Telenor Research & Innovation gained insight into managing partnerships and updating software components during a recent non-commercial trial of network slicing.
Telenor Research makes 5G slicing progress in enterprise trials
A recent non-commercial trial by Telenor Research & Innovation and partners of automated end-to-end network slicing with customers not only resulted in much faster network slice deployment, it also provided insight into how to approach automation, as well as how to operate within a multi-vendor environment.
Telenor worked with a total of eleven vendors to develop an end-to-end automated deployment solution of 5G standalone core network slices. The goal was to demonstrate how Telenor’s enterprise customers can order 5G network services dynamically and bring on board their own application services using standard APIs, according to Patrick Waldemar, Vice President, Telenor Research & Innovation.
In addition to making it possible for customers to spin up secure network slices and onboard applications, it is also important to ensure there is no service interference between adjacent slices, says Waldemar, who explains that network slice isolation is about creating an optimal tradeoff “between high operational costs and … a satisfactory customer experience.”
Another important aspect of 5G and industrial use is to develop components that Telenor could reuse across different verticals. A handful of customers, including Norwegian Defence, have been taking part in Telenor’s EU projects on 5G and industrial use over the last five years, with health and emergency services also being key areas of focus, according to Waldemar.
“If we succeed in creating solutions for the most challenging industries, we can reuse what we have done here in a lot of other places,” he explains.
Service at scale
One of the other benefits of the trial was the substantial acceleration of the deployment time of a network slice from days to minutes, increasing the deployment speed by 70%, according to Enea, one of Telenor’s vendor partners. In addition, Telenor was able to work with partners on unpicking some of the challenges of automating the operation and delivery of network slicing services at scale.
“The biggest challenge when deploying an upgraded 5G infrastructure and network function at scale is automation,” says Waldemar.
Telenor Research & Innovation developed “a step-by-step approach to automating processes, starting with the roll out of the server and switch infrastructure, followed by network functions and network services, and culminating in third-party applications,” according to Min Xie, Senior Research Scientist, Telenor Research & Innovation.
Now “we are planning to move … automation from the deployment and configuration and are preparing ourselves towards the more advanced automation tasks in runtime operations,” explains Xie.
Understanding how to manage supplier partnerships as telcos move to a component-based architecture was another important lesson.
Telenor’s solution used network functions from Enea, Oracle and Casa Systems; an orchestration system from Nokia and Red Hat; security monitoring from Palo Alto Networks; network monitoring from Emblasoft; and radio access nodes from Huawei and Ericsson. The services run on Red Hat OpenShift and are based on Intel, Nokia and HPE hardware, according to Enea.
“It’s always a challenge to integrate all … the solutions from … partners,” explains Xie. “In theory their solutions should be smoothly integrated because they comply with the standard APIs or interface specifications, but in practice there is always misalignment.”
For example, there is a difficulty of incorporating software upgrades into live network slicing services in the multi-vendor environment. Since each component has its own lifecycle, “we’re still learning how to synchronize and align the update and upgrade of these components properly and without interfering or interrupting the normal service operations,” according to Xie. The challenge, she explained, lies in how to schedule the software update/upgrade of one component in time while maintaining its interoperability with other components that are not updated/upgraded.
Bringing customers onside
Experience gained in managing partnerships and updating software components promise to help telcos overcome future commercial obstacles.
“Telcos need to co-create solutions and build trust with the industries that are going to use our technologies,” says Waldemar. “Even though we now have mobile technology and solutions for the industries, they … might be used to other solutions. Now we come with new mobile technology and solutions, and we need to build trust and prove over time that this is their best option.”
Part of the answer is likely to lie in partnering with systems integrators with specific vertical expertise.
“To succeed in making use of mobile technologies and industry solutions at scale we will need a proper way of doing system integration,” believes Waldemar.