Core Network Dynamics is a spin off from Fraunhofer Fokus that provides scaled down EPC software for test and research purposes. The company makes its money selling testbeds, and has 60 customers to date amongst operators, device and equipment manufacturers.
It has now decided to commercialise and productise the software core for use in edge computing applications, where network functions run as virtual instances on COTS hardware integrated at or close to base stations. The product is known as the OpenEPC.
The driver for this move is the momentum behind IoT, and the demands it will place on connectivity from the edge to core networks, with the key technology enabler being the development of NFV infrastructure within mobile radio networks.
CEO Carsten Brinkschulte said, “We believe taking the core from a centralised architecture and bringing it to the edge of the network in a distributed form is the right approach for the Internet of Things and other use cases. If you think about bringing not millions of smartphones but billions of IoT end points into a centralised core, there’s no way the current architecture can support that. That means networks will need a decentralised core.”
Brinkschulte said the company was early into looking at virtualisation (“the software was always running on Docker containers and things like that”) and OpenFlow and has also support for OpenStack control,“So this is the right thing to do for Core Network Dynamics”.
The idea is that by taking core network software and siting it either on a base station,or close to a cluster of base stations, each BTS or cluster becomes its own network, avoiding the backhaul and reducing system latency.
There are other applications, such as in public safety where a cell in a vehicle or backpack can come equipped to its own core, rather than needing to be connected on, for example, satellite or other backhaul to a central core.
The soft EPC functionality that CND is proposing puts it in the same market area as Quortus, a company that is joining the ETSI MEC ISG and markets its technology as Edge Centrix. However Brinkschulte thinks that the company’s support for multiaccess, including WiFi access where the context of the session is maintained between 3GPP and non3GPP bearers makes it different. (He added that dealing with session handover between multiple OpenEPCs is also a differentiator.)
He is also excited to see that multi-access capability taken forward so that its OpenEPC can support other non-3GPP access types such as SigFox and LoRa – providing the opportunity for operators to manage different access technologies from a common core. This, for example, would de-risk investment in non-3GPP cellular for IoT technologies, as discussed by Orange here.
At MWC16 the company was demonstrating on an ARM-based NXP compact server, with a video streaming demo (picture below.
The OpenEPC is now on its 12th iteration. The software is “light” enough that it can run on a Raspberry Pi, although CEO Carsten Brinkschulte is keen to add that he is not suggesting that operators implement in that way! But he did propose a possible implementation within a quad core small cell, where one core is given over the OpenEPC, delivering an integrated access-core product.