5G | Emerging Trends | Network Management | Open Source
July 11, 2017

Opening up 5G

By Marc Cohn

The next mobile generation (5G) is not just redefining mobile services — it is also ushering in an era of open technologies that are transforming the telecommunications industry.

Software-defined networking (SDN) and net­work functions virtualization (NFV) represent the future in telecommunications, by virtualizing the infrastructure and services to offer unprece­dented agility, intelligence, and openness.

For the past five years, SDN and NFV have been progressing due to unique collaboration between standards organizations and open-source communities that together are reshaping how new technology may be adopted.

Innovative industry groups such as the ETSI NFV ISG and the Open Networking Foundation established the reference architectures, val­idated use cases, and reshaped the require­ments for open-source building blocks integral to NFV and SDN.


In response, in 2012, The Linux Foundation introduced the first large-scale, open-source networking platform, OpenDaylight. The open SDN Controller Framework has since estab­lished a broad technical community; over 900 developers contributed to the current release. OpenDaylight has spawned commercial offerings supporting hundreds of millions of subscribers around the globe.

SDN and NFV have emerged as critical technol­ogies for 5G to enable a wide range of data-driven applications that have been written about extensively on OpenDaylight, including mobile broadband, the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile-to-mobile (M2M), etc.

To enable such a diverse range of end-user applications, the SDN/NFV management and control model must become much more highly scalable, intelligent, flexible, and open than ever before.

Many of the telecommunications industry’s most innovative and proactive operators and solu­tion providers have undertaken the challenge to redefine the service delivery lifecycle as a result. This requires unique collaboration among the network management standards bodies, SDN/NFV industry organizations, and the open source community.

“The future of telecommunications is cur­rently being reshaped by SDN/NFV, with 5G among the first projects to realize the vision of a truly converged, next-generation mobile infrastructure.”
– Marc Cohn

Over the past year, there has been a number of open-source initiatives announced to address the challenges of network orchestration and automation, including the ETSI Open Source MANO (OSM) project, Linux Foundation OPEN-O project, AT&T’s open source ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management, and Policy) project (also with The Linux Foundation), among others.

Groundbreaking collaboration with ONAP

While having multiple alternatives offers the potential for competing approaches that the market will select based on their individual innovations and merits, the potential for frag­mentation and dilution of investment looms. That is why the principals in the OPEN‑O and open-source ECOMP communities announced a groundbreaking effort to converge, result­ing in the introduction of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), under The Linux Foundation.

On Day 1, ONAP founding members repre­sented just under 40% of the world’s mobile subscribers, and virtually all of the leading solution providers. Such critical mass is essen­tial, considering the need to forge a common, industry-wide, open platform for service auto­mation and orchestration.

ONAP intends to address the entire service-de­livery lifecycle, including:

  • Service Design — A model-driven approach that minimizes software development for new and derivative services.
  • OSS/BSS/UI Integration — Open orchestration raises an industry debate about which OSS functions will be captured in the platform, versus existing back-end approaches.
  • Virtualized Network Function (VNF) Orchestration — VNFs represent the building blocks for composite services; ONAP is participating in an industry-wide effort to streamline VNF onboarding, establishing a common packaging format to enable many to participate in the emerging open SDN/NFV ecosystem.
  • Connectivity Services Orchestration — For end-to-end service delivery, a flexible set of capabilities are needed to achieve orchestration across a wide range of network domains and technologies.
  • Service Management — Rounding out the platform includes a rich set of policy management, analytics, and related functions to enable a more intelligent service delivery lifecycle.

The ONAP project leverages The Linux Foundation’s best practices refined by over 25 years of enabling some of the world’s most important open-source projects. ONAP is a truly global project, featuring an open governance model forum to discuss architecture initiatives. It makes for a healthy blend between operators and vendors and top-down/bottom-up deci­sion making.

The project was announced in February 2017, and is currently in the process of release plan­ning and initial ramp-up.

As 5G rapidly approaches reality, it is imperative for standards bodies, industry groups, and the open-source community to undertake a highly collaborative approach for a pragmatic technol­ogy adoption lifecycle for SDN/NFV. By working together, use cases may be prioritized to guide development, requirements and implementa­tion may be validated and the many tradeoffs that arise may be thoroughly considered.

Working in a neutral and open forum, an inclusive and open community will catalyze the cultivation of the open ecosystem that enables many to benefit.

The future of telecommunications is cur­rently being reshaped by SDN/NFV, with 5G among the first projects to realize the vision of a truly converged, next-generation mobile infrastructure.

Marc Cohn
Vice President of Network Strategy The Linux Foundation
[Read the ITU News Magazine to learn more about the transformative potential of 5G — and how ITU is helping to make it happen.]
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