AWS chip arm helps DoCoMo build copy of 5G core in the cloud

NTT DoCoMo has worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NEC to develop a redundant copy of their 5G core network on the cloud.

DoCoMo and NEC completed a carrier grade redundancy design for the Japanese operator's 5G core network in an AWS hybrid cloud environment this February This enabled DoCoMo to switch between its on-premises network functions virtualization (NFV) infrastructure and its redundant 5G core on the AWS cloud.

“It's a very, very cost effective way of building redundancy and backup,” Ishwar Parulkar, chief technologist, telecom and edge cloud at AWS told Silverlinings. “That’s one of the key things DoCoMo has done — building the cloud copy as the redundant backup copy to their on-prem network.”

This means that DoCoMo can use a pay-as-you-go model, only employing the cloud copy when it needs to take down the on-prem network for maintenance or other work. This will reduce DoCoMo's costs, because it doesn't need to deploy an expensive pyshical back-up core network, he said.

AWS chips are the secret sauce for DoCoMo

Parulkar noted that the silicon behind this cloudified core network is pretty important. AWS bought Annapurna Labs for $350 million in 2015 to build custom chips to take on Intel’s x86 dominance in the cloud computing sector.

By acquiring Annapurna, AWS gained a license to ARM's instruction set architecture (ISA). The company is now on the third generation of ARM-based Graviton processors, which AWS said offered a 25% performance boost on its previous generations.


DoCoMo is using Amazon’s Graviton3 ARM-based processors, rather than x86 CPUs, to support its redundant 5G cloud core. The AWS telecom CTO said that “DoCoMo is leading” in this move to ARM-based processors for cloud virtualization.

“Most of the virtualization that’s happening occurs on x86 processors,” Parulkar noted, adding that Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung  and others have tuned their software to x86 processors.

“We believe there is a big, huge advantage to be had by using ARM-based processors, because they are power-efficient, as well as footprint-efficient,” Parulkar stated.

What DoCoMo has done is have their ISV NEC convert from x86 silicon to the Graviton ARM processors to run their core. “[DoCoMo] found a 70% power improvement over x86 processors. So they are really big believers that this can change the cost and sustainability,” Parulkar said.