, and highly automated network to power transformation for consumer and enterprise customers across all industries”.

It has engaged IBM Global Business Services, a systems integrator and the consultancy arm of IBM, Red Hat and Juniper Networks to deploy the cloud-native platform. Telefónica’s Network Cloud Lab in Madrid will be plugged into IBM Global Telco Solutions Lab in Coppell, Texas, to speed UNICA Next’s evolution, building new, integrated releases using CI/CD methodology for ongoing life-cycle upgrades to the existing UNICA Next platform.

In August, IBM announced it would create a 5G, Industry 4.0 test bed at its Texas facility with Verizon.

Separately, IBM announced is to set up an Open RAN testbed with Airspan Networks across the IBM Watson Center Germany and IBM’s Global Industry Solution Center (GISC) in Nice, France. The plan is to showcase long-distance control over 5G-enabled edge computing and help clients develop multi-vendor solutions for their customers’ different use cases. IBM says it expects to bring its global integration services and IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation and IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOps to the party.

Meanwhile, BT has chosen Oracle Communications’ Converged Policy Management suite for 4G and 5G policy control and service design, using the in-built analytics to implement policy rules for edge routing, by drawing on data about subscribers, class and quality of service, network resources. Oracle’s Automated Testing Suite will help BT with policy design, optimisation and 5G software testing. Oracle Communications Consulting is to support the implementation of the policy solution and the migration of BT’s 4G voice and data services to 5G.

Colt Technology Services has deployed software from Blue Planet, a division of Ciena, for network assurance. Shane Sura, Colt’s VP of Network Operations at Colt Technology Services, said, “Deploying UAA [Blue Planet’s Unified Assurance and Analytics] for fault management enables us to leverage automation and AI to rapidly analyse and resolve network issues, as well as to proactively identify opportunities to enhance the reliability of our network. This is a key enabler in providing the fastest detection and resolution of network issues for exceptional customer service.”

Lack of agility will kill operators was the message from Hamdy Farid VP of Nokia Business Applications Unit told an audience at TM Forum’s virtual Digital World Transformation event. Nokia surveyed 101 service providers about the level of automation used to run their networks and discovered that 60% use manual processes with only 40% of network functions handled automatically. He gave some examples of successful implementations: Open RAN advocate Indosat for rolling out “lifestyle services”; Sinch reduced service creation time from months to minutes; Vodafone cut the time to isolate and resolve network issues by almost 30% using anomaly detection; and he praised US operator DISH’s approach.

https://app.frame.io/reviews/aa1155d2-7ace-41f7-9d8b-f6917471a8f7/fdb3eb1c-b6bc-4fa4-813f-8609fb09fb23?version=7219932f-3970-4a4f-983e-ffe97120c09a

NEC’s next-gen radio units will include the Xilinx 7nm Versal AI Core to help with beamforming and OpenRAN. Beamforming via massive MIMO is how 5G makes efficient use of mid-band spectrum, which is an automated means of signals picking up individual devices requiring more processing power than previous generations of radios. Chip maker AMD is in the process of acquiring Xilinx, the better to compete against rival Intel.

https://www.xilinx.com/products/silicon-devices/acap/versal-ai-core.html

Nokia launched its fifth generation routing silicon, Nokia FP5, which it developed working with BT, NTT DOCOMO and Orange. It consumes 75% less power and has integrated line rate encryption for L2, L2.5 and L3 network services at speeds up to 1.6Tbps, plus 800GE routing interfaces that operators can market with their solutions. Federico Guillén, President of Network Infrastructure, Nokia, said: “FP5 is a significant step forward in performance, security and efficiency and – in combination with our software excellence and investment in network automation and tools – it opens the next chapter in Nokia’s long-standing leadership in IP networking and IP silicon innovation.”

News in Brief: Microsoft acquires AT&T’s automation IP as operator moves 5G core to Azure

Contributing Editor Annie Turner rounds up the latest automation highlights.

AT&T caused something of a sensation by announcing it will run its 5G network on Microsoft’s Azure for Operators cloud, given that it’s not a green field network operator like DISH Network, Reliance Jio or Rakuten Mobile. Some pundits even reckon AT&T will leapfrog them and be the first to transition to a complete, end-to-end cloud solution. The operator is starting with its containerised 5G core and will add other workloads later. Note that AT&T will continue to manage all aspects of its network and new 5G service deployment, commercial applications and subscribers’ data.

Maybe the real kicker in this deal is that “Microsoft will acquire AT&T’s Network Cloud technology and talent to help operators increase competitive advantage through streamlined operations and service differentiation”. AT&T pioneered and built substantial IP in software-defined networking (SDN) based on open standards. It has been a significant contributor to several Linux Foundation networking projects including the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), which focuses on network automation and orchestration.

Hard on the heels of the AT&T deal, its northerly neighbour, Bell Canada, announced it has partnered Google Cloud to “drive operational efficiencies, increase network automation, and deliver richer customer experiences” through various initiatives. They include moving multiple workloads from private systems to Google Cloud platforms and leveraging “Google Cloud’s expertise in AI and big data to gain unique insights”. The plan is to combine the operator’s 5G connectivity with Anthos-hosted applications for an experience that “can respond faster and handle greater volumes of data than previous generations of wireless technology.”

Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom completed a proof of concept (PoC) for an open access – open as in disaggregated – FTTH network and is encouraged by the results. Why is this a big deal? Well in the usual ‘closed’ FTTH environment, optical line terminal (OLT) software is bundled and installed with every single OLT. In a virtual open network, multiple OLTs – possibly running different technologies like its counterpart in the Open RAN – could be added and controlled by a single central server for zero-touch automation of provisioning and activation. Chunghwa says it will continue participating in open source communities and standards organisations to further the open network.

Nokia and Vodafone launched a jointly developed machine learning product, running on Google Cloud, to detect and fix network anomalies fast, before they impact Vodafone’s customers. The Anomaly Detection Service was initially deployed in Italy on more than 60,000 4G cells. Vodafone will extend the service to all its European markets by early 2022 and expects about 80% of all anomalous mobile network issues and capacity demands will be automatically detected and addressed through it. There are plans to apply the service to Vodafone’s 5G and core networks eventually. Nokia said anomaly detection as-a-service is an important dimension to its Cloud and Network Services’ group strategy.

Appledore Research’s report, Network Automation Software: A Market Transformed, finds that in 2020, CSPs spent $4.3 billion on software to automate networks. While 49% went to telecom equipment vendors such as Nokia, Huawei, Ericsson, Cisco and Ciena, pure-play software vendors such as VMware, Red Hat, Splunk and smaller firms accounted for the rest. Appledore says, “This represents a significant change of state in the network automation software market” with categories like element management systems, network management systems and even OSS “no longer adequately reflect[ing] the context of telecom network automation software, nor the position of vendors in the market” – see graphics below.

Source: Appledore Research, July 2021

Virgin Media O2 chose Ericsson to deploy its cloud native, container-based, dual-mode, 5G Standalone Core network in the UK. The contract is already underway and will enable Virgin Media O2 to bring its 4G, 5G NSA and SA services into one integrated core, hosted on Ericsson’s cloud infrastructure in Virgin Media O2’s data centres. The Ericsson solution includes network orchestration, automation, fault and performance management, and traffic monitoring and analysis for real-time troubleshooting and analytics. The two companies launched 5G in the UK in 2019.

Finally, BT said it intends to offer 100% 5G coverage across the UK by 2028 and deliver the UK’s first fully converged network by the mid-2020s. Qualitest, which claims to be “the world’s largest pure play software testing and quality assurance company” has worked with BT for more than 20 years. Now it will extend its remit to deliver a Managed Test Service (MTS) to assure that service, relying on automation and its own expertise for the testing, “resulting in significant savings and added value for BT”. The Qualisense AI suite of testing tools will address “risk in key areas, and measurement and analysis of the impacts of any changes to the system”.

News in Brief: Hard to tell where telco ends and cloud begins

Contributing Editor Annie Turner rounds up the latest automation highlights.

Google announced it has joined the O-RAN Alliance to help drive and accelerate the realization of O-RAN initiatives using its expertise in a blog. It outlined five areas in which it feels it can contribute, including AI for autonomous and self-healing networks. The blog said, “digital transformation will require architecting, designing, and deploying intelligence across a distributed cloud network that is fundamentally powered by AI and closed-loop automation. Our vision is to work with the O-RAN Alliance to enable cloud-native intelligent networks that are secure, self-driving, and self-healing ­– bringing Google’s wealth of software experience and global leadership in the areas of machine learning, massive data processing, and geospatial analytics.”

Google Cloud is to partner with Ericsson to jointly develop 5G and edge cloud solutions to help operators with their digital transformations and unlock new enterprise and consumer use cases. They are building on the experience gained in Italy with TIM at Ericsson’s Silicon Valley D-15 Labs innovation center where solutions and technologies can be developed and tested on a live, multi-layers 5G platform.

Photo by Michele Bitetto on Unsplash

At the same time, Italian operator TIM and its cloud division, Noovle, said they will launch the first 5G cloud network in Italy. The operator reckons this will lead to faster deployment of 5G applications through the automation of industrial processes and the implementation of services in real time, thanks to edge computing, based on specific requirements. The project will use TIM’s Telco Cloud infrastructure, Google Cloud’s solutions, and Ericsson’s 5G Core network and automation technologies.

According to TIM, the solution will enable, “Faster deployment of the 5G digital applications through the automation of industrial processes and the implementation of services in real-time, thanks to edge computing, based on specific requirements”.

IBM is expanding its portfolio of automation software for operators with offers designed to help them to stand up and manage 5G networks faster (in minutes, not days), on-premise or in the cloud. The IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation provides automation tools for implementing 5G and edge services that manage multivendor, software-based network functions. The Pak includes analytics to help operators discover hidden patterns and trends in their 5G network data. The offer integrates with IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOps and IBM Edge Application Manager to allocate network bandwidth and resources dynamically when and where required.

IBM cemented a further deal with Verizon. The US operator chose IBM and its subsidiary Red Hat to provide a hybrid cloud platform for its 5G network. IBM and Verizon have a long history of collaboration. Steve Canepa, Global GM & Managing Director, IBM Communications, said, “I’m delighted to announce the next major step in our partnership. Verizon has chosen IBM and Red Hat to help build and deploy an open hybrid cloud platform with automated operations and service orchestration as the foundation of its 5G core.”

Meanwhile, Orange said it will launch “the first” experimental, fully end-to-end cloud-based 5G Standalone (SA) network at Lannion, in Brittany, France, next month. The operator added that this is the blueprint for future infrastructure.  Richard Webb, Director, Network Infrastructure at CCS Insight, commented, “This is a significant announcement by Orange on several fronts: firstly, the fully cloud-based aspect, not only indicating Orange’s roadmap towards fully automated, software and AI-driven networks, but also its commitment to Open RAN principles of vendor diversity – with some notable absences from the named technology partners.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@bookcrafters?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Joe McDaniel</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/orange-cloud?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a> “Secondly, this sort of project is vital not only in giving operators like Orange a clearer understanding of how Open RAN solutions interoperate but also how cloud-based, software-defined, intelligent networking transform the operator itself, in terms of its own operations. This is a 5G Standalone network, considered by many to be the ‘true version’ of 5G in which a richer services environment can be fully realised. Although this experimental network is small-scale to start with, it could provide proof points for enhanced user experiences.”

Start-up Augtera Networks has raised $13 million, in a round led by Intel Capital, and is backed by executives from firms including Cisco, Juniper and Gainspeed. This brings its total funding to $18 million: other investors include Bain Capital Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital and Acrew Capital. Augtera uses AI, including machine learning, technologies to detect and fix networking troubles. It is already in use by Orange and Colt Technologies, and Dell and Netone are selling the solution. Augtera claims its Network AI can prevent 40% to 50% of network incidents, has 90% faster detection of critical issues and 50% to 60% reduction in resolution times.

Earlier in June, Nokia announced it would supply a 10Gbps infrastructure for DELTA Fiber in the Netherlands, where the deployment of FTTH is progressing rapidly. The contract covers both the network and customer premise equipment. The network can be upgraded to run 25Gbps when required. DELTA will manage the network using Nokia’s Altiplano Access Controller which enables network automation, faster innovation and simplified operations through software-defined access network (SDAN) solutions. The deployment will combine Nokia’s SDAN technology and developer ecosystem with Microsoft Azure’s cloud-based services.