Ericsson pitches its path to virtualization for smaller operators

Ericsson’s Network Management as a Service can be used to support operators on their journeys to virtualization, SDN and potentially 5G network transformation. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

LAS VEGAS—Ericsson is at the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) meeting this week to talk to regional carriers about how it can help them on their path to virtualization.

The vendor earlier this week announced that it's working with four U.S. regional operators to move their network management to the cloud: Carolina West Wireless, Cellcom, Chariton Valley and East Kentucky Networks. These operators have chosen Ericsson’s Network Management as a Service, which will be used to support the operators on their journeys to virtualization, SDN and potentially 5G network transformation.

Meanwhile, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) this week announced a group of large-scale operators is embarking on a new way to create the supply chain they require to move onto SDN and the next generation of networks. AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Group, Telefonica and Turk Telecom are pursuing a new strategic plan for the ONF to move open-source, next-generation SDN solutions into production mode—and they were driven to do it because the existing supply chain wasn't giving them what they want.

RELATED: ONF isn’t waiting around for traditional OEMs to get their open-source act together

According to ONF, the operators are not going to wait around for incumbent infrastructure vendors to come around to the open source and next-gen SDN party. Other initiatives, like vRAN and oRAN, are getting underway as well. But vendors like Ericsson have been largely watching but not contributing.

Kevin Zvokel, head of Networks, Ericsson North America, confirmed as much on the sidelines of the CCA event. “We don’t participate. We think it’s disruptive. We would rather go 3GPP,” he explained. “3GPP keeps everybody around the world in a standardized fashion. We think it’s better for the industry and it’s more economical once we decide on a standard. We can move quicker at the right price point for operators.”

He acknowledged that, of course, the company keeps an eye on these other initiatives.  

“We do believe that networks will be virtualized when it comes to 5G, and so we’re working on our virtualization strategy and submitting those to the standards board,” he said, adding that Ericsson’s virtualization won’t be proprietary; it will be according to the standards. 

It isn’t finalized yet via the standards, but Ericsson has submitted contributions to how virtual RAN gets set up.

For the majority of Ericsson’s regional wireless customers, LTE is still a huge area of investment and deployment. It’s not seeing as much deployment around small cells as the larger operators, but there are deployments in venues like college campuses, and Ericsson has been involved with those in regions.

Interestingly, Ericsson started working on 5G back around 2011, and its new product line, introduced in 2015, is 5G New Radio (NR) ready. It has about 150 variants of radio products out there and about 190 different operators that are NR ready, so a big chunk of the networks will just require a software upgrade for 5G—unless an operator was an early entrant in LTE; they would have installed earlier equipment.

As for how Ericsson could design a 5G NR before the specs were even written or finalized, it really comes down to the waveform, which the 3GPP had agreed upon, he said. The RF components in the radio are critical when it comes to the spectrum, but the rest is mostly software.  

“We had good insight about how the radio would be developed,” he added. “It’s really about the software.”