Next-generation Cloud RAN management and orchestration


As the global telecoms industry begins to deploy 5G networks, technologies such as cloud-native RAN and automation platforms will play major roles in their evolution. In this blog post, we’ll cover impact on management and orchestration, the challenges that emerge, our view on the future of management and orchestration and what Ericsson brings to the table.

5G evolution realizing new values
5G is more than radio and core. It encompasses virtualization, management and orchestration, transport, software-defined networking (SDN), and adaptive policies powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). As more and more technological innovations enter the market, 5G will continue to leverage the capabilities of these technologies to evolve further.

The 5G networks are designed to serve consumers and enterprises alike and as we add capabilities like network slicing, edge computing, service exposure and new RAN applications, we are in effect creating a new innovation platform. An innovation platform that will enable exciting new business models and use cases that will deliver innovative services to countless industry verticals.

The impact on orchestration
The architecture of the 5G network is substantially different from previous network generations. One key change is the introduction of micro services-based architecture and network functions distributed over different cloud infrastructures. In addition, many services will go across different network functions and domains in the network and they need to work in unison to ensure end-user experiences. This impacts the way we manage and orchestrate the networks.

The openness and disaggregation started in transport and core with the introduction of Software Defined Networking (programmable networks) and virtualization. A similar shift is expected to happen in the access domain and certain aspects need to be considered in the orchestration systems as well.

Open source and standards become even more important than previously in this context. Ericsson is a leading supporter of several open-source initiatives. These include the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) and Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN). We also work hard to encourage industry alignment to ensure speed of adaptation and realization of values from the 5G platform.

The challenges from an orchestration perspective
As service providers’ networks evolve, and new technologies are added, the network is becoming ever more sophisticated and complex.

As network functions are virtualized, networks will end up consisting of Physical Network Functions (PNF), Virtual Network Functions (VNF) and Cloud native Network Functions (CNF).
Network-related services and end-user services will flow across different network functions and multiple domains.
Services will become more advanced with the introduction of network slicing, exposure and RAN applications.
Multiple domains (radio, transport, core and cloud infrastructure) end up having their own OSS systems for different reasons.
The challenge that arises is that service providers need to deliver on stringent -service level agreements towards enterprises, with many different business models and multiple partners. Orchestration and management need to deliver on this challenging task.

What’s needed is an intent-based AI/ML-enabled automation platform that is open and highly flexible to scale. This Automation platform is key to manage these complex networks and services and to achieve the necessary network and service flexibility and speed up time to market.

As cloud-native RAN is introduced in the network, Ericsson brings the knowledge and capability from our experience of managing and orchestrating end-to-end 5G networks that includes cloud-native 5G core.

Key considerations for services providers
As Cloud RAN is introduced, certain aspects need to be considered in the management and orchestration systems.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will play important roles in traffic steering and optimization decisions that will improve network efficiency and customer experiences and is an absolute prerequisite in next generation management and orchestration.

Since 5G will provide services to many vertical industries, the use cases demand Quality of Experience (QoE) such as high bandwidth, low latency, high security and ultra-reliability. Managing QoE proactively will be central to maintaining SLAs and continuous optimization is needed. The introduction of cloud-native RAN and Service Management and Orchestration will add new capabilities to assure best possible Quality of Experience.

The virtualized radio and core will be deployed on many different cloud infrastructures and distributed multiple data centers and far edges of the networks very close to where the services are being consumed. The orchestration system will need to work across all these different cloud environments and manage the end-to-end lifecycle management of network functions and services.

These are some key considerations that service providers need to think of as they evolve their management and orchestration. In the next section we will explore our view on how to realize this and the values we bring.

Ericsson’s view on next-generation management and orchestration
The next-generation management and orchestration (as defined by O-RAN Alliance) consists of a number of interworking components – the Service Management and Orchestration (SMO), Non-Real Time Radio Intelligent Controller, rAPPs and the interfaces O1, O2 and A1 allowing for communication between these components.

Service Management Orchestration
Ericsson brings their unique experience in building, deploying and managing cloud native networks and orchestration systems to enable seamless and modular introduction of Service Management Orchestration (SMO) for both greenfield and brownfield networks. We work closely with our customers to create unique use cases, while at the same time driving rapid innovation by enabling an open app ecosystem for both customers and partners. SMO the management and orchestration for the future and have a few very important characteristics:

AI/ML capabilities will be crucial in SMO for innovation, automation and operational efficiency. A key capability to achieve a high degree of automation is to use artificial intelligence and machine learning together with advanced policy management and we call that intent- based AI/ML.
To achieve a high degree of automation, Ericsson brings unique know-how to package AI/ML powered use cases into hardened and scalable solutions using our telco expertise.
SMO should have infrastructure visibility and be able to scale compute resources up and down. This also helps optimize or reduce the overall capacity costs.
SMO can handle end-to-end network slicing where RAN slicing is an important component. For example, a SMO can continuously monitor and ensure that a specific enterprise SLA is maintained in an end-to-end network slice that is providing a mission critical, low latency, ultra-reliable service.
SMO needs to be aware of applications and their performance, network behavior, traffic and multiple domain information, and have the ability to dynamically place application workloads across multiple cloud infrastructures.
The SMO need to simultaneously handle life cycle management of PNFs, VNFs and CNFs. In the cloud native world software management changes drastically with the introduction of high degree of automation, continuous integration/continuous development of micro-services. To support very fast introduction of new SW and features into the network, canary deployment and A/B testing will grow in relevance.
Non–real time RAN Intelligent Controller
The non-Real time RAN Intelligent Controller is key component of the future management and orchestration as defined by O-RAN. Placed inside the SMO layer it can access external information to dynamically use policies to optimize the RAN powered by AI and ML.

The non-Real time RIC plays a central role in SMO hosting the ecosystem of applications acting across RAN, Core and Transport, to generate and apply new policies and network optimizations. Additionally, from a pure innovation platform point of view, this component will expose the SMO capabilities and the network data, to a vast variety of applications, that will coexist and collaborate, to achieve new business outcomes.

Finally, it needs to be flexible, aware and secure. It needs to be flexible enough to foster innovation, aware enough to understand the network behavior, and secure enough, since it provides access to operators’ networks and data pools.

The power of RAN applications (rAPPs)
As seen above, rAPPs are powerful and important tools in the future management and orchestration. rAPPs can be written for a various management tasks such as assurance, optimization, automation, fault management, performance management, configuration management, software management, domain-specific applications.

The introduction of rApps, made possible by an end-to-end automation platform, brings innovative aspects in the RAN domain. It means that tasks as those above can be realized outside the traditional node context. Working on their own or together with other rAPPs, they can create improvements across all network domains.

In summary, SMO and the next generation of management and orchestration is essential to cope with the rising complexity of data and network systems, achieving not only a more manageable end-to-end network but also achieving the business propositions sought by operators: increased QoE and time to market for services creation and rapid innovation to achieve the full 5G potential.

Ericsson is exploring the possibilities
Ericsson views the rapidly progressing automation capabilities as essential to maintaining operational efficiency while also maximizing the business potential of the increasingly sophisticated 5G networks. Building on our leadership in RAN, core, management and orchestration systems, we bring a unique experience in delivering end-to-end 5G networks and OSS solutions (management and orchestration) to manage the smooth introduction of open and interoperable cloud-native RAN. In addition, Ericsson brings the following key capabilities in its automation platform that is driven by management and orchestration systems:

A programmable network with intent based AI/ML capabilities in management and orchestration solution to drive efficiency and automation.
A management and orchestration system that manages the PNF, VNF and CNF that comes with the introduction of cloud-native RAN.
Ability to develop unique use cases, onboard new applications in the management systems and rapid innovation by enabling an open app ecosystem for customers and partners.
An intelligent management and orchestration system that can provide network and service flexibility to support various new business models and use cases.
Ericsson is exploring the possibilities offered by SMO architecture to create an attractive solution for next-generation management and orchestration and accelerate the automation journey together with our customers.

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