Vodafone taps Ericsson and Cisco for full-scale network virtualisation

Vodafone moving to an OpenStack-based environment

Vodafone Hutchison Australia has named Ericsson as prime contractor with Cisco as the main subcontractor for a five-year project to virtualise both the core of its mobile network and the IP network supporting services and applications.

When completed it will give Vodafone an OpenStack environment in which all the software to operate its mobile network, the software for IP network functions such as switching, routing and firewalls, and software providing end user applications will all run on a common set of standard hardware.

Barry Kezik, Vodafone’s general manager of engineering, planning and performance told Computerworld: “We are exchanging the traditional telco network architecture made up of multiple interconnected appliances from different vendors to separate the software and hardware and evolve to what we call our next generation telco cloud architecture. This will give us the ability to dynamically move and control services at a customer level within the cloud and bring new services to market in a faster way.”

He added: “We are moving to an OpenStack environment, so we will be very open for all applications in the future. One of the really good things about OpenStack is that it will enable us to take bespoke apps and get them into the network faster.”

There are multiple other vendors involved in the project, but Vodafone said no others had yet given their permission to be named.

Vodafone CTO, Kevin Milroy, said that VHA was the first member company of either the Vodafone or Hutchison groups to embark on such a project. “We really are on the leading edge of technology in Australia and the world’s eyes will be upon as we undertake this journey,” he told Computerworld.

Ericsson and Cisco in November 2015 announced a global partnership promising to “create the networks of the future” by offering customers “the best of both companies: routing, data centre, networking, cloud, mobility, management and control, and global services capabilities.”

The Vodafone project is claimed to be their first major collaboration on telco cloud architecture since that announcement. It follows the awarding by VHA of a contract to Ericsson in August 2014 for the full virtualisation of the core of Vodafone’s mobile network. The new agreement expands on that to include virtualisation of all IP network functions and applications.

Kezik said the move to virtualisation of all areas of the network was essential to enable Vodafone to meet the demands from new applications, especially those that will require minimum network latency, such a many IoT and gaming applications, and to prepare it for the move to 5G, expected from about 2020 onwards.

“It will facilitate the move to a fixed network and support the low latency services that will be required in the future,” he said. “It enables us to move content and control closer to where customers need it, which will key to future services. The ability to issue commands and receive a response will be much quicker.”

Vodafone announced in October 2016 that it would be offering fixed broadband services on the NBN by the end of 2017.

Milroy said the move to virtualisation would also enable network capacity and functionality to be partitioned to create services specific for enterprise customers. “We are very much into enterprise and this opens up a lot of opportunities by allowing us to create network slices for specific services or functions.”

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