Verizon eyes cloud-native container-based tech for network edge

Verizon and Ericsson this week announced the first container-based wireless Evolved Packet Core (EPC) technology deployment in a live network—a critical step in enabling 5G-oriented solutions like network slicing and edge computing.

But the need for network reliability—something Verizon has built its reputation on—isn’t lost in all of the excitement around what they’re describing as the world’s first proof-of-concept trial.

“It’s in our DNA to operate very reliable networks,” said Bill Stone, vice president of Technology Development and Planning at Verizon. The five 9s reliability that telecom networks are known for remains priority No. 1, but the new way the network is being configured enables the operator to do upgrades without having to take down a big chunk of the network. If there’s an outage in one part of the network, it can recover and reconfigure much faster to improve reliability thanks to how it’s orchestrated.

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Verizon has been moving down the virtualization path for several years now, so its work with virtualizing network functions is not new.

But in the legacy virtual machine-based environment, it’s running bulky, monolithic code, so the network functions are configured in a very inefficient, or in Verizon’s eyes, a less efficient manner.

Moving into a cloud-based architecture involves microservices, where big chunks of code are broken down into smaller, granular pieces, which enables it to scale up and down much more quickly and add or remove capacity in small sections and do it more efficiently, according to Stone.

“Our plan is to use this cloud-native container technology in that environment for the 5G core from Day One,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

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Verizon certainly can do more in the way of cloud-based deployment in its legacy 4G LTE core network as well, and “that will be part of our future. We’ll do that opportunistically and selectively,” but this proof-of-concept trial with Ericsson—which involved real customers in Hillsboro, Oregon—was really an opportunity for them to prove some of the capabilities and assess it.

“We’re very pleased with what we’re seeing—to gain even more confidence in our ability to take advantage of this from Day One on the 5G core,” he said. “I can say with confidence that based on the results we’re seeing here with this proof-of-concept trial, we’re very confident that we will be able to take advantage of this technology in the 5G core as we move to the 5G future as well.”

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Verizon has not gone into detail on the timing of its 5G core using the 3GPP Standalone (SA) standard; its current 5G deployment tracks to the Non-Standalone (NSA) standard, which uses LTE as an anchor.

But Stone did say it’s getting very close to the point where they can begin testing in trials in its labs and other facilities this year, “so we’re moving in that direction.”

There is an opportunity to leverage some of the 5G core network functions for the NSA devices as well, he added.

This particular trial involved a network function, which in this case is the Mobility Manager Entity, or MME. The software leverages docker images and helm charts, and software updates are expected from Ericsson every two weeks.

“We see opportunities to use and leverage cloud-native container-based technology not just in the core network, which we’re doing here with this proof-of-concept trial, but we see opportunities to take advantage of that technology as we virtualize network functions that will run at the edge of the network as well,” Stone said. A good example would be vRAN, or virtualization of baseband functions.

“We’re going to opportunistically apply it where it makes sense in the 4G network and we’re absolutely going to be using it in our tests and trials and then as we move into the commercialization deployment with the 5G Next Generation core,” he said.