VMware rolls RIC, telco cloud enhancements into MWC LA spotlight

VMware made a series of announcements at Mobile World Congress Los Angeles this week that are designed to augment and solidify its strategies to support telco cloud efforts. These announcements included the launch of a RAN intelligent controller (RIC based on O-RAN Alliance functionality that will help carriers achieve more flexibility in how they build and manage their RANs.

The VMware RIC, which will be available in two different implementation models--centralized and distributed--will be capable of abstracting the underlying RAN infrastructure and enabling programmability of the RAN through xApps and rApps. The VMware Centralized RIC will leverage the non-real-time RIC portion of the O-RAN reference architecture to support rApps applications that have control functions with response timing greater than one second, while the Distributed RIC will employ the near-real-time RIC specs to manage and host xApps requiring response timing of less than one second, many of them in the tens-of-milliseconds range.

While the OpenRAN evolution may still be in its early innings, VMware said it believes wireless operators are ready to move away from more rigid traditional RAN infrastructures to more disaggregated, multi-vendor virtualized RANs, a disruptive force that will allow them to be more disruptive in their own markets.

“The RAN is so complex, the ultimate black box full of wires that telcos have not been able to do much with,” said Stephen Spellicy, vice president of product marketing and business development, Service Provider and Edge, VMware, in an interview with Fierce Telecom. “It’s the party they all want to break up, where vendors have been able to dictate what they can do with their RANs. OpenRAN makes it perform better, lets telcos act on customer needs and make improvements on things like power efficiency.”

VMware also plans to create xApp and rApp RIC software development kits and a RAN application developer program to help application innovators create new RAN solutions. The company already has a growing list of developers it has supported, including Cohere Technologies, which Spellicy said has an xApp that helps operators to double their spectral efficiency; Polte, which enabled location-based intelligence and AirHop, which provides automated configuration optimization and interference management.

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These RIC advancements represent just one aspect of the VMware Telco Cloud Platform, and the company also unveiled other enhancements to that platform at MWC LA, including a Public Cloud offering that makes it easier for service providers to integrate public clouds like Amazon Web Services into their overall 5G architectures. Spellicy said Pubic Cloud brings the virtualization solution, carrier-grade container-as-a-service capabilities and multi-layer

Automation that VMware already can deliver on a consistent basis across core, edge and to the cloud, letting service providers migrate telco and IT workloads to VMware Cloud on AWS, but granting flexibility to move those workloads back to their own telco clouds as needed.

The platform also has an Edge Cloud offering that provides multi-access edge computing services, private mobile networking and content delivery networks at the customer edge, and new automation capabilities to allow for consistent, multi-cloud operations across entire networks.

Spellicy said operators can deploy the VMware Telco Cloud platform in its entirety all at once or in its individual pieces, depending on their needs. “Traditional communications service providers have multiple generations of networks they are managing as they are trying to modernize and evolve to 5G networks,” he said. “Over the last 10 years, they have been moving toward a more virtualized, software-based model. Companies like AT&T have had to manage all that, while a company like Dish is a greenfield and is able to go cloud-native right from the start.”

In addition to the other enhancements, VMware also announced Project Lattice, which will extend Telco Cloud Automation capabilities with 3GPP standard-compliant network slicing management. With this modular add-on capability, service providers will be able to plan, design, and instantiate end-to-end network slices across the RAN, edge, core and transport network domains. 

“This is a toe in the water [of automated network slicing],” Spellicy said. He acknowledged that some network slicing now is being done on a manual, “hard path” basis, but “this project is about working on more automated slicing, and we’re gearing it to the 3GPP standards that are in the works.”