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Telecom answers the open source call

Open source is now finding its place in telecom. And once it does, it will completely change the industry.

Software updates are faster than hardware fixes

Open source technology—the use of software code developed in the public domain—has been widely adopted throughout the enterprise world. According to a research study of developers, decision makers, and managers, open source use has gone mainstream. 

Now, open source is emerging in telecommunications as networks are being reinvented. Network function virtualization (NFV) replaces proprietary physical network appliances with an infrastructure less dependent on the underlying hardware. NFV and software-defined networks (SDNs) enable scalability, flexibility, and innovation better than a hardware design can. The use of open source software code further complements this new network design. It could eventually replace proprietary software running on vendor-specific hardware.

How does this benefit the consumer?

Networks built based on software capabilities and delivered through a cloud environment can be modified easily and often, even daily. Existing services will improve, and new services deploy faster. Instead of waiting for a new hardware-based solution that might come every few years or so, software can be modified easier than before.

Industry evolution versus open source adoption

The move to NFV and SDN is transforming the way CSPs work, in contrast to the decades of building networks using hardware-based, proprietary network equipment. By helping to virtualize various appliances in the network, NFV and open common network cloud platforms are key enablers of 5G and the next logical step in network evolution. The emergence of these software platforms makes participation and cooperation of open source technologies more relevant. But it may also be delaying open source adoption in telecom.

The idea that software is the center of value, rather  than equipment, is a huge paradigm shift.

Entirely new skillsets and processes

A radical switch to the separation of hardware and software-based open architectures requires more than a fresh industry mind set. For telecoms, the old way of operating requires multiple staff members to bring in hardware, test, certify, and install it, and replace it when it breaks. Operators depend on products and purpose-built hardware with vendor-specific code from a select group of NEPs. Less fragmentation and complexity within operations support was needed.

With open standards put forward by the Linux Foundation® and Red Hat, programmers and engineers are collaborating to design a framework that relies on no single vendor and designed to be interoperable and flexible. The Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) is an open source networking project hosted by the Linux Foundation. Its goal is to develop a widely used platform for orchestrating and automating physical and virtual network elements. AT&T contributed its internally developed ECOMP automation and orchestration software, which was used to help create ONAP.

Video: Red Hat and the impact of open source on telecom operators.

 


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Meet the authors

Steve Canepa

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, Global Industry Managing Director, IBM Communications Sector


Marisa Viveros, Vice President, Strategy and Offerings, TM&E Industry

Jason Hunt

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, IBM Distinguished Engineer


Rob van den Dam, Global TM&E Industry Leader - IBM Institute for Business Value

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Originally published 20 February 2020