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The Critical Lowdown Podcast Episode 4

5G Crosshaul - Meeting Network Demands with Open Networking
Nanda Ravindran - Edgecore Networks

5G is the new global wireless standard enabling a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. As of February 2022, 209 commercial networks launched 5G coverage, with as many as 429 operators in 137 countries investing in 5G, including trials, acquisition of licences, planning, network deployments and launches.

While most of the industry focuses on 5G new radio, or 5G NR, the transport network has a critical role to play in 5G by providing the fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul infrastructure – collectively known as “crosshaul (or x-haul)”.

5G crosshaul is radically different from the common 4G mobile backhaul. New requirements include lower latency, higher data rates, hard isolation of network slices, and dynamic connectivity for on-demand services encompassing multiple physical and virtual components at the RAN. The present infrastructure is not fit for purpose and Edgecore Networks is leading the way in this network transformation.

Our Senior Systems Engineer, Barry McGinley, sat down with Edgecore Network's VP of Product Management, Nanda Ravindran, to discuss why service providers should consider 5G backhaul/x-haul network deployments, and what role is there for open networking.


They discuss:

  • What is 5G Mobile Crosshaul Network?
  • Why should Service Providers consider Edgecore for 5G crosshaul network deployments?
  • Difference between Open Networking and Disaggregation solutions.
  • What new 5G mobile platforms can we expect from Edgecore in 2022?

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Transcript of Episode 4: 5G Crosshaul - Meeting Network Demands with Open Networking 

Barry McGinley: Good morning, everybody. I'm joined this morning by Nanda Ravindran, from Edgecore Networks. Good Morning Nanda.

Nanda Ravindran: Hello, Barry. Good morning. Thanks for having me, looking forward to an exciting conversation with you and EPS.

Barry McGinley: We’ll jump straight in. EPS have been global partners with Edgecore for the last decade or so, can tell us a little about Edgecore Networks, and about yourself?

Nanda Ravindran: Edgecore is a leader in open and disaggregated networking, providing a full portfolio of switching and routing solutions for the networking market.

We participate in the data center market, the service provider market, and the enterprise switching market, and we have sold over 80,000 switches in 2020. We have delivered these switches to several large Tier-1s.

We are an independent company. Edgecore is a fully owned subsidiary of the Accton Group since 2004. We have worldwide sales and support presence. We're headquartered in Hsinchu, Taiwan Edgecore and a US headquarters in Irvine, California.

Barry McGinley: Great. So Edgecore are a subsidiary of the Accton group. So I'll let you expand on that a little bit and explain a little about what you do.

Nanda Ravindran: Edgecore is one of the leading solutions providers in the Open Networking space. We participate in several Open Networking forums such as the OCP, ONF, and TIP, and we have a lot of collaboration with several NOS vendors and channel partners like you.

I think the key aspect of Edgecore’s solutions is the ability to engage in different flexible business models. As an Open Networking solutions provider, we have to work with several different kinds of customers and meet their expectations.

Customers are used to working in a certain business model, based on how their experience has been with legacy OEMs and large vendors. But we understand with Open Networking that we have to work with a system integrator or a NOS partner, or a distributor like EPS. EPS is a key enabler of open networking.

Talking about myself, I'm the VP of Product Management at Edgecore. I've been at Edgecore for less than a year now, but I've previously worked with Edgecore for a few years as a software partner and a customer, and I’m pretty familiar with Edgecore’s product solutions and the Open Networking Industry. By training, I'm a software engineer who’s worked on several switches and routers, developing the control plane and the data plane software for the switches. I've done this being part of large OEM provider in the US. For the last few years I've been focusing on Open Networking and Open Networking solutions. So yeah, pretty excited to be part of this conversation and talking to you.

Barry McGinley: Thanks for that. In my first week at EPS I got to visit Edgecore in Taiwan, it was a nice first week experience, and we were well looked after by Edgecore!

You mentioned three groups there. For any listeners that don't know who they are, I’ll give you a quick overview.

TIP. This is the Telecom Infra Project, who were founded in 2016 and they are specifically for telecoms and carrier products which we'll cover some of them shortly.

There's the OCP, which is the Open Compute Project, which has been around since about 2011. It was started by Facebook.

And then we have the ONF, Open Networking Foundation, who also started around 2011. They started looking after and pushing the benefits of dis-aggregation, which we'll talk about later, but since 2016, they have focused on the telecoms market. And I know that's a big focus for Edgecore at the minute.

Moving on, I'm just back from Mobile World Congress, and one of the big, the big talking points over there was OpenRAN, but the next big ones that I saw were kind of backhaul, midhaul, fronthaul, crosshaul, and there was stuff on slicing as well, but crosshaul is a big importance to Edgecore.

Can you explain what 5G mobile backhaul is? What's Edgecore is offering in this area?

Nanda Ravindran: Before we talk about 5G backhaul or crosshaul network, let us talk about what mobile backhaul means. Mobile backhaul is a transport network. It transports data traffic from the baseband units in a cell site, to the mobile coordinate networks and eventually to the data centers.

5G places a unique set of requirements on the mobile backhaul/fronthaul network, and there are three key specifications or requirements.

The first one is called enhanced mobile broadband. It specifies the peak data rates that of 5G network should support, which is 20Gb/s, which is an order of magnitude greater compared to the previous generation.

The second key requirement is called machine type communications, and 5G should be able to support this. What this means is that the 5G network should be able to support one million or more users, devices, or connections within one square kilometer.

And the third requirement is the ultra-reliability and the low latency requirement. This specifies that the end-to-end latency for packets moving across the 5G network should be less than millisecond.

So in order to support these very different type of requirements, the 5G transport, the fronthaul/backhaul architecture had to go through a transformation. And the transformation here is that the traditional BBU at a cell site has been split into a central unit, and a distributed unit.

There are several reasons why this is done, and the network has evolved into a backhaul, midhaul and a fronthaul network. This is what we refer to as the 5G crosshaul.

Edgecore has come up with a couple of platforms specifically to address the 5G use cases. These platforms are based on the latest generation of chipsets and they can support the ultra-low latency requirements which support the network slicing feature and the higher bandwidth requirements of 5G.

Barry McGinley: Thanks Nanda. We are working on some projects with Cell Site Routers. We're doing a lot in Africa, Europe, but primarily in Africa. There are multiple options out there. Why should service providers look at Edgecore for their 5G backhaul?

Nanda Ravindran: Edgecore has a wide portfolio of disaggregated Cell Site Gateways or cell site routing solutions. Customers have a choice to pick Cell Site Routers based on capacity, based on features, and based on cost.

In terms of capacity, we have Cell Site Gateways starting from 64G capacity to 800G capacity. In terms of features, customers have a choice to pick platforms that can support fronthaul, network slicing, and various other features.

The key difference with Edgecore is that our designs are proven. Edgecore cell site routers are deployed in the largest Tier-1s in the world, and there have been several thousand units deployed. We provide the highest quality that is expected by carrier or service providers and we have a vibrant set of NOS software options available and on our platforms.

So I think the key difference with Edgecore is the choice. You have a choice of hardware platforms to choose from, and a set of NOS software options to choose from. So I would suggest that any service provider considering Open Networking solutions for their 5G networks should look at Edgecore as their first choice.

Barry McGinley: I was going to mention the NOS (Network Operating System) point if you didn't mention yourself, there's been SKUs from Edgecore over the years that I've noticed have sat there, maybe not much choice on the software side, but for the Cell Site Routers, the AS5916-XKS for example, the aggregation router, there is lots of NOS options. It showed me that everybody is seeing the value of these products very quickly.

I know there is 6 or 7 different vendors and all of them do slightly different things, and if you are looking for something a little bit different, it will be catered for within one of those NOS vendors.

You mentioned open and disaggregated solutions quite a lot. For anybody who doesn't know, can you explain what open and disaggregated is? There are so many names now, open networking, disaggregation, etc. The telecoms/carrier markets seem to have chosen disaggregation.

Nanda Ravindran: Open Networking and disaggregation are words that are used interchangeably. Before we understand Open Networking or dis-aggregation, let's understand how networks work or were traditionally deployed.

Service providers or customers would deploy networking appliances from a large OEM or a vendor. The appliance would have included the hardware and software together, and the networks were built based on these integrated devices. Incase the service providers needed any new features on this product, they had no way of developing the software themselves, nor getting it from other vendors. They had to go back to the original vendor and request the feature they needed. This is what we call the locked-in model.

The service provider had to wait for the feature to be available, and once the feature was available, they also had to pay a lot of money to deploy that feature in the form of software licenses. Then the large cloud providers started deploying networks in a different way. They used open hardware, and this open hardware was built on off-the-shelf, networking silicon, and these hardware boxes were called white boxes.

The software became known as “Network Operating Systems” and it was based on Linux, and the large cloud providers would successfully deploy very large networks based on this open white box hardware and the Open Networking software.

This model then started growing as OCP, ONF, and TIP started encouraging it through specifications in terms of what Open Networking hardware and software devices must be. They arranged for several collaboration events and interrupt testing events, which has enabled the Open Networking or disaggregated networking technologies to mature.

Initially the Open Networking models were pretty challenging for the Service Provider to understand, they were used to a single vendor responsible for everything about the product, whether it was hardware or software. And now when they had to look at disaggregated networking or open networking, they did not realize who was responsible for what piece? Of course, the Open Networking hardware vendor was responsible for the hardware and software, but you know, how everything would work when the hardware and software were put together was a challenging aspect for them.

But we have come a long way since then, the technology has matured, the business models have matured, there are a lot of models in which Open Networking are deployed today. You could have a service provider integrating both the hardware and software for a customer, or the NOS vendor taking the initiative to be the point of contact with the software vendor, or in some cases, even the Open Networking hardware vendor, providing the point of contact for the customer and providing the kind of SLAs that the service providers are used to.

I think in the last year and a half something significant has happened that has pushed Open Networking front and centre. The chip shortage and the supply chain crunch in the last year and a half has pushed Open Networking as one of the critical solution models that can mitigate the supply chain crunches.

Customers who are deploying Open Networking solutions have the ability to go to different Open Networking hardware solutions provider and use different white boxes and continue to grow their network, even in spite of the severe supply chain crisis we have seen.

I think we have come a long way, open and disaggregated networking is now mainstream. There is a lot of interest, and service providers are starting to deploy this in various parts of their network, and just like what happened in the server space where rack servers with open Linux platforms became the go-to model, we expect the networking industry also to move in that direction and be completely disaggregated or open in a few years.

Barry McGinley: And that’s why I brought up the multiple NOS vendors earlier, unless you're a giant company, you're not going back to Nokia, Ericsson, or Cisco, to ask them to put the feature on for you unless you are a very, very large account for them. So for smaller guys, the NOS vendors generally will have the feature, or else they'll work with you to develop that feature, which is one of the nice points.

On the 5G mobile platforms, has Edgecore got in exciting coming in 2022? Are there any new models coming?

Nanda Ravindran: Yes Barry, Edgecore will be releasing 2 new disaggregated Cell Site Gateways or cell site routing products for 5G networking requirements and possibly one more product later this year to address low-cost geographies.

One of the models that will be coming soon will have the highest capacity and have some of the latest and greatest features such as a hard network slicing, and segment routing V6, and flexible ethernet kind of features.

Glossary of Terms:

  • Crosshaul: The 5G-Crosshaul project aims at developing a 5G integrated backhaul and fronthaul transport network enabling a flexible and software-defined reconfiguration of all networking elements in a multi-tenant and service-oriented unified management environment. [1]
  • Fronthaul: Fiber-based connection of the cloud radio access network (C-RAN) [2]
  • Backhaul: Links between the core network and the subnetworks at the edge of the network. [3]
  • 5GNR: 5G New Radio. Radio Access Technology (RAT) developed by 3GPP for the 5G (fifth generation) mobile network. [4]
  • RAN: Radio Access Network
  • 5G: 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks.
  • BBU: Baseband Unit

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