AT&T, Nokia open up the radio’s edge to third party apps

AT&T and Nokia have developed a radio edge cloud (REC) appliance that the two companies plan to release into open source via the Linux Foundation. The REC will make it possible for third parties to develop apps and get access to the radio access network (RAN).

REC is part of the Telco Appliance blueprint within the Linux Foundation’s Akraino project. Akraino is an open source software stack that optimizes edge computing systems and applications. Akraino is made up of more than 11 blueprint families, and more than 19 specific blueprints are under development to support a variety of edge use cases.

Michael Murphy, CTO of North America for Nokia, explained that the primary use case right now for REC is the near real-time RAN intelligent controller, or RIC. The O-RAN Alliance, which is a group of carriers and vendors devoted to virtualizing the RAN, developed the RIC platform. The RIC platform is a network element that controls certain aspects of the RAN. Today all these network controls are managed by the vendors that make telco gear. However, in an open source world, the REC opens up the RIC to applications (called xApps) and those xApps can be used to manage the RAN.

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Murphy said that some operators want the RIC open to third parties because they believe these third parties can more efficiently manage certain aspects of the RAN for a specific application. For example, there may be a third-party vendor that has expertise in video load balancing and by allowing them access to the RAN through the RIC and an xApp, an operator may be able to deliver video more efficiently.

Murphy said that while opening up the radio’s edge to these types of applications is something that Nokia supports it doesn’t necessarily agree with opening it up for every use case. “We thought there was merit in this and there was value in accelerating innovation and reducing costs,” he said. “But there are some use cases that we don’t agree with.”

He added that the REC is fairly low in the network and there are a lot of controls established to prevent any problems. “There is a lot of cooperation being done to make sure it does exactly what we said it would do,” he said.

In a blog post, Tapio Tallgren, lead architect of MBB architecture at Nokia, said that REC is the first example of a blueprint with the Telco Appliance blueprint family. The REC includes automated configuration and integration testing of the full stack starting from below the OS layer up through the RIC. In addition, the REC will share many hardware and software components, including installation, configuration management and APIs with other family members.

Murphy said that it is not easy to predict all the use cases for REC but added that having an open source edge cloud with open interfaces to the RAN control will allow operators to have more options.