We were very excited to announce Volta’s VERVE last week. What we didn’t plan was the timing of the other two major announcements that involved Volta. Together these two announcements dramatically illustrate the how the edge of the networks is seeing a major shift that will fundamentally expand and change the router market.
First, at Mobile World Congress last week, the Telecom Infrastructure Project announced Volta as one of three software finalists for its Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway technical specification. This was based on an RFI issued by Vodafone (press release), TIM Brasil (press release) and Telefonica that they reviewed for solution architecture, functionality, scalability, availability and solution roadmap. The DCSG technical speciation defined open and disaggregated white box cell site gateway devices that operators can deploy in their current 2G/3G/4G cell sites, as well as in the upcoming 5G deployments. DCSG supports Layer-2, Layer-3 and MPLS features.
Days later, Fujitsu Network Communications unveiled an expanded Smart xHaul transport solution to accelerate seamless and efficient evolution to 5G networks. The complete solution, offered in collaboration with ecosystem partners HFR and Volta Networks, enables 5G transport networks to coexist with legacy 4G Centralized Radio Access Network (C-RAN) systems. This solution set is optimized for integrated backhaul and fronthaul (xHaul) transport, resulting in quick and efficient 3G, 4G and 5G service support using a pay-as-you-grow modular design.
When taken together, these two announcements underscore the changing nature of the provider edge. Traditionally, the service edge was at the provider’s PoP which would be in the hundreds of physical locations. The PoP is home to the routers that drive the service intelligence and connect to the core network. Big edge routers are the rule and service providers scale up these appliances for more connectivity. However, the price per port is high and providers often had to buy port capacity in expensive increments.
Hundreds to Thousands
C-RAN moves baseband units (BBUs) from the cell tower to a “BBU Hotel” where service providers can run a pool of BBUs, typically as software VNFs. In xHaul, fronthaul is the transport network connecting remote radio units (RRUs) at the cell site to the BBUs aggregated as a pool of centralized baseband controllers. RRUs remain kilometers to tens of kilometers away. The BBUs pool is typically at a central office (CO). The Smart xHaul integrates routing to provide a compete transport solution that encompasses routing that can be deployed at the CO. In contrast to PoPs, there are thousands of COs representing an order of magnitude increase in locations that need a router.
To Tens of Thousands
DCSG pushes routing out to the cell site itself. A large mobile provider will have tens of thousands of cell sites and that number will increase dramatically with 5G deployments. It underscores the importance of routing to building robust services as the locations increase by another order of magnitude.
These two announcements illustrate the changing nature of the routing market. We will see a massive increase of two orders of magnitude in the number of routers which must be much more cost effective than today’s legacy appliances. Clearly, the legacy appliance model won’t work for this new environment. They are simply too big and too expensive. Moreover, the router CLI management model will be much harder as the number of routers soars.
Obviously, we think Volta’s platform approach is an ideal way to leverage low cost hardware while providing centralized processing and control. We’ll go into much more detail on the new provider edge on a Light Reading Webinar on March 14, “Routing Requirements for the New Provider Edge.” Roz Roseboro, Heavy Reading’s Principal Analyst for Cloud Infrastructure & Management and I will examine these trends and how provider networks will have to evolve to accommodate them. Should providers continue to invest in legacy routers? Is routing suited to NFV? How can routers be virtualized to meet the changing traffic patterns, economic realities and needed scale of the new provider edge?