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Quortus and Lime shake up the mobile chain again, with vEPC as an app

One of the pioneers of edge computing in the mobile environment is UK-based Quortus, whose central offering is a virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC) that can be run on very small footprint hardware including a small cell or an edge server within a backpack (or even a Raspberry Pi). Now the company has gone a step further with PocketEPC, an app-based solution which will greatly simplify the deployment of cellular networks.

The Quortus vEPC supports self-contained, localized mobile networks which can carry out many functions for an enterprise or remote location, while still linking to the main MNO core when required. Increasingly, this model – localized subnets enabled by edge computing and often by shared spectrum – will be important to 5G, enabling enterprises and verticals, or their specialized service providers, to control their own mobile services while tapping into the MNO network for wide area connectivity.

PocketEPC delivers a full 4G mobile core in an app, which will be available through the LimeNET Ubuntu App Store. That store has also been part of a disruptive development which points to the way future mobile networks will be sourced and built, using low cost,  open source hardware and accessing network functions via a store, as easily as smartphone applications. RF specialist Lime Microsystems has developed and crowd-funded two open source software-defined radios, and the software to run on them is hosted as apps in the Ubuntu store.

Now PocketEPC has joined this, and is the first product in a range of virtualized, app-based implementations of key cellular functions by Quortus. The company also promises apps to support value-added capabilities such as enterprise-level access control, caching and local break-out.

The company says it is bringing the ‘download-and-go’ norms of consumer mobile apps to network deployment, echoing the aims of the Facebook Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Last year, when Facebook showed off its OpenCellular low cost, open source base station design as part of TIP, its engineers boasted that designing a cellular network was becoming a simple matter. The extension of open source and app-based processes right into the RAN suggests they may be proved right, with disruptive effect on the traditional cellular equipment vendors, which have built their businesses around complex, closed and expensive platforms.

Of course, it will be many years before such approaches are trusted to underpin the main networks of large operators, or can meet all the demanding requirements of telco systems – the struggles to make OpenStack fit for purpose in that environment are an example of the challenges ahead (see item above). But, as Orange’s, BT’s and Deutsche Telekom’s enthusiasm for TIP indicates, the new approaches promise to transform the telco’s cost base, and so have to be taken seriously. They will be tested robustly in discrete, greenfield environments such as enterprise edge networks, and then, finally, allowed to creep into the main networks, perhaps during the second phase of 5G, when new IoT applications move to center stage, rather than the enhanced mobile broadband use cases for which conventional cellular networks have been conceived and optimized.

In the Quortus approach, 3GPP-compliant core network functions will be collapsed into apps which can then be pushed to the network edge by the MNO, or pulled down from the store by private operators or enterprises. They can run on small cells or COTS hardware and will come certified against target hardware, NFV containers, or virtual machines (VMs). The joint Quortus and Lime offering will include Lime system-certified edge computing functions packaged as SNAPs and hosted on the Ubuntu App Store.

“We’ve been deploying intelligence at the network edge for many years now,” said Andy Odgers, Quortus’s CEO, in a statement. “But giving people access to sophisticated network and value-add functions in the form of an app is a game-changer. We’re enabling an open app environment that provides a flexible platform for anyone wanting to make a business out of added-value cellular connectivity.”

Ebrahim Bushehri, Lime’s CEO, added: “Quortus has field-proven core networking solutions, and so was a natural choice for the LimeNET App Store. Network operators like BT and EE are already using our jointly-provided solutions to develop a variety of new services, ranging from fixed wireless access to IoT connectivity and enterprise networking-as-a-service. It’s never been easier for mainstream developers to leverage the many advantages of cellular connectivity.”

The LimeNET programmable network-in-a-box is available through Crowd Supply, (https://www.crowdsupply.com/lime-micro/limenet) and has been backed by Vodafone. Systems available include a small cell for IoT and short range cellular applications; a wide area network for carrier-grade applications; and an enterprise system to connect multiple LimeSDRs.

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