VMware extends its telco cloud platform to the RAN

VMware has acquired specialist start-up Heptio for an undisclosed sum (Image IDG Worldwide)
VMware’s software will initially virtualize the centralized unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU) functions. (IDG Worldwide)

VMware has been working on its Telco Cloud Platform for a few years. It launched it under that name commercially in June 2020. The platform allows service providers to update their core networks. VMware already has some big-name customers for the platform, including Dish Network, Vodafone and Rogers Communications.

Today, VMware is extending its Telco Cloud Platform to also include the radio access network (RAN).

The updates will enable service providers to virtualize their RAN functions and move toward an open RAN architecture.

Asked which RAN functions it would affect, Lakshmi Mandyam, VMware’s VP of product management for the service provider and edge team, said the software would virtualize the centralized unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU) functions, initially.

“The first phase is to get those RAN installations virtualized so you can deliver differentiated applications,” said Mandyam. In addition to virtualization, the platform does virtual machine and container management, monitoring and automation. “Having automated set-up and deployment and management out to a distributed RAN installation is important,” said Mandyam.

The extension to the RAN is supported by Intel’s FlexRAN software reference architecture. And VMware’s platform enables consistent security policies across the RAN.

Although the initial phase related to the DU and CU brings basic virtualization, she said the goal is to eventually offer 5G applications that can be run on the RAN portion of VMware’s Telco Cloud Platform.

Mandyam said service providers first need to transition from their legacy RAN and introduce virtualization, then they can progress to open RAN. “The transformation of the RAN is going to be a journey,” she said.

VMware and Dish

Last week, Dish announced that it was hosting its RAN and mobile core for both public and private 5G networks on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud.

RELATED: Dish makes a splash, picks AWS to host 5G RAN and core — Industry Voices: Chua

Previously, Dish had announced it was using VMware for its infrastructure and application orchestration. The AWS news raised the question: where does this leave VMware’s relationship with Dish?

According to AvidThink analyst Roy Chua, Dish told analysts that it will likely use VMware for specific VM-based workloads. “But from our standpoint, if you're betting on a public cloud partner, it's more efficient to go with native orchestration and automation,” wrote Chua.

Mandyam said, “We have a historical relationship with AWS. A lot of network operators want a dual vendor strategy. This doesn’t really change our plans with Dish. If you look at a lot of the RAN functions as an example, there is a lot of real-time performance requirements, data plane requirements that VMware is already delivering on. [Dish is] still going to be using our telco cloud platform for the RAN.” 

In today’s announcement from VMware, Dish’s Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne, said in a statement, “Our entire 5G network will be cloud-native, and we will leverage the VMware Telco Cloud Platform to adopt an O-RAN architecture for all RAN sites. We are working with the best hardware and software providers, and VMware is helping us achieve this vision."