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Cloud Native/NFV

Leading Lights 2020 Finalists: Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy

If the expression "telco cloud" hasn't been added to your lexicon this year, you are looking seriously unfashionable.

As operators look to slash costs and take advantage of hyperscaler technologies, more of them are making or considering investments in cloud-native networks that promise all sorts of benefits over existing systems.

It remains to be seen whether all this will work out, of course, or even if building entirely cloud-native critical infrastructure is feasible. Closely monitored projects such as the rollout of a cloud-native mobile network by Japan's Rakuten will be instructive.

Running network functions from a public cloud is a big deal, though, and one that holds out opportunities for players from across the value chain, from the operators themselves to the vendors and cloud companies providing technology expertise.

This year, seven companies have been shortlisted for "Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy" for the efforts on the development of those technologies.

The seven companies in the running are:

  • Affirmed Networks
  • Altiostar
  • DriveNets
  • Enea Openwave
  • Netcracker
  • Optiva
  • Volta

The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.

Here's a closer look at the companies shortlisted in Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy:

Affirmed – UnityCloud
Affirmed says its UnityCloud product ticks a number of important boxes for service providers building new 5G core networks. For a start, it's virtualized and "cloud-native," which theoretically means it can be deployed anywhere from the core to the edge. It's also promising a lot of bang for its cloud-native buck – about 200 Gbit/s per server – and support for all the different 5G use cases (broadband, IoT and low-latency communications, in a nutshell).

Recently acquired by software-zilla Microsoft, Affirmed has come a long way since it started out as a plucky alternative to the big vendors. AT&T is a customer, along with Scandinavia's Telia, and the company was this week touting its importance to Middle Eastern telco moneybags Etisalat.

Altiostar – container-based 5G solution
If you haven't heard of Altiostar, you've been in lockdown since long before COVID-19 came along. The small US software company is a big player in open RAN and helping to build a network for Japanese open RAN superstar Rakuten. It also has major backers, including Rakuten itself and Spain's Telefónica.

Not including it on the shortlist would have been remiss given its role in the Rakuten network, the first in the world promising entirely cloud-native systems. The use of "containers" – not boxes for old shoes but smaller and more reusable components – means an operator can niftily sling Altiostar into all sorts of different environments, from your monster mobile network to the more private ones used on a business campus.

DriveNets – Network Cloud
DriveNets has come up with a network operating system that runs on white boxes, or common off-the-shelf equipment, so that operators can avoid being tied to one vendor's hardware-and-software systems. AT&T was persuaded enough to pick DriveNets for its catchily named "distributed aggregated chassis."

The numbers are certainly attention grabbing. The claim is that DriveNets remains the only cloud-native disaggregated router that can scale from a single-box router of 4 Tbit/s to a white-box cluster providing 768 Tbit/s. DriveNets says it basically took hyperscale principles and adapted these to networking, allowing operators to buy white boxes directly from manufacturers and combine these with a DriveNets software license. That's just what AT&T has done.

Enea Openwave – Stratum Cloud Data Manager
Besides having a name like that of the heroine in a science fiction movie, Enea Openwave is a dab hand at taking a bunch of data silos and blasting them wide open. Armed with its Stratum Cloud Data Manager, it promises a common network data layer in place of incompatible vendor systems. The technology comes with five-nines reliability, says Enea, and allows operators to handle more than 1 million low-latency transactions per second.

Deployment times are dramatically reduced, too. Data provisioning normally takes up to nine months. With Enea's tech, that falls to as little as 15 days. And the total cost of ownership is just a third that of a traditional subscriber repository solution, the company reckons. A US operator with 100 million subscribers has already bought in, and a major European operator is in trials. There are also 15 proofs of concept underway.

Netcracker – Network Domain Orchestration
Transport networks can be a pain for operators. There is no real automation in this part of the infrastructure, and it gobbles up operations costs. Netcracker thinks it has the solution with its Network Domain Orchestration tool.

It's already been used by German telco giant Deutsche Telekom, which appears to have used it to automate an IP/MPLS and set of optical networks built by numerous vendors. Based on the feedback, Netcracker says other operators can expect major opex savings and faster provisioning times. A huge claim for the system is that it's the first totally cloud-native one in the market addressing all network domains and all layers and enabling full automation.

Optiva – BSS Platform
Notwithstanding recent reports about the company's future, Optiva makes the Light Reading shortlist in this category for a business support systems platform pitched at operators looking for an alternative to more old-fashioned goods, of the sort Optiva used to provide.

The company's financial health has not looked good as it has worked on transforming itself into a provider of public cloud-based charging solutions, but its latest technologies hold plenty of attractions for prospective customers. For one thing, the savings appear substantial – up to 80% compared with traditional solutions – and customers can also benefit from the "pay as you grow" model that has become synonymous with the public cloud.

Volta – Elastic Virtual Routing Engine
Volta boasts a virtual routing platform that can lower relevant costs by 90% compared with legacy routers, it says. It's a big claim, but the system allows a customer to run up to 255 virtual routers per white box switch and is interoperable with existing routers. A lot of investment has gone into providing additional capabilities, some of which have come thanks to a strategic partnership with Fujitsu and involvement with the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project.

The cloud-native system is impressive enough to have attracted interest from some big players, including six Tier 1 operators in the Americas, four in Europe and five in Asia, Japan's NTT among them.

— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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