Critical Open Source Components of Telecom Cloud Management in the 5G Era

The future of ultra-reliable, super-fast telecommunications delivered via the 5G mobile networks is much closer to reality than you might think. It’s an exciting proposition, with some tests having already proven the capability of delivering 10Gbps edge computing for technologies such as self-driving cars becoming much more feasible. That 10G speed is the same as an enterprise-level cloud direct connect!

5G will also enable diverse industries such as healthcare, retail and travel to use and deploy mobile applications and services that would never have worked over a 4G connection. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications will also see the inherent benefits of 5G.

In order for 5G to realise its full potential, though, sophisticated cloud management solutions that can handle the different types of hardware and software for 5G must also be brought together to act in unison.

In this article, we’ll look at the three critical components of telecom management: orchestration software, containerised network functions (CNF) and infrastructure management technology, and how gateway platforms (e.g. MCP Edge) will be used to tie these components together. Additionally, we’ll also explain how this technology will bring some unbelievable benefits to the telecommunications industry as a whole and its end users.

But first, some background on the open source movement, because without open source technology, much of the development required for 5G would be out of budget for most businesses.

Open Source Technology

Many of the technologies mentioned in this article are either open source or in the process of being released as open source products. These include Kubernetes orchestration software, Magma telecom management software and OpenStack infrastructure manager. 

The open source movement was designed to improve collaboration between developers by allowing software to be freely shared and edited by developer communities. Not only does this mean that there is a pool of talented developers constantly improving the software, it also means that developers can use, modify and combine the open source technologies to create their own enterprise solutions without passing on the costs from huge licensing fees to the end user.

Since many extremely talented programmers are committed to the open source movement, the technologies that result from this collaboration are as good – if not better –  than many proprietary versions.

Open source technology also supports globalisation, an important factor in mobile telecommunications. Technological advancements can be quickly adopted and circulated throughout the world, increasing access to new benefits such as 5G.

The structure of open source development is often best compared to an onion. At the center are the core contributors who do most of the development work. Directly outside the center rings are contributors who donate their time responding to bug reports and pull requests. Then, there are contributors who make up the outer layer by submitting bug reports with a further layer of moderators and repository monitors outside of them.

Advanced Orchestration Software 

The first critical component of a futuristic 5G telecom solution is Kubernetes, a popular open source program which goes beyond traditional workflow orchestration.

Kubernetes was developed and used by Google for 15 years before they open-sourced it. It is designed to manage containerised applications and services (which we’ll go into in the next section), as well as for process automation and declarative programming. In simplest terms, Kubernetes takes high-level information on the desired state of a system and then acts to bring about said state. 

For example, if a container fails to respond to a health check, it will be terminated and replaced. If an application is developed or modified, Kubernetes can construct a new container and allocate the necessary resources to it.

Kubernetes can also perform load balancing by ensuring that both CPU and RAM allocation is within a certain set of parameters. It can also manage the secure management of OAuth tokens, SSH keys and passwords.

Kubernetes isn’t a traditional platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, though. Instead, it’s built to work with any containerised application and/or service in supporting a wide variety of stateful, stateless and data-processing workloads. Such flexibility makes Kubernetes the ideal candidate for a 5G telecom system comprised of multiple different parts.

Containerised Network Functions

An example of a containerised network function (CNF) that could play a big role in a 5G telecommunications network is Facebook’s Magma. Magma provides a containerised mobile packet core along with network automation and management tools, which serves to speed up and simplify telecom connectivity and operations at the edge.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that they would be open sourcing Magma, which is huge news for telecom vendors and consultants, who can now look forward to developing and auditing a new wave of edge-focused telecom management solutions.

Containerisation decouples applications from a specific operating system, which is how Magma enables simple cloud connectivity for diverse mobile network operators. Magma helps vendors from remote areas federate their systems with pre-existing LTE networks rather than having to integrate with complex centralised evolved packet core (EVP) deployments. Magma is also ideal for private LTE network operators and wireless enterprise deployments. Additionally, it can automate tasks such as element configuration, device provisioning and software updates.

However, not all telecom providers use serverless technology. A truly comprehensive cloud management solution would need to enable VMs, containers and even bare metal services in order to share the same cloud ecosystem. 

This is where the third open source solution comes in…

Open Source Infrastructure Management

The third service in our open source trinity is OpenStack. 

While Kubernetes is designed for managing containerised workloads, OpenStack is built to manage VMs and other virtualised network functions (VNFs). OpenStack communicates with various compute, storage and network resources via APIs with shared authentication mechanisms. 

In addition to standard infrastructure management, OpenStack also provides fault finding and orchestration capabilities through a selection of ‘plug and play’ services and sample configurations built for specific purposes. Administrators can access the OpenStack dashboard from anywhere via a web interface.

Californian cloud service specialist Mirantis has recently used its expertise with both Kubernetes and OpenStack to develop MCP Edge, which integrates Kubernetes, OpenStack, Magma and Mirantis’ own proprietary DriveTrain infrastructure management software into a telecom gateway platform. This platform has the capability to bring 5G mobile connectivity to the edge of the cloud, even in remote areas that traditionally suffer from poor internet service. 

Using MCP Edge, vendors in remote areas can configure and deploy mobile networks at the edge, thus overcoming significant geographical, technical and financial barriers to entry. 

Indian telecom provider Reliance Jio is a great example of how MCP Edge can be leveraged for cost savings. In just a few months, Reliance Jio was able to capture a significant market share by building networks at 20% of the cost of their competitors and then passing those savings on to their customer base. 

What does it mean for the telecom industry?

The evolution of 5G wireless connectivity and open source cloud management services offers numerous benefits to telecom providers. Reduced cost of entry, more efficient system management and automation for reduced downtime, a more predictable level of service and the ability to quickly add new services and applications are all benefits that can be expected with 5G capabilities. This will all be especially important as the Internet of Things (IoT) develops and, with it, a dependence on real-time edge-focused computing.

In addition to providing connectivity to remote rural areas, edge platforms will enable license-restricted operators to extend their services using Wi-Fi and Citizens Broadcast Radio Service (CBRS) as well.

Technology is constantly evolving to meet new challenges and even level the playing field in some ways, but the true impact that 5G will eventually have relies heavily on the open source movement and the success it has in democratising the source code behind it all.

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