Affirmed Networks hails “first, true” cloud native 5G core

vEPC vendor takes the next step with UnityCloud. Will it get traction?

Affirmed Networks is today launching UnityCloud, a cloud-native platform of core network functionality to support 5G Standalone (SA) networks.

It says that the solution is “currently engaged in several trials with tier one operators globally that are building 5G Standalone (SA) networks”.

Scott Heinlein, Senior Director of Marketing, told TMN that UnityCloud was the first true cloud native solution that deploys webscale type technology to support the 5G core. Other vendors also hail their 5G Core solutions as “cloud native”.

“These are terms that are used all the time but we feel through our architecture and the way we have designed a micro services layer for all the common core functions, this is a true cloud native platform for the telco industry.”

The service based architecture, with functions deployable as micro services, would enable an operator to provide “fine-grained network slicing,” Heinlein said. The architecture [see picture below] combines operations and policy management for observability; Iaas NFVi that can support any kind of infrastructure; shared PaaS components using all open source elements like Jaeger and MongoDB; dis-aggregated core network components engineered as microservices.

The architecture for Affirmed’s UnityCloud

Chris Nicoll, Principal Analyst, Mobility and Wireless Networks, ACG Research, said that in his opinion UnityCloud passes the cloud native test.

“I do see UnityCloud as being truly cloud native (meaning micro-services oriented, managed with Kubernetes, container packaged and externalised state),” he said. He add that it had “similar architectural elements as the Nokia and Ericsson solutions.”

“Affirmed has also worked closely with Intel to utilise features within those chips to accelerate performance which is one of the reasons that not all cloud native applications will perform the same,” Nicoll qualified.

Elisabetta Romano, CTIO, TIM, told TMN that Affirmed Networks was one of the vendors that the operator had assessed during its 5G Core RFP process, but said that like all the other vendors TIM had assessed it was not yet fully cloud native.

“Affirmed is one of the companies we have been inviting in our RFI… we have invited the big ones, small ones, outsiders whatever, none of them is yet where we need to be. Some of them, and you can guess the new ones, are closest to cloud native because they have started like this. The more traditional are less cloud native but stronger from a pure packet core functionality because they have been working on this for many years.”

So what was lacking from these supposed cloud native approaches? “Even with cloud native every vendor comes with its own PaaS. So they say, ‘PaaS is the way to go’, and Open Shift is a good example of some Open Source on top of Kubernetes, but then every vendor says, ‘Yes I am cloud native but you need to run on top of my PaaS’ – and that’s not the way.”

But Romano has no objection in principal to working with a smaller or newer vendor – indeed that is sort of the point of operator transformation projects.

“I like to think that we can work with any type of company,” she said, “because we are talking about software. In the old world when you had to provide specialised hardware then it was very capital intensive.”

ACG’s Nicoll said that Affirmed had proved itself in the market, but it might still be a tough sale for it to get the entirety of a Tier One vendor’s core business.

“Affirmed has a large customer base of over 100 customers for its virtualised (but not cloud native) vEPC, which is one of the things T1 operators look for. And I suspect their existing core solution will be used for some 5G NSA applications so that does give Affirmed a head start regarding 5G cores.

“But when it comes to running the entire core of a 5G network a quarterly survey I am running of 50 Tier 1 operators shows a clear preference by the T1 telcos to having one large vendor be the systems and operations integrator to work with the operator’s strategic suppliers.

Nicoll added: “I don’t think any of the Tier 1s are going to turn over their entire core to a smaller vendor. But the way 5G is rolling out – in pieces (FWA, IoT, etc) rather than broad network deployments like 4G did will help companies like Affirmed get into the T1 core networks. It is just going to take some time.”