“Automation and closed-loop mechanisms mean the network can adapt and repair itself, providing an optimized user experience”
Far from changing user experience alone, 5G is also profoundly transforming the way networks are built, deployed and operated. Orange is exploring new approaches by launching an experimental, fully cloudified 5G StandAlone network with end-to-end automation.
Previous generations of mobile networks were largely based on more monolithic and confined proprietary solutions, but 5G allows greater openness and flexibility, building on the advantages of cloud architectures and open-source technologies.
Preparing the Networks of the Future
Established technologies in the world of IT and service platforms are now being applied to networks: automation, artificial intelligence, cloudification, security by design, etc. This trend paves the way for major changes in how networks are deployed and used, and even in associated skills. To see these changes in practice, at the Mobile World Congress, Orange is launching Pikeo, its experimental 5G SA network, which is fully automated, based entirely in the cloud and driven by artificial intelligence through the data collected — a first in Europe. “Our goal is to learn by doing, where laboratory tests alone cannot show the full extent of the changes expected with these networks of the future,” explains Elisabeth Py, Pikeo Program Director. It is a question of smarter, more autonomous, and disaggregated networks, much like a LEGO® Technic™ toy. We can choose solutions from different vendors for each brick in the network (core, access, etc.). However, this openness implies a real challenge in terms of global integration and associated skills and tools.
From Virtualization to Cloudification
The architecture of the experimental network takes virtualization logic a little further, to define itself as a cloudified network. It is no longer about Virtualized Network Functions (VNF), but Containerized Network Functions (CNF): Network functions are developed as microservices deployed in cloud infrastructures in containers orchestrated by Kubernetes. In terms of access network, Pikeo is based on Open RAN principles and technologies. In its initial stage, Pikeo is working with partners who are very innovative in their fields. The Open RAN cloud solution is from Mavenir, the 5G SA cloud core from Casa Systems, the 5G SA SDM (Subscriber Data Management) cloud from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the infrastructure supporting the network functions (RAN Centralized Unit and Distributed Unit, core) from Dell, and the mobile devices from Xiaomi.
A mediation platform will be responsible for collecting the data generated by all network components. AI algorithms will then analyze this data, resulting in corresponding automated actions on the network. Open-source components provide automation, including ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform) which is used to automatically deploy CNFs.
These new-generation networks open up multiple possibilities for carriers and users. “Automation and closed-loop mechanisms mean the network is expected to develop the ability to adapt and repair itself. When a technical incident occurs, it is analyzed via AI, triggering an automated action. This means optimal responsiveness, dynamic resolutions, better availability and so on. This results in improved user experience with greater fluidity.”
The Pikeo experiment will be conducted incrementally in Agile mode. The first year will be devoted to constructing the technical ecosystem and will continue with initial user tests (internal Orange users) on data connectivity services and uses. In 2022, the project will expand to include third-party users and experimentation with B2B/Wholesale vertical use cases.