Move to disaggregated networks presents opportunities and challenges for operators

From the oRAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project to ETSI and the Open Compute Project, there’s a long-term move in the telecom industry toward multi-vendor interoperability and flexible software control built on open-source software. The idea is to put vendor lock-in to bed and allow operators to mix and match best in breed solutions to build the disaggregated networks they need.

But when you’ve got an Ericsson basestation connected to a Nokia radio and running a mix of proprietary, open-source and off-the-shelf, who does an operator call when something breaks? One or all of the vendors, their own IT team, the system integrator that built the system, a combination of those stakeholders?

Eric Vallone, director of product management for Dell’s Service Provider Solutions group, explained, based on his conversations with customers during Mobile World Congress 2018 in Los Angeles, why operators want disaggregated networks: “Options. What we are hearing a lot of is options. The need for service providers to have options and not be locked in to one particular vendor or one particular solutions. Openness and disaggregation—it was a big term several years ago but now it has come to reality. It started in the core with the EPC and, for mobile networks, it has moved to the edge, so lots of conversations this week around virtualization, disaggregation at the edge, and at the customer [premise]too.”

Without prompting, Vallone intuited the clear issue with disaggregated networks. “Who you gonna call? That is the absolute challenge. Operators want the openness but do they really want the cost of the openness? My team, the service provider solution team, is here to solve exactly that problem: to build an infrastructure architecture that allows the service provider to have the open, disaggregated environment. We’re giving [operators]that comfort.”

Nokia, along with top competitors Ericsson and Samsung, are working with U.S. operators on the deployment of 5G. Rick Corker, Nokia’s head of North America, said it’s natural that operators want to work with multiple infrastructure vendors. Generally, he said during a meeting with members of the media during MWCA 2018, each vendor will have a geographic region. But with increasing interoperability, it’s “becoming possible where you can mix and match,” although operators are might not do that in the field. “In theory this all sounds great,” he said, but there are clear problems chief among them, “We all have software releases at different times.”




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