Cloud, datacenter vendors muscle in on traditional telco territory at MWC
Join us in the 'new world of opportunity' says GSMA chief
The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) shindig for the telecoms industry has begun in Barcelona, with one of the over-arching themes being the ongoing efforts by IT vendors to muscle their way into the telecoms market.
MWC has long been the place for smartphone makers and mobile operators to showcase their latest wares, but increasingly cloud and datacenter infrastructure makes an appearance.
Intel officially announced its 4th Gen Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost at MWC, even though these versions of the Sapphire Rapids product line-up had already been disclosed. The chips include AVX for vRAN instructions designed to accelerate signal processing functions in telco applications.
The chip giant claimed that by integrating vRAN acceleration into the Xeon SoC and eliminating the need for an external accelerator card, it is doubling the gain in capacity a standard 4th Gen Xeon exhibits over the previous generation, but within the same power envelope. This also lowers costs by reducing design complexity and bill-of-materials costs for telco server equipment, we're told.
Intel said it is offering power-optimized SKUs of the vRAN Boost chips with up to 20 cores for deployments with challenging space, thermal and power requirements that will be available in the second quarter of 2023. Versions optimized for performance-per-watt with up to 32 cores will be available from the third quarter for scaling up vRAN services in dense urban environments and massive MIMO deployments, the company said.
The GSMA, host of the MWC show, announced its own industry-wide initiative called GSMA Open Gateway. This is a framework of network APIs aimed at providing universal access to operator networks for developers.
It is essentially an effort to expose the capabilities of different telecoms networks through APIs that are available globally across telco networks and countries. The APIs are developed and published in CAMARA, an open source project overseen by the Linux Foundation that works closely with the GSMA Operator Platform Group.
GSMA board chairman and CEO of Telefónica José María Álvarez-Pallete López claimed these APIs will enable single points of access to next-gen networks and provide a catalyst for new development.
The initiative has been launched with the support of 21 mobile network operators, according to the GSMA, and represents a "paradigm shift" in the way the telecoms industry delivers services in the modern world.
"Telcos have come a long way in developing a global platform to connect everyone and everything. And now, by federating open network APIs and applying the roaming concept of interoperability, mobile operators and cloud services will be truly integrated to enable a new world of opportunity," he said.
However, PP Foresight telecoms and media analyst Paolo Pescatore said the devil would be in the detail with this development, and it had been tried before and failed.
"Overall, this feels like a noble effort in an age where telcos are collaborating ever more closely to fend off the growing dominance of big tech," he said, adding that strong support among key players had indicated an ambition to succeed this time.
On the cloud side, Microsoft unveiled a public preview of Azure Operator Nexus, a carrier-grade hybrid cloud platform aimed at communications service providers (CSPs) that debuted as a private preview last year.
This allows telcos to run their workloads on-premises or on Azure, where they can deploy, manage, secure, and monitor everything from the bare metal to the network to the tenant, Microsoft said.
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Like other such services, it aims to bring facets of the cloud, such as faster and simpler provisioning of new resources, to telecom networks. However, to count as "carrier-grade" it includes features not usually seen in standard cloud services, including CPU Pinning, NUMA Alignment and Layer 2 Networking capabilities not currently available with Azure IaaS.
An Azure Operator Nexus Ready program pre-certifies virtual network functions (VNF) and containerized network functions (CNF), letting operators select and integrate these functions to compose their mobile network, as well as creating their own.
Microsoft also announced a public preview of two AIOps services, Azure Operator Insights and Azure Operator Service Manager, intended to simplify the management of existing networks for telco customers. Both also work with Azure Operator Nexus to provide the same approaches for monitoring, diagnostics, and lifecycle management, we're told.
Now generally available from Microsoft is Azure Private 5G Core, which lets operators or system integrators deploy a 5G standalone network for customers using Azure Stack Edge.
Google is also getting in on the act, confirming a preview version of Telecom Network Automation, a platform designed for deployment and management of cloud infrastructure and 5G network functions via what Google claims is an intent-based and declarative approach.
Telecom Network Automation appears to be a Google-managed implementation of Nephio, an open source project aimed at speeding deployment of network functions via Kubernetes, including provisioning of the underlying cloud infrastructure, using intent-based automation.
Google claims the platform allows CSPs to deploy entire networks and manage them using a single pane of glass. The search giant said several are actively working with it as design customers and early testers of Telecom Network Automation.
The platform integrates with Telecom Data Fabric, another service Google announced as a preview at MWC. This is a data and analytics service designed to help telcos exploit their data assets, and run their networks more effectively and efficiently, it said.
A third part of Mountain View's pitch is an update to Google Distributed Cloud Edge (GDC Edge) that now allows CSPs to deploy their radio access network (RAN) functions as software. GDC Edge is effectively an extension of Google's cloud to infrastructure at a customer's site.
Google said its strategy is to offer a set of open products and solutions across four pillars: cloud infrastructure, analytics, automation, and partnerships with RAN network function providers.
Microsoft and Google's announcements follow that of Amazon Web Services, which last week unveiled AWS Telco Network Builder (TNB), its own service to allow CSPs to deploy and manage public and private telco networks on its cloud.
TNB is another product designed to enable telcos to make greater use of cloud-native constructs like containers and Kubernetes. It enables users to define network requirements using telecom industry standards, then maps these to a cloud architecture and provisions the right infrastructure resources automatically, AWS said.
The company said it is launching TNB with the ability to create a network that spans multiple Availability Zones in a single AWS Region. Additional deployment options such as Local Zones and Outposts will come later, we're told. ®