HPE debuts multi-vendor 5G test lab

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has created a new 5G lab where telcos and suppliers can test and validate the performance and interoperability of various network core functions using multiple vendors.

The lab is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, but customers and HPE partners globally can access it remotely. Personnel is provided to manage and operate the on-site environment, as well as help with integration and testing.

Nokia is one of the major partners to sign on for the initial launch, which is meant to bring platform providers and telcos together to work on open and unified 5G core solutions. Other partners include Affirmed Networks, Casa Systems, Intel, Openet, Metaswitch and Red Hat. Last week, Amdocs announced plans to acquire BSS vendor Openet in a $180 million cash deal to boost its 5G portfolio.  

The ultimate plan for the lab, according to Domenico Convertino, vice president of product management at HPE CMS, is to “provide an accelerator for 5G operators to deliver new service and monetize the network.” HPE’s seen interest from vendors of all sizes he noted.

“While most vendors declare openness as an imperative, the only way to verify non-proprietary solutions is by the demonstration of end-to-end use cases that cross networks, functions, and vendors,” Convertino said.  

RELATED: Nokia to commercialize 5G standalone private wireless networking

Work at the lab is based on HPE’s 5G portfolio including its 5G Core Stack, giving operators the ability to swap out network functions (NFs) and test with any independent software vendor (ISV) or “best-of-breed” solutions providers. So multiple NFs from different vendors can be tested and validated, but it all still relies on HPE for integration with its 5G Core Stack.  

Lab work also includes on HPE’s Telco Cloud, Telco Blueprints for Core and Edge, and Aruba networking equipment for enterprise and Wi-Fi 6/5G interworking. ISVs need to join the HPE Partner Ready program to access the lab to show compliance with 3GPP standards and to tap HPE’s 5G ecosystem.

As for availability of different variations of HPE solutions validated in the lab, Convertino said HPE can sell directly or through channel partners and integrators. Some customers want a complete 5G solution, while others prefer to source through multiple vendors, he noted.  

“Beyond these options, we see the lab also as a place where we can host additional kinds of players, such as those that provide vertical-specific solutions to enterprises,” Convertino said.

In the U.S., the lab is targeting both Tier 1 and smaller or regional players for participation. HPE recently won a 5G core solution deal for one of the larger communications service providers globally, according to Convertino, who couldn’t name names yet. HPE has also won several 5G deals with smaller players both through partners and directly, he said, but names haven’t been announced since deployments are pending operators’ official 5G services launches.

RELATED: T-Mobile teases standalone 5G launch this quarter

Orange just completed a successful technical demo in Paris of automated 5G network slice orchestration with HPE and Casa Systems using a kit robot. The partners said it showed the ability for a cloud-native 5G core network to “recognize quality-of-service (QoS) degradations on a common network slice for a mission-critical service or application with specific service level agreement (SLA) parameters and automatically self-correct by creating a new dedicated network slice on-demand.”

RELATED: Samsung, HPE, Openet demonstrate 5G standalone core

Last November, Samsung, alongside HPE and Openet, integrated a cloud-native 5G SA core with multivendor interoperability. Samsung wasn’t named as a partner in the initial 5G Lab launch.

HPE on ‘open 5G’

A lot of attention recently has been paid to openness in the radio access network (RAN) in a shift away from proprietary vendor lock-in, but HPE’s lab is initially focused on the 5G cellular core network.

Most 5G deployments have been in non-standalone (NSA) mode that relies on 4G core infrastructure as an anchor. However, operators, including Verizon and T-Mobile, have signaled coming shifts to standalone (SA) 5G. A 5G standalone core will enable holistic management, data sharing, and slicing into virtual 5G networks with for dedicated uses and requirements, according to HPE.

RELATED: Verizon readies shift to 5G standalone core after successful trial

In terms of how HPE defines "open 5G," Convertino provided the following response, first focused on definition of 5G by 3GPP with design principals such as:

  • Separation of the User Plane functions from the Control Plane functions, for scalability, evolution and flexible deployments
  • Access network agnosticism, with a converged Core network that interfaces to different access technologies (including 3GPP and non-3GPP networks)
  • Use of service-based architecture instead of point-to-point integration reference points

In addition, HPE believes true open 5G exhibits characteristics including extensive use of standard IT tools and technologies like the Red Hat OpenShift Container platform and:

  • Separation of data and call processing, using a standard interface such as the 3GPP nUDSF, to store session state and subscriber profiles independently from the Network Functions, to facilitate network scaling and dynamic workload placement
  • Combination of NFs from multiple vendors in a single 5G Core network, leveraging a single CI/CD chain, allowing CSPs to quickly adapt the network to different use cases or changes in their supplier ecosystem.

However, the initial move to those design principals is a significant shift in the way the telco world has operated so far. With that comes a period of adaptation, he noted. That timeframe is what the HPE 5G Lab is aiming to reduce by giving stakeholders a place to test new solutions for confidence that they’re ready for mass adoption.

When those design principles are put in place correctly, “CSPs will be able to introduce new vendors into their network much faster and with less risk than before, a true a plug-n-play experience,” Convertino said.