China Mobile Shifts to Global Stage

A secretive, state-owned telco like China Mobile may seem an unlikely candidate to lead the charge to open source. A traditional carrier ruled in strictly hierarchical fashion, it is far more accustomed to issuing specs than collaborating with equal partners.

However, its role in co-founding a group to drive open SDN and NFV orchestration is significant not just for the telecom open source movement but also as a sign of growing assertiveness on the part of the world's biggest mobile operator.

Speaking at the launch of OPEN-O in Barcelona last week, Yang Zhiqiang, deputy general manager of the China Mobile Research Institute, said the company had embraced open source because of its ability to deal with the problems of scale -- like China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL)'s 1.1 million basestations and 820 million subs. (See OPEN-O Focused on Orchestrating SDN & NFV.)

She said it aimed to help build an open source community that would align requirements across the industry, enable fast response times and drive interoperability among vendors.

"We hope that the new Orchestrator Open Source Software will be the cornerstone of our next-generation OSS," she said. Operators needed end-to-end, automated deployment that could support service delivery on demand and global resource management.

"Most importantly, automatic network orchestration can help the operators' network transformation," she added.

Formed under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation, OPEN-O is also backed by China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), as well as a dozen foreign vendors such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT).

The latter two vendors are also members of the new ETSI-backed organization, Open Source MANO. None of the Chinese players have joined the rival group, however, suggesting a coordinated "Team China" approach to telecom software and standards development.

Additionally, Beijing leaders are keen for operators to play a greater role in global telecom tech development and debates, rather in the same way that other government agencies are attempting to insert China's views into the Internet governance framework. As a result, China Mobile's role appears to be shifting from local standard-bearer to global telecom envoy.

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Another part of this change is that China Mobile officials are a little more upfront about their network.

Yang revealed the carrier has dubbed its future network architecture NovoNet, with an emphasis on VNFs, flexible orchestration, openness and agility.

Another China Mobile executive at Barcelona sketched out its wireless network upgrade path to 5G.

Liu Guangyi, CTO of the China Mobile Research Institute Wireless Department, said the operator aims to improve spectrum efficiency fivefold by 2020 to achieve a peak data rate of 1 Gbit/s. Currently its LTE-TDD network delivers average cell data throughput of 31 Mbit/s, with a peak rate of 220 Mbit/s.

It is rolling out a combination of what it calls 4G+ technologies, such as the world's first 3D-MIMO trial in Shanghai, which hit a peak rate of 650 Mbit/s, along with TDD-FDD carrier aggregation, downlink 256QAM and CoMP.

In the next deployment phase, it is looking to enhanced carrier aggregation, multi-user 3D MIMO and smart RAN technologies, Liu said.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

danielcawrey 3/3/2016 | 11:08:31 AM
Re: Can they all play in the sandbox? I would agree that politics will be a factor here. 

It's good to see China Mobile making moves towards open source and other leading-edge technologies. This will certainly help its customers in the mainland and perhaps in some other markets. But the company's role as a state owned enterprise may limit its ability to innovate as quickly as private players in the global industry. 
thebulk 2/29/2016 | 5:00:11 AM
Can they all play in the sandbox? They might want to play a bigger role in global telecom development, but I have to think global politics will play a big role in that as well, and that might leave China on the outside looking in. 
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