BT transitions its 5G core network with Canonical’s OpenStack

BT logo building
Interestingly, BT has chosen Canonical’s Charmed OpenStack on Ubuntu, but OpenStack, itself, is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis. (FierceWireless)

BT has selected Canonical’s OpenStack distribution as a key component of its 5G core network. 

BT’s EE mobile network switched on 5G in six U.K. cities, including London, in late May. As part of BT’s 5G roadmap, the company is planning for a fully cloud-based 5G core by 2022. This means that BT will be using virtual machines (VMs) for its 5G core network, as opposed to proprietary hardware/software systems.

RELATED: EE to launch first commercial 5G network in U.K. May 30

Canonical’s OpenStack distribution gives BT an open source virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) to operate its core network. The OpenStack cloud software will enable the separation of network hardware and software, turning BT’s core network components into software applications that can be run on more generic hardware. This separation allows different network applications to share the same hardware across data centers, making the network more resilient and scalable when additional capacity is needed. 

In addition, the speed at which software can be updated compared to replacing core network equipment will lead to a new way of working for the development of 5G services where BT can build new services in weeks and deploy in days.

The full 5G core is also a step toward BT’s goal of converging network technologies, bringing together fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi into one customer experience.

“BT has recognized the efficiency, flexibility and innovation afforded by an open architecture and realizes the value of such an approach in enabling its delivery of new 5G services,” said Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, in a statement. “We’re delighted to be working with them to deliver the foundation to this approach, which will underpin BT’s 5G strategy.”

Interestingly, BT has chosen Canonical’s Charmed OpenStack on Ubuntu, but OpenStack, itself, is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis as containers become more prevalent than VMs.

RELATED: OpenStack, no longer the rebel, scrambles to stay relevant

At the most recent OpenStack Foundation event this year, open source leaders indicated that VMs will eventually be replaced by containers, and they’re struggling to figure out OpenStack’s future role. At that event, Shuttleworth said, “This year marks 10 years since the first code that would become OpenStack was written.” And of the OpenStack community he said, “We are no longer the rebel outsiders.”  He said it’s important for open source organizations such as OpenStack to keep adapting.

5G requires core updates

While carriers are modernizing equipment for their radio access network (RAN) as part of 5G, updates must also be made in their core networks.

RELATED: Industry Voices — Blaber: Vendors such as Cisco and Intel become pivotal in 5G's core network transformation

CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber says progress in the RAN is inseparable from the need to update the core network. “The flexibility of a software-defined network is needed if 5G is to deliver the service value to opportunities ranging from large-scale implementations of the Internet of things to mission-critical services.”

Blaber says 5G will be defined as much by computing as by radio communications. And that computing will need to be handled with modern network functions virtualization, in which network functions are run in containers or virtual machines using open-source software in much the same way as a data center operates.

This is what BT is doing in its collaboration with Canonical.

AT&T has been working to transform its core network from proprietary hardware/software to an SDN model for several years. AT&T says it’s on track to meet its stated goal of having 75% of its network virtualized by next year.