Telcos embrace containers at KubeCon 2019: Ambitious end-to-end 5G demo with containers impresses

Attendance was up 50% year-over-year for this week's KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 in San Diego. (CNCF/Linux Foundation)

SAN DIEGO—KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 welcomed 12,000 attendees at the San Diego Convention Center, a 50% growth from the same event a year prior in Seattle. With application developers, infrastructure engineers, technology vendors milling through the cavernous exhibit halls, and filling the multitude of rooms, eager to soak up the latest on the hottest of technologies, the buzz was palpable.

Source: CNCF/Linux Foundation

As might be expected, vendors touted faster multi-cloud deployment, smoother workflows, smarter toolchains, improved security, and more as they rolled out new versions of their solutions aimed at the Kubernetes-orchestrated, container-powered cloud-native platforms. Surprisingly, networking had a significant presence in the second-day keynotes. They included discussions around a dual v4/v6 stack—which still surprises me to this day that not everything is full dual-stack enabled from day one— network service meshes, and perhaps one of the most extensive keynote demonstrations at KubeCon.

Involving a cast of thousands -- well, in reality, a volunteer crew of over 100 technology experts -- a group of collaborating companies came together to demonstrate a "live" 5G call from San Diego to France. Heather Kirksey, vice president of community and ecosystem development at the Linux Foundation, was joined on stage by Azhar Sayeed, chief architect for service providers at Red Hat, and Fu Qiao, project manager at China Mobile. Also, over 100 volunteers from 15 organizations including A10 Networks, Alibaba, Altran, China Mobile, Commscope, Eurecom, Intel, Kaloom, Linux Foundation, Lenovo, Loodse, NetScout, OpenAirInterface, Red Hat, and Turnium, came together behind the scenes to put together the live demonstration. A culmination of the efforts behind the VCO (virtual central office) project, this VCO Demo 3.0 was an extensive effort, as evidenced by the collaborative work leading up to it.

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The demonstration team powered the 5G network with a 5G core running in a containerized environment. Utilizing 5G NR radios, with commercial handsets in a custom-built faraday cage (the spectrum was a licensed band owned by a real mobile network operator), this prototype network connected a live call over points-of-presence in San Diego, Montreal and Sophia Antipolis.

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With the number of parties participating, and the complexity of components and locations involved, there were plenty of opportunities for something to go wrong, but the team executed successfully! The demonstration shows that it is possible to deploy a full end-to-end SA (standalone) 5G network that uses cloud-native architectures.

There’s a lot more effort required and a necessary maturation of the technology for scaled production deployments. Many MNOs (beyond the leading ones already investing in the technology) still need to get up to speed with containers and figure out how to manage and deploy 5G core at scale. Nevertheless, this VCO 3.0 demonstration helped establish the shape of things to come as MNOs and telcos attempt to shift into a cloud-native world.

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