BARCELONA, Spain — Sprint is gradually incorporating open source into its network. Like most service providers, the company sees the value of moving to a more open source model, but it also has a limited amount of resources — both people and money — that it can devote to open source projects.
“We don’t have all the resources as some of our competitors so we have to approach it in a targeted manner,” said Ron Marquardt, vice president of technology at Sprint, in an interview with SDxCentral here at the Mobile World Congress 2018 conference. “We don’t just want to contribute for the sake of it. We want to contribute to things that will be a differentiator for us or something that we want to influence.”
The company’s first foray into open source was a project called C3PO that it worked on in conjunction with Intel. C3PO employs control and user plane separation (CUPS) for packet optimization. The project was released into the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) group as two projects: one was for a control/user plane separated gateway, and the second was for all the components such as the home subscriber server (HSS) and the mobility management entity (MME).
Marquardt simply describes C3PO as an evolved packet core reference for core distribution.
For Sprint, the C3PO project was valuable because it helped the company become better informed about open source technologies like software-defined networking (SDN). “We learned how it can scale and how to do implementations,” he said. “The more informed we are about these technologies, the better off we are to work with the vendors.”
For now, however, Sprint is not a member of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), the open source group that is hosted by the Linux Foundation. ONAP’s goal is to enable end users to design, orchestrate, manage, and automate network services and virtual functions. ONAP is an outgrowth of ECOMP, which was a home-grown project created by AT&T. ONAP members include some of the largest operators in the world, including AT&T, Verizon, and China Mobile. “ONAP is a whole huge project, and only a part of it applies to us,” Marquardt said.
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Sprint may not be interested in jumping into ONAP, but the company is looking carefully at the ORAN Alliance. ORAN is the Open RAN initiative that was created yesterday by merging the xRAN Forum with the C-RAN Alliance. Members of this group include China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Verizon, SK Telecom, Telstra, and NTT DoCoMo.
Like most operators, Sprint sees the cost efficiencies that could happen if it virtualized the RAN.
“We might join ORAN,” Marquardt said. “But it looks a lot like ONAP with China Mobile and AT&T driving it.”
Call it Edge, Not MEC
One area that is particularly intriguing to Sprint is the network edge. The company sees the value in moving more compute resources to the edge, but Marquardt said he worries that edge computing will create a new level of orchestration.
He also shies away from using the term multi-access edge computing (MEC). “I prefer edge computing. I don’t want to assume there will be a specific solution for the edge, and MEC does that.”