Virtualisation working group at RAN World 2017

Simon Fletcher, CTO, Real Wireless
Sergey Lagutik, Head of Operations, Velcom
Mansoor Hanif, Director of Converged Networks, Research and Innovation, BT
Raj Singh, Vice President and General Manager, Cavium
Dr Luis Velasco, Professor, Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya

The results of the survey are presented and raise some interesting questions about the mismatch between the expectations of survey respondents and their perception that virtualisation is not being delivered to market as quickly as they would hope. Simon highlighted that the ability to relocate functionality in a dynamic fashion between the cloud and the edge was of greatest interest to respondents, which aligns well with the evolution of network platforms to migrate to C-RAN and adopt MEC. The barriers to adoption were concerns about compatibility with existing approaches; both Sergei and Mansoor will have views on how to overcome this challenge. Respondents were not yet seeing a reduction in equipment costs as a result of virtualisation features, perhaps we are too early in the product lines maturity cycle to see significant reductions just yet? The overall compatibility of virtualised features with OSS/BSS was also thought to be lacking.

Download the virtualisation infographic here

Simon continued by summarising the outcomes of one of the Real Wireless studies that are part of the H2020 5G NORMA project. The techno-economic activity (led by Real Wireless) studies revenues as well as costs; however, here we are focussed on cost efficiencies as the architecture shifts towards a multi-service slicing capable approach. Importantly the study is framed by an approach that takes into account existing deployments of equipment, not a green field deployment, and establishes CAPEX and OPEX profiles over an extended network transformation period until 2030. This timeframe encompasses the early introduction of 5G and well into its technology maturing phase. The TCO benefits of infrastructure sharing enabled through multi-tenancy and slicing are evident. Whilst the cost reduction is not game changing it is reassuring that to adopt these new architectural approaches that fully support virtualisation will not be cost prohibitive. The greater flexibility for new business models and revenues will provide opportunity for an upside.

Sergei presented Velcom’s recent experience of a core network transformation project; fully adopting virtualisation into those core network elements by a swap-out approach. He was delighted by the outcomes with a 30% cost reduction. The consensus from the participants was that a virtualised core is fully realisable now.

Mansoor presented the BT R&I activities around vRAN. Virtualisation of RAN and in particular establishing an industry consensus view on the split between RRU and vBBU was very much work in progress. Significant lab based activities by BT and other MNOs to determine the best approach, evaluate different industry standard approaches and assure compatibility with existing approaches is necessary.  As a swap out of existing geographically distributed equipment will take a significant period of investment. Mansoor invited MNOs and OEMs alike to participate in the various projects to ensure consensus is reached. There was some concern however that perhaps the number of initiatives may need to be rationalised at some point in time.

Raj reminded the group that there are various processing platforms available that supported virtualisation  and this was by no means a single chip vendor initiative. Mansoor backed this up by saying it was important to have a multi-vendor approach for chipsets. The ability to establish a virtualised platform architecture, with optimal placement of specialised and general compute architecture enabled high flexibility of software function placement across real deployments. An illustration based on deployments encompassing campus, edge, and cloud were illustrated. Raj confirmed that Cavium participate in many of the industry virtualisation initiatives.

Jose highlighted outcomes from a recent research project showing how big data may be leveraged with analytics based approaches. These yield demonstrable benefits in terms of providing data driven insights that will ultimately allow the automated control of a virtualised network.

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