Vodafone takes uCPE on a trial run with Arm, NXP Semiconductors and Telco Systems

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Arm, NXP, Vodafone and Telco Systems push uCPE forward with proof-of-concept trial. (Pixabay)

Vodafone Group recently teed up a proof-of-concept trial of universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) by working with Arm, Telco Systems and NXP Semiconductors.

According to Telco Systems CEO Ariel Efrati, Vodafone Business is planning on taking the uCPE solution into production at some point. Universal CPE is a Swiss army knife for service providers and their enterprise customers. For service providers, uCPE includes the compute, storage and switching that is needed for virtual network functions (VNFs) or cloud-native functions (CNFs) such as virtual firewalls, SD-WAN, virtual WAN, virtual application delivery controllers and optimization appliances.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) on uCPE enables users to realize the benefits of the cloud by replacing closed appliances with their choice of software that can be hosted anywhere in the network on their choice of open hardware.

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Aside of lowering costs by using off the shelf x86 devices, white box uCPE deployments also split virtual network functions (VNFs) apart from the hardware devices.

While uCPE deployments have started to pick up steam, they were initially slow out of the starter blocks due to the integration issues of the various elements and the lack of maturity for the hardware, according to Telco System's Gabriel Kerner, vice president for products and business development.

Efrati said Telco Systems started working with Arm last year to build a hybrid uCPE platform to compete against Intel. Several applications were launched and tested on a hybrid virtualization and container platform using Telco Systems' NFVTime. Those solutions were tested on multiple Arm Neoverse-based processors that were designed by NXP. Telco Systems' NFVTime, which also works with Intel, provided the operating system software for Vodafone Group's proof-of-concept trial.

The uCPE solution was tested by Vodafone Group in its U.K. labs for both small/medium businesses and enterprise use-cases. The proof-of-concept trial marked the first time the vendors had shown a fully orchestrated mix of container and virtual machine-based network functions running on the same platform.

The Vodafone team deployed and managed VNF and CNF applications running on a four-core Arm Cortex-A72 processor with a typical power consumption of 35W. Following this success, with an eight-core Arm processor Vodafone achieved 15 Gbps throughput of internet mix traffic (IMIX) traffic by offloading Open vSwitch (OVS) to hardware acceleration blocks. The trials demonstrated the platform's ability to handle different traffic requirements with a lower carbon footprint and cost than Intel, according to Efrati

BT, Orange Business Services, Colt, Masergy, AT&T and Verizon, among others, have deployed uCPE solutions. Some of those service providers have already embarked on the second version of their uCPE platforms.

"I can give you a heads up that you will see more uCPE announcements coming soon, and some of them are from us," Efrati said. "We are not announcing it yet, but you will hear from us over the next few weeks.

"I believe the market is changing as well as the fact that with cloud or edge compute, uCPE is becoming much more needed, especially when you look at 5G and other implementations. Vodafone was really quite excited."

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While there's a host of hardware and software vendors in the uCPE arena, including Adva, Versa Networks, Dell EMC, Ekinops, and Lanner Electronics, Efrati said that Telco Systems was the only vendor to do both VNFs and CNFs on the same platform.

With the coronavirus pandemic, Efrati said service providers like Vodafone Business are looking for solutions that can be installed remotely without a human touch.

"For that, you really demand a very flexible operating system that enables you to operate things remotely and to implement and to instantiate VMs and container-based applications," he said.  "I think that this is something that we see more and more now. There's an urgency coming from operators like Vodafone for a flexible system."