As Telefónica moves towards the deployment of TIP mobile transport network routers in Europe and Latin America, widescale white box efforts signal a significant step towards greater carrier-class options for network operators.

November 13, 2019

4 Min Read
TIP advances give router vendors another wake-up call

AMSTERDAM -- TIP Summit 2019 -- For network operators looking for ways to break free from vendor lock-in, Telefónica is offering real hope with its plans to deploy white box mobile transport network routers in Germany and Ecuador in the coming months.

The routers are based on one of the Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway (DCSG) designs developed by the Telecom Infra Project (TIP): Telefónica has been one of the most active operator members of TIP's Open Optical Packet Transport (OOPT) group. The specific design is a 100G version of a DCSG design known as Odyssey, says David del Val Latorre, chairman and CEO of Telefónica I+D (the Spanish operator's R&D group) and a TIP board member. These network elements (Layer 2/3 and MPLS features) form part of the backhaul network designed to handle existing and ultimately 5G traffic, feeding large volumes of mobile data traffic to aggregation and core router elements: The Telefónica man notes that the initial deployments will involve "a handful" of white box routers in each country to start. Similar activity could follow in other Telefónica markets, but del Val is not ready to say which ones are likely to come next.

He adds, during an interview here with Light Reading, that a 10G version of Odyssey has also been specified by the operator.

And the decision to deploy these white box elements came following an RFP process during which Telefónica sought feedback from traditional router vendors as well as TIP community vendors that are pitching disaggregated hardware and software elements that (in theory) can be pieced together in a more flexible way that enables operators to swap in (or out) new suppliers as needed, something that hasn't been possible in legacy telco networks. In addition, TIP options promise lower prices for the network elements, so there are capex savings to be had too.

So the message is very clear for the market: TIP gear is carrier class. And Telefónica's del Val makes it very clear that this technology would not be deployed in commercial networks, carrying live traffic, if it wasn't fit for purpose. And here's the thing: At the beginning of next year, these TIP white box routers are going to be deployed not only in Ecuador but in one of Telefónica's largest and most important markets, Germany.

This ain't no foolin' around.

So which TIP community vendors have been chosen for Telefónica's Odyssey deployments in Germany and Ecuador in early 2020? Infinera is at the heart of the German deployment, providing hardware (its DRX-30) and Converged Network Operating System (CNOS) software.

In addition, on the software side, ADVA and IP Infusion have the green light to provide network operating system (NOS) code, while Volta Networks has been chosen for its cloud-native routing engine. The other hardware platforms set for Telefónica DCSG action come from three Taiwanese companies -- Edgecore Networks (a subsidiary of Accton Technology), Alpha Networks and Delta Electronics.

While these developments will come as no surprise -- the TIP work has not been undertaken in secret -- they do represent a significant shift in offering operators a real alternative to the traditional routing platforms that, until now, have mostly been sourced from "traditional" service provider router suppliers such as Cisco, Juniper, Nokia (Alcatel-Lucent) and Huawei.

And it's not just Telefónica that's rocking the router boat: BT, Orange, TIM Brasil and Vodafone have been working with the Spanish giant to develop the DCSG blueprints, while field and/or lab trials are planned by major African operator MTN and India's Airtel, as well as TIM Brasil and Vodafone.

From the TIP perspective, this is just the beginning of an upheaval in the mobile transport network. The OOPT group will soon announce general availability of the Cassini packet/optical transponder unit that has been tested in field trials by Telefónica and NTT (and deployed in a live network by Japanese specialist network operator Mixi), and is continuing work on the Apollo optical transponder.

And the pressure on the traditional vendors doesn't end there, of course. DriveNets and Arrcus, as well as Volta, have developed router stacks and are gaining traction: DriveNets has raised more than $100 million in funding and is helping AT&T to deploy white box technology as an alternative to traditional routers; Arrcus has also attracted funding and customers; and Volta is turning heads with its cost savings claims.

Cisco, Juniper et al may still dominate the service provider router market, but the cracks are definitely starting to show.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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