Verizon boasts 'own' cloud platform after dissing hyperscaler deals

Through its cloud platform for network functions, Verizon has opted for the do-it-yourself route when it comes to placing 5G core and other functions into the cloud.

Tereza Krásová, Associate Editor

May 2, 2024

6 Min Read
Verizon logo on a building with skyscrapers in the background.
(Source: Verizon)

Telcos have a breadth of options available when it comes to choosing a cloud strategy, a little bit like a home cook when choosing what to have for dinner. They might pick their favorite recipe, get the best equipment and ingredients, and choose to make everything from scratch – never mind the time and resources. If they want something more convenient, they could reach for ready-made ingredients and put them together, or simply pay someone else to source the ingredients and do all the work.

Through a deal with public cloud provider Microsoft, AT&T seems an example of the latter. But Verizon, one of its main competitors, has chosen a path to cloud-native that seems to be closer to the DIY end of the scale at a time when many telcos worldwide are concerned about over-reliance on public cloud. Many have publicly said no to placing their core networks in the hands of hyperscalers. Sampath Sowmyanarayan, the former CEO of Verizon Business, ruled out putting the core on a hyperscaler cloud back in 2022 and it appears that this operator has not changed its position.

Verizon's senior vice president for network planning, Adam Koeppe, reiterated "we built, maintain and operate our own internal cloud" during the recent FutureNet tradeshow in London. The operator started to build its cloud platform in 2016, having taken the decision to build, own and operate the infrastructure. That required Verizon to source the necessary expertise and resources. The result, said Koeppe, is a webscale-enabled cloud-native platform that hosts network functions and support systems.

This includes all functions that provide real-time communications: packet data, IMS core functions (meaning parts of the network responsible for multimedia communications), 4G LTE functions and 5G core functions. "There are a litany of functions within 5G core and these are all running on this cloud," said Koeppe. Additionally, the cloud platform also includes internal tools involved in managing customer experience. He argued, however, that it does not carry anything that belongs on a third-party platform.  

With a little help from friends

But while Verizon seems to be in charge of the recipe, it isn't quite reaching for the pasta machine. Koeppe admitted there are some elements that come from other companies, but insisted that Verizon acts as the system integrator. The elements in question include commodity compute infrastructure – meaning widely available hardware components used to build computing systems – and the operating systems running on top of it. 

One of the other companies is Red Hat. On its website, the enterprise cloud solutions company says that Verizon "adopted Red Hat OpenShift to help build a scalable 5G core, update to a 5G RAN, and modernize applications and workflows." Red Hat OpenShift is described as "a unified platform to build, modernize, and deploy applications at scale" elsewhere on the vendor's website.

And the telco, it appears, has even been shopping at Amazon – that is, again, according to the Red Hat website detailing its involvement with Verizon: "While much of the 5G network transformation is on-premise, some supporting applications are hosted on AWS."

Light Reading approached Verizon for more detail on the platform and third-party vendors involved, and to ask whether the telco has – or plans to – put its virtualized RAN (vRAN) software on the cloud platform. Doing so would, presumably, help it to better harness the benefits of a single horizontal platform for telco workloads.

Verizon replied that the platform includes swappable components – both hardware and software – tied together with a common set of capabilities like orchestration and automation. Red Hat's cloud OS is used for edge functions like the centralized unit (CU), with Wind River, another supplier, providing the OS for distributed units (DUs) in the RAN.

Verizon has given this detailed description of VCP to Light Reading: "For real-time far-edge network functions like the virtualized RAN DU, we have a flavor of VCP called VCP Far Edge (that combines a real-time OS (Wind River) with a container-as-a-service middleware). For near-real-time edge functions like the virtualized RAN CU and other edge functions like the 5GC and 4G control and data plane, we have a flavor of VCP called VCP Edge; and for select management and non-real-time control and management plane network workloads like element management systems (EMS) and service management and orchestration (SMO), we use a flavor of VCP called VCP Core. Both VCP Edge and Core use Red Hat as the cloud OS."

Verizon also said that all these "flavors" of VCP are network function-agnostic and multi-tenant and that all use Verizon's own common set of orchestration and automation capabilities. This approach, according to Verizon, helps it reap the benefits of virtualization across the whole network, while catering to its unique needs.

Wind River, meanwhile, supplied the following statement to Light Reading on its arrangement with Verizon: "Wind River Studio provides a cloud platform solution, along with the OS, that serves both real time and near real time network functions within Verizon's commercially deployed network."

It went on to say: "This container-as-a-service product deployment in Verizon is the exact same solution used in other customers [for] vRAN/ORAN deployments globally, such as Vodafone, KDDI, Docomo, Elisa, among others. Our Wind River Studio product being used in Verizon is being used at the far edge for all their vDU deployments and at the edge for a portion of their vCU deployments. Our current commercial deployment in Verizon is in the tens of thousands of nodes and continues to grow."

That would mean that while Verizon says its cloud platform for network functions is very much its own creation, some of its suppliers appear to be playing the same role they do for other telcos. What's more, Wind River characterizes its role as the provider of a "cloud platform solution" to Verizon, which maintains it has built its own internal cloud [Ed: Is this a babushka doll-style platform inside a platform?].

Controlled to the core?

Either way, Verizon appears to be more involved in the telco cloud than many of its competitors, some of which have opted for the ready-meal route. Dish Network seems a good example, having entered into a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has seen it place its 5G core software in the public cloud. 

That's still unusual. While many operators have shown more willingness than Verizon to partner with hyperscalers, nearly all have proven reluctant to place their core function into the public cloud.

Then there is AT&T, which – as stated previously – has partnered with Microsoft, although it keeps its core on its own premises using the software firm's technologies. Still, Verizon has not exactly hidden its criticism of this step in the past. "The core network we would like to do ourselves. That is a big point of differentiation between us and our biggest competitor in the US," Sowmyanarayan told Light Reading during an interview in 2022.

Executives at operators other than Verizon – Vodafone and BT, to be specific – have also expressed skepticism about the arrangement.

And little seems to have changed since, with many telcos still unprepared to cede control of the core. For example, Orange's CTIO Bruno Zerbib told Light Reading last year: "I don't think that right now that we want to have our public 5G core that we use for normal calls to run on the public cloud." Orange may, however, allow a customer to place a dedicated B2B 5G core into the public cloud. 

About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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