What to do about managing 5G?

At TM Forum Action Week last week, operators, suppliers and representatives from standards development organizations (SDOs) including TM Forum, MEF and NGMN met during a Digital Platform Reference Architecture (DPRA) workshop to discuss how to manage customers, services and resources on 5G platforms. The consensus? Close collaboration among SDOs and open source groups, particularly on information models, is a must.

Operators will have to support future 5G services with very different latency, throughput and reliability requirements, from autonomous vehicles to 8K video to internet of things (IoT) sensor networks. They must agree on how to handle end-to-end management of things like access, connectivity, network slicing, closed loop automation, analytics and policy to guarantee quality of service, charging, and billing. This can’t be done without standards and is going to require agile collaboration among SDOs and open source groups.

“Standard interfaces are what we’re looking for – without standardization we can’t interoperate,” says Klaus Martiny, Senior Program Manager, Deutsche Telekom, who has been Project Lead of the NGMN’s Network Management and Orchestration project since 2014. He is also Project Lead of the NGCOR I and II projects to define operations requirements for converged networks.

The NGMN published its original ground-breaking 5G white paper in March 2015. The group is currently working on a paper detailing the management requirements for 5G, which is expected to focus mostly on low-level resource and technology requirements. NGMN is looking to TM Forum to deal with the business-level integration required to support 5G use cases.

An exciting platform use case

The Forum considers 5G one of the most compelling use cases for operators’ platform business models, particularly when combined with internet of things (IoT). Our DPRA project is working on this. It builds on Frameworx and includes the Open Digital Ecosystem and the work of the Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) team.

“What makes 5G interesting is the fact that various use cases will need to be delivered on the same network with very different impacts on the way network resources will be consumed,” says Laurent Leboucher, Vice President of APIs & Ecosystems, Orange, and Chairman of the Forum’s Collaboration Subcommittee. “From heavy throughput 4k video streamed to mobile users to real-time low-latency information exchanged by autonomous vehicles, the cost per bit will be very different. This differentiation will need to be managed from an end-to-end perspective.”

The idea is to use the DPRA assets to develop a collaborative approach to operationalizing and monetizing infrastructure platforms and platform business models. What’s inside the platforms can be unique, allowing operators to offer their own differentiated services, such as platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), network as a service (NaaS) and marketplaces. To learn more about platforms and the DPRA, see our recently published ebook Platforms: How to join the revolution.

It’s guaranteed

During the workshop, Microsoft’s Eric Troup, CTO, Worldwide Communications and Media Industries, presented a potential 5G use case in which Microsoft wants to guarantee quality of service for a Skype for Business customer over the Azure platform using cloud connectivity provided by multiple geographically dispersed network operators. In this case Skype for Business is the customer, but does not control the end user’s access to the application server.

The idea would be to deliver a service that is guaranteed end to end and is intelligent enough to vary the QoS depending on the end customer’s needs – for example, an end user likely would not need the same level of quality for Microsoft Exchange as it would for a voice or video call.

TM Forum and MEF could work together to facilitate end-to-end management for a 5G use case like this, where MEF could provide a way to describe the reference point and roles within the ecosystem, while TM Forum’s Open APIs could be extended to address the needs for a specific network technology like carrier Ethernet and Layer 3 and above entreprise services, says Leboucher.

“The good thing is we have all the ingredients to address the problem,” Leboucher says. “The thing we’re missing is the definition of the customer-facing services (CFS), the basic connectivity and access services 5G will provide in the future. Those CFS need to be defined globally and standardized because we will need to interoperate between carriers.”

Common information models

This needs to be done through common information models, Leboucher says. “It’s not one, flat common information model – it’s multiple models operating at different levels of abstraction.” But the key is that they should be easy to assemble.

“To deliver 5G services, I need to define the access points and the quality of service upstream and downstream of the different access points,” Leboucher explains. “I need to define topology of the network and also provide some other characteristics like security policies.”

For its part, TM Forum needs to show how the Frameworx Business Process Framework (eTOM), Information Framework (SID), the Application Framework (TAM) and the Open APIs can be extended and applied to solve 5G challenges. This will mean agile methodologies for working with other SDOs and open source groups, as opposed to the more traditional method of working independently and then sending documents back and forth for comment.

“This collaboration process is far too slow,” Leboucher says. “We need to create common projects where we get together in one room – everyone brings their input. We recognize the input from each community and at the end we make something common that is shared.”

A model for collaboration?

Daniel Bar-Lev, Director Office of the CTO, MEF, agrees that the focus for SDO collaboration must be on information models.

“A lot of people don’t know what information models are, so they don’t realize that that is where the SDOs provide value,” he says. “Many of the open source projects are essentially creating ad hoc information models on the fly that don’t work together, so they’re creating new silos. SDOs have their own expertise that gets expressed in information models, and we have to find a way of keeping them aligned… If the information models aren’t aligned, we’re also going to create new silos.”

MEF and TM Forum already have a close working relationship that could set the stage for collaboration on 5G in that they are working together extensively on MEF’s LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) Sonata Release 1, which defines the management reference point supporting management and operational interactions between service providers, such as ordering, billing, trouble ticketing, etc. MEF is using the Business Process Framework, Information Framework and Open APIs in specific use cases and providing feedback to the Forum so that they can be enhanced.

We collaborated last year on a network-as-a-service Catalyst to build a network connectivity services layer, delivered across multiple operators through MEF. This combined with TM Forum’s platform, B2B2X partnering, ZOOM and Open API initiatives allows operators to provision and manage services end to end. Work also kicked off this week on another Catalyst project that will demonstrate implementation of MEF services using our Open APIs. That Catalyst will be demonstrated at TM Forum Live! 2017 in Nice, France May 15-18.

MEF and TM Forum have agreed, together with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), a groundbreaking three-way arrangement for simultaneously working on development their respective information models. This agreement underlines the TM Forum’s and MEF’s commitment to aligning their core work.


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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