Nokia announces three public cloud partnerships for the RAN

Nokia exploring 5G vRAN and core workloads with Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Nokia has this morning announced partnerships with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

In three separate releases, all published at the same time, Nokia said that it would be working with all three cloud platform providers on elements of its 5G vRAN and Open RAN product line.

It said it would be working with Google to will integrate Nokia’s 5G vDU (virtualised distributed unit) and 5G vCU (virtualized centralised unit) with Google’s edge computing platform, running on Anthos. Nokia’s 5G standalone network with vCU and 5G core will also be tested on Google Cloud Anthos platform as a cloud-native deployment. Nokia will also work to certify its Nokia AirFrame Open Edge hardware with Anthos

Anthos is Google Cloud’s Kubernetes cluster management capability that enterprises can use in their own environments, or in the public cloud.

The AWS announcement says that both companies “will research how the combination of Nokia’s RAN and edge solutions can operate seamlessly with AWS Outposts.” Again, the research will focus on validating vDU units, in this case on AWS Outposts using Amazon EKS for far edge cloud or on-premises deployments. The second area will examine the implementation of 5G vCU with AWS Outposts, AWS Local Zones, using Amazon EKS as a cloud native deployment. The third part of the collaboration will build a proof of concept for an end-to-end solution with Nokia’s 5G Cloud RAN and 5G standalone Core network running on AWS, where end enterprise users can leverage 5G for use cases such an industrial application.

Outposts is similar in concept to Anthos, in that it extends AWS infrasctruture and management into enterprise, co-lo space or public cloud datacentre.

The Azure announcement follows the pattern of the other two, although with more of an enterprise use case focus. The companies will research deploying Nokia RAN software in Azure Private Edge Zone. Nokia will also integrate its 5G RAN with Azure 4G/5G core to demonstrate interworking to support enterprise use cases required by Microsoft’s customers. Microsoft, of course, has its own telco core software via its acquisitions of Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks, putting it in a slightly different partner category to the other two cloud infrastructure providers. The companies will also explore opportunities to incorporate Nokia Airframe Open Edge server as part of Microsoft’s telco edge strategy.

The issue of how to run and manage the distributed cloud deployments that could host vRAN, Open RAN and other software is currently a live one. For years the focus was on designing telco-specific versions of cloud infrastructure to support virtualised and cloud native functions (CNF). In parallel has been the question – if public cloud companies have already solved many of the operational issues, and can in theory provide a consistent operating environment, then why not migrate to those platforms?

Many companies have worked on providing automation and containerisation capabilities to enable telcos and vendors to manage distributed CNF deployments. Their aim has been to bring the benefits of the public cloud – elasticity, scalability, consistency – to the telco space.

Red Hat has a host of telco customers and partners in the vendor space taking advantage of its OpenShift Kubernetes-based containers automation and management platform. HPE has designed has worked with Rakuten to provide automated management of its containerised vRAN architecture, with Intel also providing a “Kubernetes  plugin to “facilitate RAN and MEC application containers on Intel architecture”. Another rival in this space, Platform9, told  TMN last week that current do not have the capabilities to efficiently manage distributed cloud deployments of network functions software.

The question of whether telos will feel comfortable with public cloud deployments has developed.  Many have found an easier fit with private networks for enterprise and for edge deployments, especially using platforms such as Outposts and Anthos that are design to provide consistent operations across hybrid cloud infrastructure.

But Nokia’s announcements are a sign that it and its customers are beginning to think more seriously about using the benefits of public cloud tech in the RAN – especially when it comes to the lifecycle management of network functions deployed in a distributed manner at a network edge.

Alex Choi, SVP, Strategy and Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom, said, “Deutsche Telekom is on a journey to transform to a new open, disaggregated and cloud-native infrastructure with an automated production model. We are therefore excited to see [Nokia and its partners] joining forces to accelerate ecosystem innovation across critical areas like Open RAN and virtual RAN and the cloud-native 5G Core.”