Robin Mersh, CEO of the Broadband Forum, discusses one aspect of Digital Transformation which involves telcos automating and updating their networks. He discusses how the company is driving standardisation of NFV and SDN technologies to enable the Digital Transformation of telco networks at a large scale.
In today’s central office architectures, access and edge network segments are reliant upon application-specific, purpose-built devices. This architecture has been the foundation upon which more than 1 billion broadband installations have been deployed globally. Over time, ecosystems formed around this architecture, cultivated by formal interoperability programmes and stimulated a diverse equipment market whose parts could work together to operate at scale. However, with the emergence of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the connected home, this architecture is already being sorely tested, both in terms of its ability to efficiently continue to scale and also in its lack of agility in rapidly introducing new services.
The emergence of new innovative technologies such as cloud, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Network (SDN)-based automation of ultra-fast access technologies and open source has triggered the demand for new, cloud-based architectures and has allowed telcos to re-examine their existing networks.
These technologies will be at the heart of the revitalisation of the broadband ecosystem, opening the door to new revenue-generating opportunities for service providers. With this in mind, it’s only natural that migration to cloud-based access infrastructures is at the top of every operator’s agenda – but how can they achieve this and coexistence with already installed equipment so that previous investment is not lost? Proposing a solution to this challenge is Broadband Forum’s Open Broadband – Broadband Access Abstraction (OB-BAA) project which has just published its second code release.
Open and agile
If operators’ access networks are to evolve towards an SDN/NFV-based network architecture, they must be built on the notion of SDN-controlled lifecycle services and functions that can be easily scaled up or down, depending on the requirements of each networking customer. Open source models are also a critical component and will introduce a more agile way of networking, which will significantly change how solutions are developed and deployed. Fundamentally, open source principles encourage open APIs that are programmable and standard, using open data that separates data and application logic. Furthermore, they encourage open specifications that can be controlled to achieve interoperability and facilitate an open ecosystem to drive large scale deployments.
These capabilities provide flexible deployment options with virtualised network functions, as opposed to physical ones. This allows service providers to respond and scale their networks to rising demands, enabling them to optimise capacity utilisation, ease onboarding and upgrading of network functions, and provide increased automation of the services being provided to its customers.
Learning from data centres
What will be essential in making this a reality is the adoption of practices currently used in the data centre environment.
In today’s ultra-connected world, the telecom industry’s highly valuable infrastructure is critical to ensuring the delivery of efficient and reliable communication and information sharing. This spans not just millions of devices, but billions, with endless locations being reached and serviced.
With so much at risk, it is essential that telecom networks are technically stable and services continue uninterrupted. The introduction of new technologies and open source initiatives potentially create a risk to this stability and reliability as they have neither ‘marinated’ yet in the field, nor have they been created in traditional, methodical development environments. However, operators can’t afford to wait. They must find ways to seamlessly migrate their existing network to a next-generation architecture and yet do so without disruption. In addition, operators must also plan for long-term co-existence to protect investments and local conditions, while infrastructures also need to be agile and capable of responding to rapidly emerging software-defined access models.
As operators look to take advantage of these innovative developments, Broadband Forum’s mission remains constant; build on the success of what has been achieved and focus on revenue generation and cost savings. That is exactly why it has developed its OB-BAA architecture, designed to increase the speed and ease at which operators can deploy new, standardised and automated cloud-based access infrastructures.
A new era with OB-BAA
By specifying Northbound Interfaces (NBIs), core components and Southbound Adaptation Interfaces (SAI), BAA creates the possibility of pulling differing access device types, including legacy implementations, under a single network and service management and control umbrella – opening them up to key management elements such as SDN management and control, and Element Management Systems.
Taking accelerated migration to cloud-based access networks to the next level, the recently published Release 2.0 of OB-BAA expands the breadth of vendors and network configurations capable of leveraging its ability to facilitate co-existence, seamless migration and adaptation to an increasingly wide variety of software-defined access technologies and implementations. Additionally, it also expands the types of proprietary access nodes that can be managed and controlled via the BAA layer.
In addition, Release 2.0 allows the deployment of standard adapters that come with the platform and device-specific adapters that are unique to each vendor’s implementation of the access node. This enables operators to make additional adaptation of access nodes to meet their individual network needs, while providing them with examples of common functions that operators are likely to perform when automating and managing their networks.
Not only does this allow adaptation to certain specifics of a vendor’s access network model, it also supports access nodes that use protocols other than NETCONF/YANG. This fosters the growth of a wide and interoperable ecosystem of solutions with great benefit for operators’ adoption and maintenance.
As part of this, operators can access a new set of YANG models for the NBI which provides the aggregate description of underlying access network assets that are made up of specialised PNFs and VNFs. Covering a complete set of functionalities, the NBI data models enable automated access inventory, service provisioning and monitoring, as well as network commissioning functionalities. Operators are also given the ability to manage the library of YANG modules suitable for various access node types, such as an Optical Line Terminal (OLT), Optical Network Terminal (ONT) or Distribution Point Unit (DPU). Additionally, the portfolio of NETCONF commands are also available to operators, which can be applied to access nodes (OLTs, DPUs, ONTs) for the configuration of network interfaces, traffic forwarding rules and traffic descriptors and associated filters.
The end result
While Release 1 of OB-BAA enabled operator migration to cloud-based deployments, Release 2 aims to do this faster and with greater ease – opening the door for operators to achieve dramatically simplified service provisioning and faster time-to-market of new cloud-based access services.
Overall, OB-BAA will make it possible for operators to migrate to and manage programmable network environments, where new services can be deployed rapidly through interaction with the common abstraction of access nodes. Operators and equipment manufacturers will be able to reap the benefits of greater networking flexibility and be able to streamline development by implementing standard interfaces, while differentiating their service offering via stable standardised platforms.
Facilitating an agile, flexible and integrated approach, OB-BAA allows service providers to embrace the best of open source and open standards, creating a programmable broadband network which delivers on the promise of next-generation broadband, while reducing service providers’ costs and protecting their investments.