Intel Working With NEC, AT&T on NFV

Intel announced separate collaborative projects with two enormous 5G partners, one with AT&T that involves packet processing optimization, and the other with NEC on C-RAN. Both collaborations are all about NFV.

Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading

August 17, 2016

3 Min Read
Intel Working With NEC, AT&T on NFV

Intel announced separate collaborative projects with two enormous 5G partners, one with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) that involves packet processing optimization, announced today, and the other with NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) on cloud radio access networks (C-RAN), announced yesterday. Both collaborations are all about network function virtualization (NFV).

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) missed out on 3G and 4G wireless, and it is determined that it will not be left behind in 5G. Well ahead of the formalization of any standards that might be considered 5G, Intel has been beavering away building working prototypes of wireless devices that will provide the performance that many communications companies want 5G systems to provide. Intel has been showing these devices at forums such as Mobile World Congress, and has them installed in trials with companies such as China Mobile Communications Corp. , AT&T and Verizon.

Lynn Comp, senior director of market development in Intel's Network Platforms Group, told Light Reading that service providers have been coming to Intel looking for help achieving NFV. Specifically, they're looking to replace dedicated telecoms equipment with Intel-based white boxes running virtualized network functions (VNFs).

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In NEC's case, the VNF is a C-RAN. Wireless base stations rely on both a central unit (CU) that processes data and on distributed units (DU) that send and receive radio signals. NEC's NFV C-RAN solution is enabled by software on running on the Intel Architecture that functions as the CU. The CU controls multiple DU on a centralized basis, making it possible to flexibly control radio wave output from the DU in line with data volumes, NEC explained.

By transferring selected data processing functions from the CU to DU, the NFV C-RAN solution also enables tolerance levels for communications delays between CU and DU to be relaxed. This enables Ethernet to be used as the interface between the CU and DU instead of the conventional Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI). As a result, the volume of data exchanged between the CU and DU can be reduced to less than one-tenth, compared to existing C-RAN architecture. By maintaining the same level of performance, even if connecting the CU and DU via lower capacity networks, this will enable communications carriers to develop the high-performance networks they need for 5G while keeping capital investment to a minimum, NEC continued.

"The notion is that the cloud will be everywhere," Comp said, "and if you put cloud on the edge, latency performance gets better."

AT&T is looking at NFV too, but before it gets to white boxes, it is examining a specific performance characteristic at the chip level. AT&T and Intel are exploring how to optimize Intel's Broadwell multi-core processors for packet processing.

Carrier-grade communications networks require the absolute minimum of jitter, which is to say, packet delay (and worse yet, variations in packet delay). Jitter isn't much of a problem in most general purpose computing applications, and so designers of general-purpose CPUs (such as Intel) generally don't focus on it. But if communications companies want to rely more on white boxes in their networks -- and they do -- it's in their best interest to help reduce jitter in the CPUs around which those boxes will be built. And if Intel wants its CPUs to be used in communications equipment -- and it does -- it has to learn to control jitter.

Comp said the collaboration with AT&T gets into everything from how Intel's multi-core processors cache data to details about instruction sets.

— Brian Santo, SeniorEditor, Components, T&M, LightReading

About the Author(s)

Brian Santo

Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading

Santo joined Light Reading on September 14, 2015, with a mission to turn the test & measurement and components sectors upside down and then see what falls out, photograph the debris and then write about it in a manner befitting his vast experience. That experience includes more than nine years at video and broadband industry publication CED, where he was editor-in-chief until May 2015. He previously worked as an analyst at SNL Kagan, as Technology Editor of Cable World and held various editorial roles at Electronic Engineering Times, IEEE Spectrum and Electronic News. Santo has also made and sold bedroom furniture, which is not directly relevant to his role at Light Reading but which has already earned him the nickname 'Cribmaster.'

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