5G industry news Telecommunications Tech | Private Networks

Innovation Briefing Issue 10 | Move to the cloud

  • 7 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 23 Jun 2022
  • Last modified 22 Jun 2022
Once mobile networks were all about the physical network, but the industry and technology has matured and, as the worlds of telco and IT merge, it now makes sense to look to specialists to manage the physical elements / hardware.

Mobile Operators can learn a lesson from the Internet Unicorns. Just Eat, Airbnb and Uber all have something in common. One is a food business with no kitchens, another is an accommodation business that doesn’t own any property, and the third is a taxi business which owns no vehicles. The future of mobile networks is following suit.

What’s making this possible is the cloud. Moving functions which in the past have been done in hardware, into software, and then software that can run in the cloud. It’s a trend in many technology sectors, but in mobile it’s happening in the streetside cabinets. In a mobile network an antenna is connected to decoding equipment, which turns the analog radio signal into digital data, which can be sent along ethernet cables. Traditionally that kit is in two parts: a Remote Radio Unit (RRU), and a Baseband Unit (BBU).

The Remote Radio Unit needs to be as close to the antennas as possible because there is a significant signal loss in the cables between the two. So, typically the RRU is placed on or by the pole where the antenna is. The RRU in turn is connected to the BBU by fibre optic cables. There is a limit to how long these can be, so while one BBU can serve / connect to several RRUs, if each cell is quite large it may exceed the distance the fibre can be run to reach the farthest RRUs. The processing work done in the BBU is quite intensive, so this makes each one expensive.

This is where virtualisation becomes quite important and plays a significant role in driving the overall costs down. In both Open RAN architecture and 5G, the traditional BBU is replaced with a Distributed Unit (DU) and a Centralised Unit (CU). Mavenir can save costs by replacing the costly BBU with a cost-effective Distribution Unit, or DU and move some of the processing to the centre of the network, with a Centralised Unit or CU. The work of the CU can all be performed in software. That’s where the special sauce of virtualised cloud technology comes into play. Instead of running on dedicated servers at the operator’s premises, the CU software is moved to a cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google. So, what was a significant infrastructure cost, rolling out tens of thousands of BBUs across a country, had been replaced by cost-effective DUs and CUs that are based on COTS (commercial off the shelf) hardware. It is expected that, in future, DU will eventually move to public cloud as well and this is work in progress.

The CU equipment expense has been turned into a rental expense, essentially a Capital Expenditure has become an Operating Expenditure. But there are further savings to be made.

Capacity flexibility

Since the dawn of cellular, mobile network operators have been faced with, what in the UK was known as the “Park Lane Effect”. London’s Park Lane joins Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner, and in the early days of analogue cellular was the business road in London. Peak time was 6pm and the busiest day of the week for making mobile phone calls was Thursday.

To ensure that there was enough capacity to handle all that traffic meant that the operators had to put in a lot of equipment, but for most of the week it was under-used. All weekend, only a fraction of the Thursday night capability was employed. Back when taking out a subscription meant a £300 joining fee, buying a £1500 Motorola handset, and when calls cost 25p a minute, operators had plump margins. But in today’s competitive environment, building enough physical infrastructure is more of a challenge.

The move to virtual equipment helps reduce the burden of equipment deployment. Software solutions can be deployed more rapidly and cost effectively than rolling out the hardware, but what really adds efficiency is the use of cloud service providers. Handling encrypted traffic between the DU and CU can be quite processor intensive. When using an on-premises server, this means having enough compute capability to keep everything running at peak times and letting it run idle the rest of the day. By using a cloud services provider with a clock-cycles-to-hire model, this becomes unnecessary. The telco only needs to buy capacity when required to meet the increased demand.

Mobile operators may choose to mix the kind of cloud services they use – public cloud, private cloud or hybrid cloud. While public cloud works well for demand sensitive services, there may also be applications for private cloud for functions which are needed all the time. This means choosing a software platform which offers the flexibility to span across public and private.

The new approach works particularly well for challenger networks which don’t have legacy data centres.

A good example of this is DISH Networks in the US, a well established satellite television and broadband provider. DISH is moving into mobile with ambitious roll-out plans. It’s working with Amazon Web Services with a containerised environment (a form of advanced operating system virtualisation). This means instant access to resources, be it compute power, storage power or the cloud application environment, but it also adds flexibility of scale-in and scale-out. The orchestration is all in the cloud with added benefit of continuous improvement and continuous development. In addition, the Mavenir solution provides automation where the platform offers zero-touch provisioning.

A little bit at a time

The solution uses a microservices-based architecture (an architecture where large applications can be broken down into separate smaller self-contained independent services) which allows small upgrades on a service-by-service basis, rather than risking the whole network by making an upgrade.

DISH has put the CU and the Mobile Core all onto the public cloud in Amazon Web Services, running on AWS’ Kubernetes platform. Amazon has 17 local zones in the US where CU elements reside. The Mobile Core is hosted in Amazon’s Regional or National Data Centre. The DU is maintained on-premises in DISH’s private cloud, running on VMware.

Mavenir is providing its cloud-native solution which comprises the DU and CU software, and analytics and management, called mCMS (Mavenir Centralized Management System). It’s a tribute to open systems as it highlights the extensive end-to-end collaboration within a multi-vendor environment.

The first phase is up and running in Las Vegas, having been launched on May 4th (Axios ref.)

The ability to deploy software-based solution at a much faster pace on a public cloud not only eases the burden, both from an engineering and financial perspective but it also offers flexibility. In a traditional, on-premises solution, deploying new services may be delayed by the lead time of delivery of hardware. By using a hyperscaler, the dimensioning is taken out of the decision loop.

This move to the cloud creates new paradigm for the operators to offer innovative 5G applications by leveraging the power of the cloud and 5G technology. For operators, besides the normal consumer services, it allows them to propose strong B2B offering for their enterprise clients, especially on-demand slicing for enterprises.

Further, Mavenir, earlier in the year during MWC 2022 in Barcelona, announced its partnership with AWS for NaaHS (Network-as-a-Hosted Service). This will enable Mavenir 4G and 5G software solutions to be available on AWS. This would open-up a viable option for potential Businesses/MNOs/MVNOs who want to benefit from this service; this allows significant savings as they opt for a service / rental model and do not need to invest in hardware and software capital expenditure at the outset.

Moving Telco to the cloud isn’t quite the same business as Just Eat, Airbnb and Uber, but like those unicorns it demonstrates the ability to scale and disrupt the business. With the rapid rise of regional, community and private networks brought about by spectrum liberalisation the need has never been greater.

For more details email the VP Market Strategy and Business Development:


or visit www.mavenir.com