5G has the potential to revolutionise the telecommunications industry, offering high speed and connectivity for a wide range of devices ranging from radio access networks (RAN), user equipment (UE), and core networks. However, the high costs associated with 5G infrastructure have been a significant blocker for adoption, hindering innovation and growth in this area.
This blog discusses the primary challenges faced in the telecom industry and how open source technologies are helping to resolve them.
The telco dilemma: 5G infrastructure challenges
With the advancements of 5G and more complex deployments, telcos face several challenges in building and maintaining 5G infrastructure, including:
- High investment costs: 5G infrastructure requires significant investment in new hardware and software, especially for hosting the virtualisation infrastructure necessary to run 5G software
- Limited spectrum: The available spectrum for 5G is limited and highly regulated, which can make it difficult for telcos to acquire and use.
- Network coverage: 5G requires more base stations and antennas than previous generations of mobile networks, which can be challenging to deploy in certain areas, such as rural or densely populated regions.
- Interference: 5G operates at higher frequencies than previous generations of mobile networks, which can lead to interference from buildings, trees, and other obstacles. This requires a denser deployment of the radio access networks with many more radio units at closer proximity.
- Security: 5G networks are vulnerable to cyber attacks, which can compromise the security and privacy of users’ data. The attack surface is larger with 5G compared to previous generations of mobile networks.
- Vendor Lock-in: a telecom operator is heavily dependent on one or a few vendors for all of its 5G network infrastructure and services, making it difficult for the operator to switch to another vendor without incurring significant costs and disruption to its network.
How open source is changing the game
Open source can help address these challenges by lowering costs, increasing innovation, providing greater flexibility, improving security, and enabling better interoperability. Many big operators have used the power of open source to virtualise up to 75 percent of core network functions. This is paying off in big cost savings. Open source provides a platform for collaboration and innovation, enabling ISVs and operators to build on top of existing code, and use the expertise of the wider community to bring new solutions to market more quickly and efficiently. Let’s explore the benefits in more detail.
Open source communities can help address the challenge of developing and adhering to standards by providing a common framework for collaboration and development. By contributing to open-source projects, telcos, and ISVs can work together to develop and implement standards that benefit the entire industry.
Avoid vendor lock-in
In line with the development of shared standards, open source solutions can help avoid vendor lock-in by providing access to code that can be modified and adapted to meet specific needs. This means that telcos and ISVs can avoid being tied to a particular vendor or technology stack and choose the best solutions for their specific requirements instead.
Meet specific-telco requirements
Telcos have demanding requirements when it comes to performance, reliability, and security. Long-term support (LTS) is important in the telco industry, as telcos often have long cycles of release deployment. Open source solutions that are supported over the long term, with no API breaks or major changes that could disrupt telco operations (i.e. 12-month release at least, and a few years on average) are the foremost choice for telcos. This is usually a vendor-driven decision, but choosing the right open source with the right vendor is the key here. The reason is, it is difficult to have a telco-grade system after dealing with all the interoperability and fixing into the puzzle challenges, so it is reasonable for an operator to expect the support cycle to be as long as possible.
Performance, flexibility, and automation are key requirements in the telco industry, as they enable telcos to operate more efficiently and effectively. By leveraging the expertise of the wider community, telcos, and ISVs can build solutions that are optimised for telco environments and that can be easily customised to meet specific requirements.
Open-source software offers cost savings compared to proprietary solutions, which can be especially beneficial for organisations with limited budgets. With open-source software, organisations do not need to pay for licenses, and there are no vendor lock-ins. They can leverage the vast community of developers and users to troubleshoot issues and implement new features.
The telecom sector handles a vast amount of sensitive information, including personal and financial data, making it a prime target for cyber-attacks. There are several data privacy and security concerns that the telecom sector faces, including data breaches, malware attacks, insider threats, lack of compliance, etc. In this regard, open-source software vulnerabilities are often patched more quickly than with proprietary software. In addition, open-source software is transparent and customisable, making it easier to meet the operator’s unique needs and implement security features that align with their security requirements.
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In the sections that follow we provide example applications for open-source solutions across the telco stack, with a focus on tooling supported by Canonical.
Open source solutions for telcos
The Canonical journey to open source starts with Ubuntu and covers every part of the telco stack, from UE (user equipment) to the public cloud. Canonical’s open-source technology primitives provide a unified approach, with Ubuntu for each network area. This enables partners to meet any current or future use cases –from OpenRAN to next-generation Core (5G and beyond) and AI at the edge.
Open source for RAN
The demands of low latency and high throughput in RAN require using specialised platforms like Intel FlexRAN or NVidia Aerial, which have both selected Ubuntu LTS for their SDKs. Canonical supports OpenRAN through Ubuntu Pro, a comprehensive open-source software security and compliance subscription.
Another major Canonical contribution for RANs edge use cases is Micro clouds which reproduce the APIs and primitives of the big clouds at the scale of the edge. Micro clouds are typically targeted to easily deploy and lifecycle manage distributed micro clouds – bare metal compute clusters of between 3-100. A Canonical micro cloud stack consists of certain building blocks. The details for each component are covered in our Telco 5G infrastructure whitepaper.
Open source for core networks
Private clouds offer a higher level of security and control than public clouds, which makes them a better fit for hosting the critical infrastructure that forms the core of the 5G network. Among the many ways to build such infrastructure, the most popular with Canonical’s partners has been a stack that combines MAAS, OpenStack, Kubernetes and Juju, our workloads orchestration platform.
Open source for public and hybrid clouds
Ubuntu is known for its reliability, security, and versatility, making it a popular choice for telecom companies that require a stable and secure operating system to run Telco applications in the public cloud. A hybrid cloud architecture combines the usage of a private cloud and one or more public cloud services with a workload orchestration engine between the platforms. Juju automation provides a consistent approach that natively supports all major hyper scalers APIs and is a de-facto standard tool for micro clouds in edge use cases. Additionally, Ubuntu Pro for Public Clouds provides telcos with capabilities based on their unique requirements. Details of these requirements and features from Ubuntu are given in this blog series: Amazon Web services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure.
Open source at the orchestration layer
Open Source MANO (OSM) is an open-source ETSI-based MANO solution led by the open source community that provides service orchestration capabilities for Telecom networks. It lies at the top of the telco network and is responsible for the Management and Orchestration (MANO) of Network Functions and deploying NFV components in a 5G infrastructure.
In conclusion, building and maintaining Telecom infrastructure poses significant challenges for telcos, but open source can provide innovative solutions to these challenges. Canonical’s deployment tools and ongoing support and maintenance services play an important role in mitigating risk and ensuring the performance and reliability of products.