Orange is designing standardised APIs to facilitate the interoperability of ethernet services from operators to businesses

In the glory days of connectivity and globalisation, there are still grey areas that many commercial players would like to see disappear. Among others, the difficulty to enable interoperability of the networks of different telecom operators across the world.

An ethernet connectivity service is established in just a few seconds between the Orange site in Lannion and the AT&T site in Plano, Texas: a great performance in network agility.

Launch of an open source project between three operators

After winning the MEF 2017 prize for best proof of concept, the 3 operators Orange, AT&T, and Colt are working together on the validation of standardised APIs – programming interfaces. The ultimate goal: to create a global network of operators capable of delivering homogeneous end-to-end services to their customers.

Under the auspices of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), an international forum bringing together a great number of ethernet players, Orange has been working since early 2017 with AT&T and Colt on the interoperability of telecom operators’ ethernet services. At this point in time, each operator has a network architecture and programming interfaces (API) that enables it to manage its own infrastructure. This means that when a business customer wishes to obtain international connectivity between two sites covered by different operators, the technical implementation is slow and laborious. The aim of the Orange, AT&T, Colt triptych is to remedy the situation by enabling networks to interact with each other, in a few seconds, regardless of the operator. To this end, standardised APIs are being developed, with networks based on an SDN (Software Defined Network) architecture. Within the frame of these works, Orange and AT&T are using the ONAP platform, an open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation, to orchestrate network functions. The APIs taken as a working basis are also provided in open source and come from the TM Forum. “The open source approach is strategic for Orange because when we remove ourselves from the logic of property, we can be much faster and innovative. What’s more, entering an open source dynamic fosters collaborative working and spirit amongst the different stakeholders”, explains Ludovic Robert, IT and API architect at Orange.

Connection established between Lannion and Plano in a few seconds

Every autumn in Orlando, the MEF organises an event over several days for the ethernet networks and services sector. The opportunity for Orange to demonstrate its proof of concept (PoC) to the whole community. This is how in November 2017, an ethernet connectivity service was established in just a few seconds between the Orange site in Lannion, France, and the AT&T site in Plano, Texas. A network agility performance that won the prize of best PoC. “But to get there, we had to face many challenges, Ludovic Robert tells us. First of all, in terms of temporality, we committed to take part in this challenge with the MEF in June, which only left us four months to be ready. Then, it wasn’t just about showing that a concept worked, but about winning a competition among PoCs. Our demonstration had not only to be perfectly functional, but it also had to impress the audience in order to take first prize. This work had to be done coordinating six companies: Colt, Orange, AT&T, Fujitsu, Ciena (equipment providers for Orange and AT&T respectively), as well as Amdocs (customer experience software and solutions provider). It was highly ambitious and stressful, but we did it!”

In Lannion, the teams at Orange managed the implementation of the automation platform (ONAP), of an Ethernet/IP data plane, a video server and the external network to network interface (ENNI), as well as the SDN controllers, the end-to-end connectivity with the equipment hosted at AT&T, and the links between the various platforms.

Creation of an ecosystem of connected operators

In the end, four APIs were developed by the team: place search, technical eligibility verification, command execution, and command execution verification. The PoC having perfectly fulfilled its objective, there remains now one formal stage: to get the APIs approved by the MEF at the next event in October 2018. “It’s only after formal approval by the MEF that we will really be able to implement and, moreover, use these APIs with other operators”, Ludovic Robert reminds us. Beyond guaranteeing interoperability of networks, the standardised APIs will also enable reduction of costs and of the complexity caused by the deployment of proprietary equipment on customers’ networks and sites.

The other underlying objective of the project is to accelerate market uptake of SDN solutions. In effect, this model of network architecture provides flexibility and reactivity by enabling fast reconfiguration of network equipment, data stream segmentation, and virtualisation of certain functions. “In particular it enables us to provide our customers with flexible offerings that automatically adapt to computing resource consumption according to demand” explains Jehanne Savi, manager of the On-Demand Network programme.

By creating an open source ecosystem that is also common to all the operators, Orange and its partners are therefore not only responding to the request to optimise end-to-end service management, but they are also improving the cost of network interoperability across the world.

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