Recently, five European telecom operators (Deutsche Telecom, Orange, Telefonica, TIM S.p.A., and Vodafone) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to boost innovation in Open RAN, industry-wide interface standards that allow radio access network equipment and software from different vendors to communicate.
Collectively, the European telecoms published a “Technical Priorities Document” that aims to list down the technical priorities/requirements for building Open RAN architecture. This document sets up the technical preferences of five telecom operators while deploying the RAN in upcoming years. It serves as a guide to the RAN solution vendors to focus on those specific priorities of Open RAN architecture that further helps in accelerating the market deployment in Europe. This list of requirements will ease the deployment of fully disaggregated multivendor RAN with a common management framework.
Open RAN architecture contains building blocks that form the open infrastructure to deliver software RAN: O-Cloud (Open Cloud Software platform), O-CU (Open Central Unit), O-DU (Open Distributed Unit), RIC (RAN Intelligence Controller), and OFH (Open Fronthaul), and so on. O-Cloud is the software-based infrastructure that enables O-RAN hardware and software disaggregation. O-Cloud allows the O-RAN software applications and containerized network functions (CNFs) to run on General-Purpose Processors (GPPs) based Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware.
The O-Cloud implementation will be based on the Kubernetes framework to support the RAN software. It will host O-RAN functionalities such as O-CU, O-DU, and near real-time RIC. This means that Kubernetes will be the key orchestration framework that will manage the lifecycle of software-based O-CU, O-DU, and RIC. Furthermore, to achieve high throughput and low latency for applications, they are eyeing to host CNFs on bare metal and orchestrate using Kubernetes-based O-Cloud. This is prominent development for Kubernetes in the telecom domain.
Why Kubernetes Is Important for Telecom Operators?
In recent KubeCon Europe, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation surveyed to evaluate the deployment of Kubernetes at the edge. As per the survey report, the most popular use case is a manufacturing/industrial IoT. And following the first, the next use case is telco/mobile edge computing.
This makes clear that how telecom operators have started using Kubernetes to manage their applications deployed in software-based networks. And, importantly, this survey only shows results for the edge. Kubernetes is not only useful at the edge but every part of the telecom network. Kubernetes can manage applications deployed at hundreds of core data centers (it is termed as Near edges), and up to thousands of far edges and orchestrates back-office applications (OSS/BSS).
And now, this Technical Priorities Document shows that the O-Cloud platform will be deployed on Kubernetes that will further help them pushing more workloads in the K8s cluster. The key benefits to telecom operators include:
- Kubernetes can perform lifecycle management of applications that are containerized along with applications deployed in virtual machines. It helps in eliminating the need to have a separate orchestrator for VMs and helps in the gradual transition to fully containerized applications.
- In the distributed cloud environment, Kubernetes provides a single policy-driven standard platform to manage CNFs and VNFs deployed in different cloud environments. That further helps in having a centralized management layer to manage the telco cloud.
- There are many open source Kubernetes frameworks are available that helps kick start the application orchestrations at telco edge, OSS/BSS applications, etc. A plain version of Kubernetes can be implemented along with necessary plugins to add new features related to network interfaces, pod discovery, etc. No software licenses are required while deploying Kubernetes in plain form. That helps telecom operators in saving CAPEX.
- Most of the telecom workloads are supposed to be deployed on bare metal infrastructures like RAN hardware and far edge servers. With the elimination of the virtualization layer, overheads the virtual layer can get reduces resulted in more decreased latency and agile automation.
When we talk about the containers and cloud native stack for modern software development, Kubernetes is the only framework that fulfills the dynamic application lifecycle management requirements of any data center and delivers all the benefits. Kubernetes is the key tool that will push operators to have cloud native Open RAN and the rest of the core of modern 4G/5G networks.
For telecom companies, Kubernetes is the breakthrough technology that is helping in the roadmap of transition to the containerized application workloads from the legacy virtualized layer that has infrastructure overheads and still requires more investments to host the applications. With Kubernetes, they can start their journey by keeping legacy infrastructure.
The Cloud Native Computing Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.