T-Mobile Poland chalked up the industry's first deployment of a production-grade open source evolved packet core (EPC) using the Open Networking Foundation's OMEC platform.
The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) announced its Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC) platform early last year, making available the first production grade, disaggregated, control-user plane separated (CUPS), 3GPP-compliant open source mobile core solution that can run on containers, virtual machines (VMs) or bare metal. OMEC is one element of the Open Networking Foundation's Converged Multi-Access and Core (COMAC) reference design that was also announced last year.
OMEC addresses the need for an open, mobile core. Driven by 5G, the onslaught of IoT services and applications, the explosion of devices and the need for edge processing, ONF first worked with Sprint to develop OMEC. Intel and Sprint both contributed seed code to OMEC, which also leverages an NFV architecture.
Deutsche Telekom, which is one of the service provider members of ONF, owns a majority stake in T-Mobile and it supported T-Mobile Poland's deployment of a fixed mobile substitute (FMS) service to its customers. ONF's Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem, said the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile may have also piqued the latter's interest in taking OMEC into a production deployment.
"T-Mobile Poland caught wind of what we were doing and grew very excited about it," Sloane said. "They've become really excited and quite passionate about all the benefits of working in open source, and these new ways of working."
FMS solutions are typically deployed in areas that don't have fiber or copper. T-Mobile Poland is using OMEC’s gateway control, user plane and billing components to deliver a FMS service to its customers. The OMEC components provide all the necessary features and standard 3GPP interfaces for interconnecting to T-Mobile’s existing base stations, mobility management entities and lawful intercept platforms.
Sloane said that T-Mobile Poland has had the FMS service deployed for six to eight weeks without any down time or hitches.
"They've built really an optimized core that is customized for that particular application," Sloane said. "With open source, they're able to customize it (OMEC) in such a way that they can really build a product offering that suits their business, and their customers, very specifically. I think they're very excited about that.
"They're also very excited about just what they've experienced in terms of all the benefits of having more ownership and control of the products that they're putting out to market. Rather than being reliant on a vendor and having to ask a vendor for features and functions, or bug fixes, they're able to really drive this themselves and move forward. That's a benefit that we've seen across our ecosystem and almost every operator talks about that when they're talking about their experiences and the benefits of working in open source with ONF. But we've certainly seen that amplified here with T-Mobile."
OMEC provides T-Mobile with a lower cost of total ownership, greater transparency and better customization than traditional EPCs. T-Mobile Poland worked with Intel and other unnamed vendors on its OMEC-based FMS deployment.
"In this new world, in this new ecosystem, operators don't really always have all the engineering skills to go build these solutions themselves," Sloane said. "They instead tend to contract out, or hire out different skill sets. Those are skill sets that they have historically relied upon getting from the incumbent vendors, but in this new model they instead identify the open source components they want.
"And given the cost savings and the margin savings, there are dollars available to fund such activities. So even if they are putting more headcount on projects or contracting with system integration houses at the same time, they're still yielding tremendous capex and opex savings along the way."
Instead of replacing all of their EPCs or mobile cores, Sloane said that operators could use OMEC for overlay solutions. Sprint is using OMEC for IoT applications.
"They (service providers) are inserting specialized mobile cores for specific customer sets or for specific applications, and these different cores can be optimized for these different use cases," Sloane said. "Given that it's open source it can be customized or it can be weaned down. Features can be minimized, the footprint can be minimized, to meet the needs of each of these specific use cases. So we expect to see much more of that. That's really the sweet spot for OMEC in the early years.
"In many ways a much more practical and cost efficient, simpler way of slicing is to actually create multiple cores for different slices. So it is another way of creating a slice and these operators are effectively creating specialized slices for different use cases."
The COMAC initiative was designed to unify the various access and core technologies over both mobile and broadband networks. There are four elements to COMAC. In addition to OMEC for mobile core, there's work being done by ONF in the broadband core, broadband access and mobile access areas.