A vocal proponent of open RAN in wireless, Vodafone is now looking to apply the same principle of disaggregation to the broadband network gateway (BNG), a move it said will make it easier to deploy and scale new features and add capacity for users.
The operator teamed with Nokia, Cisco, Casa Systems and Benu Networks on what it claimed was the first test of the Broadband Forum’s TR-459 standard, which enables control and user plane separation (CUPS). In the trial, Vodafone said it was able to validate a disaggregated BNG system which let it use software and hardware from multiple vendors and run core control functions for the gateway in the cloud.
Within the network, the BNG acts as the portal through which subscribers gain access to the internet, sitting at the juncture between aggregated network traffic flows and the individual subscriber session.
Ken Ko, managing director of Broadband Forum, told Fierce the BNG has traditionally been a “monolithic piece of equipment,” meaning operators might have to purchase a second BNG if they want to scale up or add capacity. This in turn could leave them with control plane capacity they don’t need but paid for anyway.
But with a disaggregated BNG, operators can deploy the control and user planes in a new way, centralizing the former and distributing the latter to reap myriad benefits, he said. For instance, the user plane can be deployed closer to the customer, delivering improved performance for users and giving the operator the option to scale in more flexible increments.
Additionally, by centralizing the control plane, operators not only gain scale benefits, but can also eliminate the need to set up a control plane for each individual BNG that’s rolled out. Ko pointed to improved resilience and streamlined orchestration as two other benefits of the disaggregated BNG.
For its part, Vodafone argued disaggregated BNGs would also enable “greater technological innovation from a more diverse supply chain” by lowering development costs for new and existing ecosystem players. It also highlighted the potential for deeper integration with 5G since the same control and user plane separation technology is also defined by 3GPP.
Ko said the test “is a really important milestone,” adding “just the fact that we’ve got all of these players working together on this test shows that we’re getting to real deployable solutions.”
A Vodafone representative told Fierce there are already commercially available products for disaggregated BNGs and the next step toward deployments in the network is "to move from lab tests to network proof of concepts. This is planned to take place in the coming months."
Vach Kompella, VP and GM of Nokia’s IP Networks Business Division, concluded in a statement the vendor “envisions a significant evolution in BNG architecture with the introduction of CUPS in fixed, wireless and 5G fixed wireless applications which will allow rapid feature introduction, optimal user plane placement and selection, as well as improved operations.”
This story has been updated to include a comment from a Vodafone representative.