Telenor argues containers will be essential to scalable 5G

In the wake of Mobile World Congress, Norwegian operator Telenor released a white paper, written with Metaswitch, claiming that containers are the only viable way to build large-scale 5G networks.

The paper describes a proof-of-concept and a live trial based on delivering VoLTE at an event in a remote area of Norway. It does highlight challenges to the adoption of container technology in telco networks – primarily, immaturity of available systems, security concerns and orchestration complexity. However, these are outweighed by the advantages compared to the more established approach of virtual machines (VMs) in software-defined networks – speed of deployment, support for increased density of network elements and devices, and more efficient scaling.

These benefits should accelerate industry efforts to address the downsides, according to the white paper authors, including chief research scientist at Telenor, Pal Gronsund.

“Containers, they have a more lightweight footprint, you don’t have the same amount of resources, so if you can bring in containers, there can be a higher density of VNFs (virtual network functions),” Gronsund told LightReading . “I also think the portability aspect of this – you can more easily move containers around – is important.”

Gronsund added: “VMs will be extremely important to 5G as well. But moving into containers can also do a lot of the things that are not as easy with VMs.”

The Telenor proof-of-concept integrated technology from multiple vendors, including Altiostar’s baseband unit, Affirmed Networks’ virtual packet core and Openet’s virtual PCRF. It also used Metaswitch’s virtual IMS deployed on a Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, which provided container orchestration and automation tools.

The PoC ended in a live demonstration of VoLTE at a Norwegian festival held in the wilderness, where mobile coverage was sparse. Telenor used “a pre-packaged script to drive the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform engine,” and bring up all the VNFs required for an IMS core in less than four minutes, rather than the several months usually needed to install and commission an IMS core.