Despite ORAN, TIP still leads in disrupting the mobile vendor landscape

One of the interesting aspects of the rising influence of open source groups in telco networks, even down in the RAN, is how they will intersect (or compete with) the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). For instance, Vodafone’s Luke Ibbetson said the operator was not part of the new ORAN Alliance (see below) because it was putting all its efforts behind the OpenRAN effort within TIP.

Kicked off by Facebook as a telco follow-up to its Open Compute Project, TIP has gained significant momentum in the past year, with operators such as BT, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom setting up TIP incubators to support start-ups which look to introduce new architectures and economics – based around commoditized base stations and white box systems – to the mobile network.

Innovators like Orange-backed Amarisoft and Athonet could take business from Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei in future, the MNOs say, eagerly eyeing the opportunity to slash costs and open up their supply chains. Orange’s deputy CEO Gervais Pellissier told journalists earlier this year, while discussing TIP: “We need to keep freedom vis-à-vis suppliers and introduce new ones with 5G ideas. I’m not sure we will order 100% of 5G infrastructure needs from existing suppliers.”

While much of the attention at Mobile World Congress was on the new ORAN initiative, which brings together AT&T’s XRAN and the Cloud-RAN Alliance, there was plenty of TIP news too, as well as a collaboration between Nokia and Facebook itself in the 60 GHz band.

Processor vendor Cavium has been a major supporter of open source telco initiatives such as the Open Networking Foundation’s CORD, and the OpenCellular project within TIP. In Barcelona, it announced that it is powering an OpenCellular LTE (OC-LTE) low cost base station which is now going into the first field trials of the platform.

The product is based on Cavium’s Octeon Fusion processor with a commercial LTE stack contributed by Cavium to TIP.  The chip firm – which says involvement in TIP helps to broaden its ecosystem and addressable market, while stimulating the overall sector –  is working with a Nokia community-hosted network run by the  UK’s BT/EE to support rural connectivity.

“We’re delighted to be hosting one of the first 4G trials of OpenCellular in the world. 4G has been the heart of our network from the birth of EE and this OC-LTE trial will drive further innovation to support EE’s push towards 95% geographic coverage,” said Mansoor Hanif, director of the converged networks research lab at BT. “The Cavium APIs make it very straightforward to integrate management services onto the OC-LTE stack software. We were impressed by how quick it was to integrate with Nokia’s platform, which enables a sustainable community-supported deployment and operation in extremely remote areas of the UK where geographical and meteorological conditions heavily impact traditional solutions.”

“Our goal is to bring together all of the technologies an operator requires to deploy and manage OC-LTE base stations in the field,” said Kashif Ali, Facebook co-chair of the OpenCellular project.  “The integration with the Nokia solution will enable fast field deployments and ongoing system management capabilities.”

BT was also involved in another TIP project which was described at MWC, this one with ADVA and Mavenir and focused on Cloud-RAN. The companies are cooperating on C-RAN developments at BT’s R&D center, Adastral Park. They will be testing and validating the benefits of Cloud-RAN using non-ideal (i.e. non-fiber) infrastructure for fronthaul, to try to evaluate more cost-effective solutions to this major cost item, using technologies which have previously been considered inadequate.

The initiative has reached the testing phase with the deployment of an end-to-end vRAN system with Ethernet Cat 5 fronthaul, incorporating Mavenir and ADVA technologies, and integrating radio units from multiple vendors with a Mavenir virtualized baseband on white box hardware. The Cat 5 solution uses only 10% of the bandwidth required for fiber-based CPRI, the usual C-RAN fronthaul choice.

Richard MacKenzie, a principal researcher at BT, said: “Through this testing and mix of suppliers, we are demonstrating that we can truly disrupt the current ecosystem.”

John Baker, SVP of access business development at Mavenir, added: “Cloud-RAN can save the carrier greater than 37% in both opex and capex using non-fiber optic solutions.”

Telenor is the latest operator to join TIP and it will focus in particular on Terragraph, the project’s 60 GHz wireless solution for access and backhaul, which it will trial in Malaysia, as well as on OpenCellular, which it will use in Pakistan initially.

The Norwegian operator’s CTO, Ruza Sabanovic, said the ultimate goal was to bring these technologies to its European markets. She said: “Driving the industry towards more openness is important for the ecosystem, as well as for Telenor Group, in order to pursue efficiency, innovation and attractive service experience.”

Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Magyar Telekom is also planning to run a Terragraph field trial in Budapest; while BT is going to use the technology in a field trial in rural Scotland.

Meanwhile, Nokia announced a new partnership with Facebook in 60 GHz, targeting fixed wireless access. This unlicensed band has been used for short range in-home WiFi (WiGig), for small cell backhaul and now for FWA, potentially offering a lower cost alternative than millimeter wave fixed 5G solutions in licensed bands such as 28 GHz and 39 GHz (as deployed by the US operators).

The Nokia-Facebook project is notable because it refers specifically to 5G, but is focused on technologies emanating from the IEEE/WiFi community. It will combine Terragraph with Nokia’s wireless PON (passive optical network), which it launched last year as a 60 GHz backhaul, access or fronthaul solution. The resulting system will target ‘fiber to the reasonably close pole’, which is more economic, outside urban environments, than fiber to the home.

Nokia expects to launch global gigabit broadband trials in 2018 with select customers.

Nokia and Facebook also said they would work together to accelerate development of IEEE’s 802.11ay standard, which will be a successor to 802.11ad (WiGig).