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What if 5G experimentation were open source?

This is the challenge that the Plug in the future platform team have tackled. Broadcast live from the Salon de la Recherche 2019, the "5G Open Source Network" demo shows that you can build an end-to-end 5G experimental chain using open-source software, to explore future 5G developments.

More on this topic below.

5G never stops offering new innovation possibilities. Just recently, the team led by Marion Duprez, Head of Plug in the future platform research at Orange, was wondering how to take advantage of open-source software for 5G going forward. After exploring the subject, the team produced a demo – a use case – which premiered at the recent edition of the Mobile World Congress. At the Salon de la Recherche 2019, this demo will be performed live. Here is a recap as well as key takeaways.

Network Orchestration

Called “5G Open Source Network”, the demo shows how a mobile network is rolled out, and managed dynamically while taking customers’ needs into account. 5G will take advantage of cloud flexibility and virtualised network functions. As an example, the demo shows how a cloud infrastructure is set up, and then rolled out by the orchestrator of virtualised 5G network functions.  The software used for this part is fully open source: Kubernetes, Docker, and ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform). The Architects in charge of this novel integration are Grzegorz Panek, and Sofiane Imadali, research engineers in the 5G cloud technologies at Orange.

Flow prioritisation mechanism

Putting the theory into practice, the research team imagined the following situation: a user is driving a remotely controlled car (critical application example), and another user wants to watch streaming videos on their Smartphone. The assumption is that these two simultaneous traffic flows are overloading the network and contending for resources. Traffic management is required and 5G should be able to prioritise critical control flows (e.g., the remote control of the vehicle) over video streaming flows. To achieve this, a specific flow prioritisation mechanism was put in place (developed from an Orange researcher’s thesis), after which it was implemented in open-source code. The test worked: the car drives safely with no disruptions.

Tech-loving visitors will also be able to watch the “real world” test, carried out in January near Rennes using a real antenna with a 1-km range.

Open source, an innovation accelerator

There are two key takeaways from these research results. First, by engaging in open-source communities, Orange is preparing the 5G roll-out and its future development. “This chain is designed to showcase the Plug in the future platform and perfectly illustrates the integration advances we have made to prepare for the future of 5G. It is also useful for developing ecosystems with a certain number of partners. What we have achieved in this chain is now contributed into a Europe-wide collaborative project,” says Marion Duprez.

This test also highlights another key benefit of open-source development: it perfectly suits how researchers work. “It’s a way of accelerating innovation and the standardisation of future mobile networks (3GPP, O-RAN). Network architecture will continue to be revisited and its functionalities are split into fine grained, more easily optimisable components,” predicts Mohamad Yassin, Research Engineer on 5G RAN. Adding: “A few years ago it was impossible to do this type of testing in our labs. It’s thanks to open source software that we can now replicate networks that mimic real-world networks, while being able to easily modify their features to facilitate what we need to explore.”

Orange’s 5G expertise benefiting the open, integrative Plug in the future platform, opens the door to numerous development possibilities for tomorrow’s networks.

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