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22 November 2019

TIP extends community lab program to drive interoperability

A vital element of turning specifications into robust, deployable platforms is a trusted testing program, and in open environments, this will typically be provided centrally, by an independent body. This saves time and money for operators and vendors, which can reduce their own interoperability and performance testing.

It can also lead to a certification initiative, which can enable a genuinely mix-and-match, plug-and-play platform akin to that in WiFi equipment. This adds a major dose of confidence for operators which want to buy from multiple, and unfamiliar, vendors; and improves price competition.

The TIP community is gearing up for this major testing role as its specs move into commercial products and at the TIP Summit, it announced that it was expanding its community lab program. A dozen labs are now actively testing, validating and integrating new features.

Attilio Zani, executive director of TIP, said the community labs are one of the clear differentiators of TIP from other groups. “It’s a crucial kind of crux where collaboration within our community of operators, and vendors, and the entire ecosystem of our members actually physically get together,” he said.

Facebook and several operators open community labs:

Among the new labs are some focused on the newest developments in mobile network processes. Facebook had a relatively low profile at the Summit this year, as if the group is trying to play down the role of the social media giant in shaping the next generation ecosystem, in order to emphasize its broad, collaborative and operator-driven base.

But TIP’s founder made an important announcement, that it is opening the first integration-focused TIP labs in two of its locations (Los Angeles and Menlo Park, California).

In other forward-looking testing regimes, Telefónica is launching the first TIP software lab supporting CI/CD (continuous integration, continuous deployment) processes, in Madrid. Meanwhile, Sprint, which leads the OpenRAN 5G NR working group, said it plans to open a lab in its Overland Park, Kansas headquarters devoted to this technology.

David del Val Latorre, CEO of R&D at Telefónica and a TIP board member, told the audience that the community labs system “works quite well because when you put together a bunch of engineers that want to make something together, magic happens.”

He explained how the labs work. First they bring participants together to determine the scope and expectations. The lab then sources the necessary materials and hardware, and then the lab members work together on configuring to the specifications to be tested. Once a spec has been tested, participants provide feedback to its authors and suggest changes.

As well as opening the new lab, Sprint has contributed code to the 5G NR project group which it chairs. Based on operator input, the group is developing modelling techniques and a test framework for specific applications and deployment scenarios, using both standalone and non-standalone 5G NR systems, in sub-6 GHz bands, for macro and small cells.

In August, Sprint contributed a draft technical specification to the group for a 2.5 GHz (Band 41) white box 5G NR base station.

TIP Exchange provides product marketplace:

Also with an eye on creating a broad, interoperable ecosystem and wide range of compatible products, TIP announced the TIP Exchange, an online marketplace to help operators find hardware and software that has been validated by the community. The  Exchange initially contains 45 solutions from 28 member companies.

Zani said the Exchange was designed to be more than a marketplace, but should also help ensure that development work is not duplicated at multiple organizations. “We’ve built a very strong relationship with OCP [Open Compute Project] to make sure we’re aligned,” said Zani. “We’re looking for further relationships with other organizations to ensure there is broad industry alignment.” The OCP, like TIP, was founded by Facebook and aims to drive open platforms with broad stakeholder contributions and support – in OCP’s case, for the cloud platform.

Some of the Exchange products were developed under TIP or OCP projects, but it will also house equipment and software created by vendors directly, as long as they comply with the specs, or even products developed inhouse by service providers.

TIP has also developed a badge scheme to show shoppers where each product stands in terms of development. The badges will indicate whether an offering is being integrated in one of TIP’s community labs, is in a field trial or commercial deployment, has been used in a plugfest, or is following a blueprint.

Axel Clauberg, chairman of the TIP board, said: “With all the activities we’re driving with TIP, it’s very hard to see where a device is integrated. At TIP we’re focused a lot on building things. An important element is to do real integration in a lab.”