SANTA CLARA, CALIF. -- To successfully implement SDN, network operators need to significantly change their mindset and start taking on responsibilities they handed off to vendors, an executive of a leading-edge carrier says.
Open-source virtualized software can cut operators' total cost of ownership and give them more freedom to develop and deploy services suited to subscriber needs, said Michal Sewera, head of the EPC Shared Service Center team at T-Mobile Poland, who spoke on Wednesday at the ONF Connect conference. The annual event put on by the Open Networking Foundation highlighted continued development and early implementations of open networking software and hardware, an emerging alternative to traditional proprietary platforms from brand-name vendors.
Turning to open source is completely changing the relationship between T-Mobile Poland and the software it uses to run parts of its network, he said.
T-Mobile Poland used to deal with vendors according to the old model of the telecom business, Sewera said: The operator determined what features it needed, sent out RFQs (request for quotes) and sat back and waited for vendors to figure out how to meet the requirements and then deliver turnkey software, Sewera said. Now, T-Mobile Poland developers are deeply involved in making SDN work, at least in areas where it's starting to use software from open-source projects.
Sewera's team takes full devops responsibility, he said. An open-source project supplies a basic platform, and T-Mobile is responsible for implementing the software, certifying it, ensuring it's compatible with the network, and basically handling full lifecycle management, he said.
"You cannot take control of certain things without taking responsibility," Sewera said during a panel discussion.
In return, the carrier becomes intimately familiar with the software and can quickly modify the code to meet its own changing requirements. This also saves money, as traditional vendors often charge a premium for changing their software, he said.
Sewera's team itself represents a departure from the traditional model for running a carrier. Adopting the devops method of organization from the startup world, T-Mobile Poland does planning, operations, maintenance and design in one group instead of in separately managed silos, Sewera said in an interview at the conference.
The new methods of building and running a network require a dramatic change in an operator's mindset, Sewera said. He compared it to a company switching from paying employees based on hours and responsibilities to paying them based on how much risk they take.
T-Mobile Poland is on the verge of launching a field trial of OMEC (Open Mobile Evolved Core), an open-source version of an EPC (Evolved Packet Core), which forms the core of an LTE network. This lightweight packet core is designed to provide connectivity, billing and charging for a large number of subscribers. The carrier plans to kick off the trial late this quarter or early next quarter. U.S. carrier Sprint is also about to start an OMEC field trial. OMEC will provide lower total cost of ownership and greater transparency than a traditional EPC, Sewera said.
While open networking has many benefits, there is still a place for traditional vendors, he said: They are in the best position to develop cutting-edge technologies, including much of what's now emerging for 5G. Open networking is ideally suited to deliver capabilities that have become commodities, such as elements of LTE, at a lower cost, Sewera said. For example, OMEC doesn't yet include any 5G components, he said.
Why this matters
The shift from traditional to open networking is only beginning at most operators, but some are beginning to explore the new methods and the changes that flow from them. The transition carries significant organizational implications for carriers that jump into open networking with both feet.
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