Vodafone targets 2019 5G launches

Vodafone hails core, cloud and devops transformation ahead of 5G launches

Vodafone UK has the core technology enablers in place to launch 5G, UK CTO Scott Petty has said, and will have live services from the middle of 2019.

Giving an update on the operator’s Tech2020 programme, Petty said the operator was three years through a five year programme to upgrade the “entire tech estate”. With £2 billion invested and a further £2 billion to come, Vodafone is putting in place the bandwidth connectivity, virtualised network and cloud-native operational environment it deems necessary to deliver 5G services and, crucially, to extract business value from 5G radio capabilities.

Optical  SDN core connectivity

Petty said that the carrier had now completed integration of the core optical network that it calls Red Stream. This is a network with 80x 100Gbps available wavelengths, that contains 1800 Points of Presence (more Ethernet PoPs than BT, Petty said) and 4,000 nodes. 75% of Vodafone’s enterprise customers are “local” to a PoP and 85% on net for FTTCabinet service. 2,000 customers and 18,000 circuits will migrate to the new network this year, Petty said.

The operator will retire 35 legacy network services by next year (15 have gone already), has de-commisioned 128 apps and retired 85 products. The core network is scaled to carry all Vodafone’s 2-4G traffic as well as fixed internet and IoT load. It is also designed to cope with capacities required by future 5G usage. Petty said that the network is SDN-enabled, meaning customers can control access through the operators’ SDN service.

Cloud Ops and Virtual Networks

A second key transformation project has been the virtualisation of network and core elements and an “aggressive” move to cloud native operations. Petty said that Vodafone has all its VoLTE and VoWiFi services running as VNFs. That means that new services such as the Apple Series4 watch will also use the same vCore for voice calling on the device.

Virtualisation also enables the operator to enable 5g low latencies, by taking compute resources from the data centre to the edge. Petty said that Vodafone was leading the (UK) market in MEC execution so far.

Petty said that the operator has also undergone a transformation of its own IT operations, insourcing talent and moving to a devops methodology. It has separated the app development layer from the underlying BSS and billing systems, creating a digital exchange layer upon which it can create new channels and apps much more quickly. That has lead to a much more flexible and agile operating environment, he said, so that new services and capabilities can be introduced in hours and days, and software updates are continuous.

5G launches

All of this transformation – the photonics core, the cloud native ops and the virtualised network – are all intended to provide an enabling technology layer for 5G.

The operator has seven trials cities for 5G, in which it will be installing a total of 60 5G sites, enabling customers to start testing 5G in real world conditions. “In 2019 we will be ready for launch across those cities by the middle of the year in line with availability of devices,” Petty said. TMN understands the first devices are likely to be fixed wireless CPE.

“By 2020 we will scale well past 1,000 sites as we start to see massive device availability,” Petty added. Vodafone will also be deploying some rural 5G sites this year. The first announced trial city is Manchester, where 5G services will include a Digital Innovation Hub that will be 5G-enabled.

The carrier is also launching NB-IoT service using its LTE network this year – offering what it described as “5G capabilities”. It has a customer in trials – Scottish Power, which is using the low power, wide area technology for to connect rural customer locations.

5G use case demo

The ability to stream high def video with low latencies, creating immersive and/or interactive experiences will be one 5G differentiator – with uses in business, industrial and consumer apps. To show the sort of thing that is possible, Vodafone took on a live demo of a holographic video call. Footballer Steph Houghton, live in the Manchester Hub, was recreated in holographic form in front of the press conference audience in Newbury.

Each venue was equipped with a live 5G NR base station, with 64×64 MIMO antennas operating at the 3.4GHz band. (The Newbury HQ site was live a year ago with 2.6GHz 64 MIMO). These connected to in-building CPE from Huawei (visible attached to the rigging just above the red wall in the pic, left).  The sites in Manchester and Newbury were connected over the fiber optic Red Stream core.

The demo worked well, with the holographic Houghton interacting with a young fan.