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Telecom’s “Open” Embrace

By Roy Rubenstein, Editor Gazettabyte

The adoption of open-source practices is helping telecom operators become software-driven companies. The open approach is also impacting hardware, with uncertain ramifications for vendors.
Telcos are undergoing a period of unprecedented change, with the Internet content providers acting as both a competitive spur and a role model. But transitioning to a software-driven network model not only requires the adoption of new technologies and practices but identifying business cases and implementing organisational change - a significant set of challenges. 
For now, what is preoccupying operators are the issues of speed and cost, says Sterling Perrin, a Heavy Reading senior analyst. Operators want to be nimbler in delivering services and reduce their costs, driving their interest in software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualisation (NFV) and open-source practices.
According to Perrin, open source is a way to get to open standards, while open practices promise to reduce the cost of equipment and their operation.
In a recent survey conducted by Heavy Reading about standards organisations, operators favoured the newer open source bodies such as OPNFV, ONF and OpenDaylight above traditional bodies like the ITU and TM Forum. A key factor is their speed: open-source groups take months to develop a release whereas traditional standards groups take two to three years typically.
Open Initiatives
There are several notable open initiatives under development. One is Open Orchestration (OPEN-O) that is developing an SDN and NFV orchestration and management platform. As SDN and NFV architectures move towards deployment, the focus is shifting to platforms capable of managing and coordinating the two domains on a telco scale.
OPEN-O has 15 members and is hosted by the Linux Foundation. China Telecom and China Mobile are backing the initiative while other operators are in discussion about the platform. The first platform release took five months to develop, with 125 developers creating over 1 million lines of code. 
Another open source SDN and NFV orchestration platform under development is the Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy (ECOMP). Developed by AT&T and at the heart of its software-driven network transformation, ECOMP has been passed to the Linux Foundation to become an open source initiative. Bell Canada and Orange are early operators testing the platform.
Other telecom initiatives, not software, but influenced by the open movement include the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Centre (CORD) and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP).
CORD’s goal is to enable operators to use their central offices to deliver new services quickly and reduce their central offices’ high operational costs. Instead of a building crammed with legacy specialist hardware, telecom elements become virtual network functions executed on servers.
And as telecom elements are translated into code, functions can be reassigned and hardware simplified. CORD has already developed white box supporting passive optical networking (PON) optical line terminals (OLTs).
CORD is backed by operators including AT&T, SK Telecom, Verizon, Vodafone, Telefonica, China Unicom, EE, the mobile arm of BT, NTT Comms and NTT East. Comcast, the first MSO, Equinix and Google have also joined.
Telecom Infra Project (TIP)
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is notable in being the first collaborative venture between Internet content providers and telcos. TIP is backed by Facebook and ten operators including Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, Vodafone, Telefonica and Bell Canada, with over 300 members overall.
Facebook's involvement is to benefit its business. The social media giant has 1.8 billion active monthly users and wants to make Internet access more widely available. Facebook also has demanding networking requirements, linking its data centres and supporting growing video traffic.
By contrast, the telecom operators want to work with Facebook having seen how its Open Compute Project has created flexible, scalable equipment for the data centre. 
Operators are also frustrated, in part because of the need for speed. At the inaugural TIP Summit held last November, TIP chairman and CTO of SK Telecom, Alex Jinsung Choi, lamented how the scale and complexity of telecom networks make it hard for innovators and start-ups to enter the marketplace. “It is time to disrupt this closed market; it is time to reinvent everything we have today,” said Choi.
TIP has seven ongoing projects across three network segments of focus: access, backhaul, and core and management. One project is the Open Optical Packet Transport and it has already created a packet optical transport/ IP router platform, a one-rack-unit white box dubbed Voyager.
Significance of TIP
Given the open source activity surrounding SDN and NFV, coupled with developments like CORD why is another venture such as TIP needed?
Niall Robinson, vice president of global business development at ADVA Optical Networking, a TIP member, points to its broad scope - from access to the core - whereas other initiatives focus on particular parts of the network. He also highlights its open-source nature: “Contribution of designs does not happen in many of the other initiatives.” Facebook contributed the Voyager design to the TIP working group, for example.
Uwe Fischer, CTO of Coriant, another member, sees TIP as an inevitable outcome of the operators' desire for change. “I think the time has come where continuing the way we have done in the past will most likely not lead us to success,” says Fischer.
ADVA Optical Networking and Coriant have different reasons for their interest in Voyager. The white box adds a packet optical platform to ADVA's product portfolio whereas Coriant is more interested in Voyager as an IP router. Yet Voyager represents a specialist platform becoming commoditised and one that was seen as immune to the impact of NFV. 
Heavy Reading's Perrin highlights another issue. Until now it has been the telcos that have  pressured vendors on cost. Now, Internet content providers such as Facebook have entered the fray saying innovation is too slow, prices are too high and change is needed.
Vendors have a self-interest in joining such ventures, if only to understand first hand the changes taking place. But just what all this portends is unclear, as much for the telcos as for the systems and components makers.   

Roy Rubenstein is editor of Gazettabyte and co-author with Daryl Inniss of the book: Silicon Photonics: Fueling the Next Information Revolution

Learn more about "Open Platform Technical Conference Programming" at OFC 2017.

Hear Industry Groups Speak on the Show Floor at OFC 2017: ONF, OCP, OpenConfig and TIP.   


Posted: 17 February 2017 by Roy Rubenstein, Editor Gazettabyte | with 0 comments

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