Other than a 5G technology trial held a year ago in conjunction with the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer competition, Sprint has been fairly quiet about its 5G plans — until now. Over the course of the past few weeks, Sprint said it will deploy 5G commercially in 2019, it revealed details of an open source project it has started with Intel to scale the user plane for 5G, and it announced it will work with NYU Wireless on 5G research projects.
In a recent meeting with SDxCentral, Ron Marquardt, vice president of technology at Sprint, said that while millimeter wave (mmWave) technology and massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) are the “bright shiny objects” that many operators are talking about when it comes to 5G, the key to deploying this new network architecture will be the convergence of the backhaul and the network core. “What we need is network architects to think like software architects so we can manage the complexity,” he said.
Building a Better Core
The company is particularly focused on the network core. In fact, that was the impetus behind C3PO, the company’s open source project it is working on with Intel that it believes will result in a more flexible and scalable 5G control plane. The company revealed some details of its C3PO open source project at NFV World earlier this month. C3PO stands for CUPS (control and user plane separation) for packet optimization and is an open source NFV- and SDN-based mobile core reference architecture intended to help improve the performance of the network core. C3PO basically provides a data plane for the packet core combined with an SDN controller.
The open source project uses off-the-shelf server hardware to streamline the mobile core and collapse multiple components. Marquardt noted that the C3PO project is necessary because with 5G there is more happening in the core, and carriers need to figure out a way to manage that in a cost effective way. “The core is 80 percent idle today,” Marquardt said. “There are ways to use the core better.”
Marquardt is also a fan of open source projects. “Open source gives operators a view into ways to implement something and do it in unique ways,” he said, adding that a certain degree of chaos is good for creativity. However, he also said that currently there are too many open source projects, and that he expects some will go away or be merged with others because they can’t all survive.
Sprint is joining AT&T and Verizon as a affiliate sponsor working with New York University on the development of 5G. As an affiliate, Sprint will get early access to NYU Wireless research and be able to work with the university’s engineering students and faculty on 5G-oriented projects.
NYU is one of only two academic institutions selected by the FCC to help test, debug, and provide feedback on a web-based portal that lets researchers apply for experimental licenses for 5G.