ETSI NFV Telco Cloud-native Roundtable at MWC Shanghai (June 29, 2023 Shanghai)

On June 29th during MWC Shanghai 2023, ETSI ISG NFV organized a “Telco cloud-native roundtable” to present NFV work and engage participation from Asian operators who were invited. The goal was also to learn their experience, feedbacks and drive the evolution of the future telco cloud. The roundtable offered a valuable chance for synchronizing the latest progress and vision of the ETSI NFV standard community with the key telco operators in Asia-pacific area who attended the event.

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ETSI ISG NFV Chair, Yoshihiro Nakajima, gave the opening speech and pointed out that Asia-Pacific is pioneering the 5G SA global implementation, with NFV telco cloud providing the much-needed foundation for such deployments. Therefore, this roundtable was targeted to hear the learnings of the operators within this area and their thoughts on the NFV future evolution for supporting 5G-Advanced and beyond business. He also highlighted the main characteristics of the NFV community, being built on openness and collaboration; characteristics that were fundamental pillars for its 10-years successful journey to create globally adopted standards in the industry.

The first session of the roundtable led by analyst Jake Saunders, Asia-Pacific VP from ABI Research, focused on the major pain points of today’s telco cloud deployment.

The ISG NFV Vice Chair, Vice President of Cloud-Network Operation Institute of China Telecom, Xuliang Wang, summarized major current pain points including the relatively-slow introduction of emerging technologies, fragmentation of different standards and technologies and lack of end-to-end reliability guaranteed for NFV automation. And he called for ETSI NFV’s continuous support for solving these issues.

Xiongyan Tang, Vice President of China Unicom Research Institute, summarized China Unicom NFV telco cloud deployment achievements. Chang Cao, director of future network research from China Unicom also shared his view on four challenges and potential directions for future NFV: accelerate architecture evolution, unified resource orchestration, improve resource utilization rate and supporting heterogeneous hardware such as new type of CPU, GPUs and DPUs.

And finally, Xiaodong Duan, Vice President of China Mobile Research Institute, introduced China Mobile's experience in building the largest telco cloud in the world. He highlighted the value of ETSI NFV standard in such practice, and shared their best practices on technical breakthrough, automation and open source contribution. Looking into the future, to overcome challenges like raising resource utilization rate, agile launch of NF, network capability exposure & sharing, and business innovations. China Mobile will continue their NFV-based network evolution towards 6G, cloud-native and computing and network convergence.

During the open discussion after these presentations, participants addressed top-3 key challenges for telco cloud today, namely containerization, lack of E2E automation, and various incompatible fragmented solutions and products. In a further discussion on how to promote telco cloud automation, joint-effort approach by operators and vendors like intent-driven methods were preferred by the audience. In the same time, it was pointed out that the live-network O&M’s lifecycle, the operators need better observability and adapted tools for ensuring their networks’ reliability.

Guang Yang, senior principal analyst from Omdia, led the second session which was dedicated to the containerization transformation of the telco cloud: the choice between Virtual-Machine based container and Bare-Metal based container.

Jinglei Liu, vice director of network and IT technology institute, China Mobile research institute, expressed their opinion on a dual infrastructure stack for supporting co-existing Virtual-Machine based container and Bare-Metal based container. Towards telco cloud-native, a step-by-step roadmap was drawn by China Mobile starting from container in O&M and B2B scenarios, then to 5G NR and core, and finally, complete cloud-native transformation with microservices & PaaS exposure capability.

Pimjai Lakampan, mobile network operations manager, from AIS also shared info about their smooth transition from VMs to containerization.

In the open discussion afterwards, it showed that, in general, a mix between VM-based container and BM-based container solutions was the top-choice of Asian-pacific operators. While having different deployment locations - central DC/regional/edge (MEC) - and targeting different kinds of use cases, - for vertical industry business customers or simple end customers - different teams within operators have expressed their preference for a hybrid deployment using VM-based and BM-based containers.

And the third session “what standard should focus on for the future” began with the introduction of the two recently published whitepapers: “In the light of ten years from the NFV introductory whitepaper” and “Evolving NFV towards the next decade”. The two whitepapers have summarized the perspectives of the ETSI NFV community on the key points of future evolution of NFV, e.g., declarative intent-driven approach, containerization, autonomous networking. Main Chinese contributors to the 2nd whitepaper also collaboratively released a Chinese translation of the whitepaper to share the messages to a broader audience.

Following that, Dr. Dongjin Lee and Junyoung Lee, senior R&D managers of SK Telecom core network shared SKT and DOCOMO’s common requirements on network automation, sustainability and cloud-native for the 6GC and its infrastructure. They also highlighted SKT’s current practices on network automation with container platform, common infrastructure monitoring and hardware management capabilities. Looking to their future network evolution, SKT will focus as well on strategies like energy efficiency, robust NFs and building an NSA/SA converged core enhanced support for unified service mesh SBI using container platform.

In the last open discussion section, the ETSI ISG NFV’s Chair introduced the latest progress of ETSI NFV Release 6 targeting future evolution of our group’s standards. Among them, it was highlighted that emerging new hardware like DPU and GPU is gradually entering telco networks implementation. This trend will require NFV to support heterogeneous hardware management for future networks, which, in the end, may open up telco computing resources for public usage. As well, an architecture evolution was requested to simplify the operation and maintenance of NFV-based networks. Besides all those previously-mentioned items, NFV will have to work on establishing an agile infrastructure needed to support the capabilities foreseen in the upcoming 5G-Advanced and 6G network.

Jake Saunders closed the roundtable with a summary of the discussions; all participants’ viewpoints and discussion were appreciated. Jake noticed that ETSI ISG NFV has already started the works on its Release 6 to address new challenges, market demands, the architecture evolution, new infrastructure work items – all of those are opening the door for more contributions from the industry including Asia-Pacific operators which are moving fast towards 5G-Advanced and 6G. The participating companies were encouraged to take part in further discussions and contributions in ETSI ISG NFV, to jointly drive the industry future direction towards telco cloud-native.

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