Service Provider Cloud

As 5G shifts to the cloud, open source software projects are in upheaval

Longtime software-based networking efforts such as the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and the Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) are in the midst of major open source transformations. These transformations are happening amid a shift in the telecom industry to cloud-based computing. The changes signal the maturation of the industry's push toward network virtualization, according to some industry analysts.

"This year marks the 10th anniversary of ETSI's Network Functions Virtualisation Introductory White Paper," wrote analyst James Crawshaw, of research and consulting firm Omdia, in a recent LinkedIn post. (Omdia and Light Reading are owned by the same parent company, Informa.) "NFV is not dead, nor is it resting. It is simply evolving into #telcocloud with monolithic VNFs [virtual networking functions] becoming microservices-based CNFs [cloud networking functions] running on #Kubernetes instead of #Openstack. It now includes public cloud as well as operator's private cloud."

This broad trend appears to be playing out across several longtime industry software projects. And although the developments are not directly related – and they cover a variety of technological disciplines – taken together, they help highlight the market's evolution.

(Source: Unsplash)
(Source: Unsplash)

Perhaps most notably, ONF and Intel earlier this month announced that Intel is acquiring a significant chunk of the ONF development team. As FierceTelecom reported, roughly 40 ONF employees moved to Intel, leaving ONF with a team of around 11. Intel also acquired Ananki, a business ONF created in September 2021 to commercialize its Aether platform for private 5G networks.

In recent months, ONF has released the bulk of its projects – including its software-powered radio access network (RANs) effort – into the open source community.

"Now that the ONF's projects have reached maturity and market adoption, it is time for the projects to be released into the open source community. This has always been our vision," AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch said in a statement. "We are excited to enter this next phase of ONF's journey."

Fuetsch's comments are noteworthy considering that another software project spearheaded by AT&T, ONAP, is touting continued relevance and progress. In a recent blog post, ONAP supporters pointed out that Deutsche Telekom is using ONAP in its O-RAN Town deployment; Orange is testing an automation framework powered by ONAP; and Bell Canada is using ONAP for some of its edge computing efforts. Initially developed by AT&T, ONAP promises to orchestrate, manage and automate network services. It moved into the Linux Foundation in 2017.

Indeed, the Linux Foundation continues to collect open source software projects from across the telecom and data center industries. For example, Microsoft announced this week that it will move its SONiC software-based switching project into the Linux Foundation. Microsoft first introduced SONiC in 2017 for the routers in its Azure cloud data centers.

Finally, in a development closer to the 5G industry, Google Cloud and the Linux Foundation announced that they would embark on a new project called Nephio. As explained by TelecomTV, the project will focus on automating the key processes associated with the onboarding and running of functions on a distributed telco cloud.

Only a matter of time

Broadly, the developments come as operators of all shapes and sizes deploy virtualized, software-powered networking components instead of dedicated, hardware-based functions.

Operators are now considering moving those software elements into either a private or a public cloud. Such a move promises to dramatically reduce operators' expenses – at least according to the giant cloud computing companies that are now working to capture telecom operator business.

At the forefront of this trend are companies like AT&T, which is putting its software networking functions into Microsoft's cloud, and Dish Network, which is putting its software networking functions into Amazon's cloud. Japan's Rakuten has already commercialized the cloud technologies it developed for its 4G and 5G networks.

But these companies are likely just the first.

"I think it's only a matter of time before our [networking] elements start moving into the public cloud," said Rick Brooks, CTO of Cellcom, in recent comments at the CCA trade show. The tiny mobile network operator offers service throughout Wisconsin and upper Michigan in the US, and recently launched 5G services.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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