ONF's fifth reference design, COMAC, targets 5G deployments

Pulling together its work over the last eight years with CORD, SDN and cloud, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) today announced its fifth reference design: Converged Multi-Access and Core (COMAC). The COMAC initiative was designed to unify the various access and core technologies over both mobile and broadband networks. 

Along with Sprint, ONF also announced today the launch of its Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC) platform, which was created to become an open source production-grade evolved packet core (EPC) for the telecom industry. OMEC is also an upstream project that will be used by COMAC.

"COMEC is really about taking a fresh approach to building a unified platform," said ONF's Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "To do that, first we disaggregated everything. We disaggregated mobile and broadband components. Then we recombined them in new and innovative ways to create common elements where they can serve both mobile and broadband. Things like user authentication, charging, billing, and security are all opportunities, the low-hanging fruit, for being able to do better levels of integration."

COMAC uses software-defined networking from ONF's SDN Enabled Broadband Access reference design as well as Virtual Optical Line Termination Hardware Abstraction to build the platform.

COMAC also taps into O-RAN's work on disaggregated radio access network (RAN) as well as disaggregated mobile core and disaggregated broadband network components.

COMAC creates a common user plane using SDN and the P4 language and P4 toolkit for a 100x improvement in efficiency, according to Sloane.

"With all of this, we're creating a cloud-native platform. A platform for the access and edge cloud of the future," Sloane said. "Today mobile and broadband are separate networks. In this architecture, they both come into a common converged user plane that can handle traffic from either space. Then they are being controlled by common open source infrastructure. That includes RAN control. You'll be able to do precise control for the whole spectrum and RAN and radio usage.

"It includes mobility management as users move between cell sites or move between RAN and broadband, and you'll be able to do that in a unified way. Then there's the whole multi-access control. Authentication, session management, policy, billing enforcement; all of that can be unified rather than have separate databases for mobile subscribers and fixed subscribers."

ONF is driven by its service provider membership, which includes AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, NTT Group and Turk Telecom. ONF also has vendor partners, each of which paid $500,000 a year with a five-year commitment, that provide the supply chains for the reference designs.

Each of the five ONF reference designs is backed by the ONF operator members that plan on deploying those designs in their production networks. The ONF partner members that are standing up COMAC are AT&T, China Unicom, Google, Deutsche Telekom and Turk Telecom. In addition, Sprint is participating in the COMAC open source project

The COMAC supply chain vendors are Adtran, Intel, Radysis, gslab and HCL, although the community is open to broader participation.

"I just want to point out that ONF already has a portfolio of the vast majority of these COMAC pieces," Sloane said. "They've been in different projects. We're now just moving the Lego blocks around to be able to assemble it in this way. The reason why we're able to go after such a big and audacious undertaking is that we have this incredible foundation of work that we've established over the last eight years. We're using all of that as we move forward with COMEC."

With the components of COMAC just being announced and the operator group's recent formation, there's currently no timeline for when COMAC will be deployed, according to Sloane.

RELATED: ONF operators push reference designs out for membership review

Assembling the components of the reference designs enables proof-of-concept trials and tests, which ONF calls "exemplar platforms." The exemplar platforms were designed to make it easy to download, modify, trial and deploy components of the reference designs in order to speed up adoption and deployment.

Under the CORD initiative, ONF also announced a COMEC open source project exemplar platform that will pull a specific set of open source pieces together into a platform, according to Sloane.

OMEC heads to field trial

OMEC addresses the need for an open, mobile core. Driven by 5G, the onslaught of IoT services and applications, the explosion of devices and the need for edge processing, ONF worked with Sprint to develop OMEC. Intel and Sprint both contributed seed code to OMEC, which also leverages an NFV architecture. OMEC's cloud-native design brings the lessons learned from the hyperscale providers into the telco space.

"OMEC includes seven co-repositories for the comprehensive set of functionality called for in the 3GPP standards for EPC functionality," Sloane said. "It's optimized for IoT and 5G. By that we mean it's virtualized, disaggregated and then distributable, so you can place the pieces wherever they make the most sense.

"Very explicitly we've disaggregated the user plane and the control plane. This then allows the components to be placed where best suited anywhere in the network all the way from the access to perhaps even a public cloud or telco cloud or anywhere in between."

OMEC is able to support a large number of subscribers by using a DPDK-based data plane. It's optimized for lightweight, cost-effective deployments and IoT applications. It also provides complete connectivity, billing and charging capabilities.

"It's really opening this mobile core space for innovation," Sloane said. "To date, this market has been dominated by closed proprietary solutions from incumbent vendors that have built these big, vertically integrated solutions that in many cases look like a refrigerator.

"With it now virtualized, it becomes all software. It runs on X86s boxes. It can run anywhere in the network broken into pieces. Different pieces can run different places and it's open. So the operators have visibility and control and they're hoping that this really seeds a whole new level of innovation in the marketplace."

Sprint's Clean CUPS for Packet Optimization, along with other elements, were contributed to OMEC. Sprint has a field trial of OMEC slated for later this year.