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14 September 2020

Samsung, Intel and HPE support SK Telecom’s migration to 5G NFV

By Wireless Watch Staff

SK Telecom of South Korea has signed an agreement with Samsung, HPE and Intel to develop an NFV (network functions virtualization) platform for its upcoming 5G NR Standalone (SA) deployment.

These three vendors are increasingly mentioned in the same breath when it comes to cloud-based 5G, and all have a mutual interest in joining forces to raise barriers to entry to their individual competitors.

For Samsung, leveraging cloud partnerships, an early move to vRAN, and the experience of working with the advanced MNOs in its homeland are all important tactics in raising its game against the big four network vendors. Meanwhile, Intel needs to fend off the challenge from ARM-based cloud and network processors, such as those from Marvell, while HPE can see fellow IT players like Dell and Oracle attacking its telco base both in servers and software.

Safety in numbers then, and working with one of the world’s most innovative MNOs, when it comes to new architectures, is a boost to expertise and credibility – though it is perhaps surprising that SK Telecom is still talking about NFV, when other agile 5G operators are looking to move beyond that first generation virtualized network platform and into truly cloud-native architectures based on microservices and containers.

The four partners will develop NFV technologies for 5G networks, establish a standardized process for NFV adoption, and develop processes that will reduce the time to validate and integrate NFV platforms from different vendors. The creation and testing of these technologies will take place on SK Telecom’s 5G network. It has started to build out its SA infrastructure in a multivendor environment, and recently boasted of demonstrating the world’s first 5G SA data session in a commercial, multivendor network.

Intel will provide its Xeon processors, Ethernet 800 Series network adapters and solid-state drives to the effort. SK Telecom has already been using these components to support its 5G SA user plane function (UPF). HPE will contribute ProLiant Servers for centralized cloud functions and to provide verification support.

Together, the products and efforts will connect SK Telecom’s 5G core network into Samsung’s virtualized 5G platform. The MNO says this will help drive the use of NFV in supporting the complex virtualization and computing needs for 5G services, especially when combined with edge computing and massive device numbers.

Roh Wonil, head of product strategy at Samsung’s network business, said the work could benefit other MNOs in future. “As more operators look to virtualized networks, this collaboration will serve as an exemplar of transforming legacy networks to virtual networks,” he said.

Other operators are working on the challenge of transitioning NFV to the 5G SA environment within open initiatives, even while others say they would rather hold fire on NFV and wait for cloud-native technologies to mature. The Linux Foundation’s LF Networking group recently launched a project focused on an open source platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for 5G network functions. The XGVela project – based on seed code from China Mobile, and supported by China Unicom, China Telecom, ZTE, Ericsson, Nokia, Intel and Red Hat — aims to enhance general PaaS functions from existing open source efforts in order to address specific and challenging telecoms requirements.

It also harnesses other LF Networking efforts such as the Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT) and the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) Verification Program. Such work will not only result in a virtualization platform that is optimized for telco needs, but will support the migration to cloud-native, argues the Foundation.

Its VP of community and ecosystem development, Heather Kirksey, said: “NFV continues to evolve as telcos increasingly adopt cloud-native technologies. Change, however, brings challenges, especially in areas like compliance, testing, automation and integration.”