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28 May 2019

TM Forum’s latest open framework aims to ease migration to cloud-native 5G

At its annual conference in Nice, France last week, TM Forum launched its latest open framework, this one specifically targeted at migrating networks towards modular cloud-native environments, with a special focus on the 5G core.

The Open Digital Framework is based on the Forum’s Open Digital Architecture, and also includes open APIs (application programming interfaces) plus data and AI (artificial intelligence) standards, with reference implementations and other reference materials.

The organization describes the framework as an “interactive, continuously evolving collection of tools, knowledge, and standards” to help operators migrate their legacy systems to “modular, cloud-native IT components”. One of the biggest such migrations facing many mobile operators is the implementation of a 5G core. Although all MNOs are initially deploying 5G radio networks in Non-Standalone mode, which works with the 4G core, many of the full benefits of the 5G platform, such as network slicing, will require a cloud-native 5G core.

The transition to that architecture, and the timing to do it, are critical decisions that many MNOs will be making soon, and TM Forum believes its frameworks will help them assess the necessary next steps as well as the business cases.

“The combination of the patterns, tools, specifications, and advisory services of the Open Digital Framework make it the natural choice for network architects to understand the complexity and possibilities of managing 5G-enabled services,” said George Glass, VP of architecture and API collaboration at TM Forum.

The framework also builds on previous 5G projects and on the Forum’s Catalyst proof-of-concept initiatives, some of which have looked at 5G management. “It started out as work around SDN, NFV and the virtualization of the network,” Glass added. “5G took the virtualization stage further where not only the infrastructure was virtualized, but the network services were virtualized, for example a 5G slice.”

Three telcos have announced that they have adopted TM Forum’s Open API Manifesto and committed to using the specifications. All adopters commit to incorporating the Open APIs into their products (vendors) or requiring them as part of their RFP process (operators).

The Open API program was established in 2016, when nine operators adopted the initial set of 18 REST-based APIs. AT&T, China Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, along with Salesforce, are the new recruits, joining organizations like China Mobile, Ericsson, Huawei, IBM and Oracle. The Open API initiative is one of a rising number of projects across the telecoms industry which seek to enable multivendor, mix-and-match networks and cloud systems to be deployed, to reduce the cost and increase the flexibility of the virtualized 5G environment.

TM Forum claims more than 50 REST-based Open APIs are being used by more than 7,000 software developers at more than 1,200 companies.