Ericsson soups up its 5G software

Kit vendor Ericsson has released some new software designed to help operators with their move so standalone 5G NR when they eventually get around to it.

The early 5G we’re getting now still relies on a 4G core and hence is known as ‘non-standalone (NSA)’. It’s largely a way for the industry to start banging on about 5G a year or two earlier than it would otherwise have been able to. Proper 5G, known as ‘standalone (SA)’, will come with release 16 of the 5G standard, which won’t even be finalised until March next year.

Ericsson’s latest announcement is designed to equip its customers to jump on the SA bandwagon and also to augment its narrative about Existing Ericsson gear being software upgradable to 5G. The latest software not only supports what is expected to be SA architecture but also enables inter-band carrier aggregation, which will be handy for combining the coverage characteristics of low-frequency spectrum with the capacity potential of high-frequency beams.

“We continue to focus our efforts on helping our customers succeed with 5G,” said Ericsson Networks boss Fredrik Jejdling. “These new solutions will allow them to follow the 5G evolution path that fits their ambitions in the simplest and most efficient way.”

Not Fred’s most comprehensive canned quote, but it seems to cover the essence of the announcement. Ericsson also launched a couple of new radios to support mid-band 5G and refreshed its NFV infrastructure offering in ways the video below attempts to illustrate. Lastly it got some analysts to say how great all this is, which is nice.

 

No surprises as Ericsson goes all-in on 5G for MWC 2019

Ericsson had its traditional pre-MWC media and analyst fest yesterday, at which it focused on improvements being made to its 5G Platform.

Given that this is the year we finally start to see 5G in the wild, and that Ericsson’s business is largely devoted to mobile networks, the utter inevitability of this set of announcements can be forgiven. As can the relative lack of eye-catching launches at a time when every part of the 5G ecosystem is focused more on making sure its stuff works properly, rather than flashy new initiatives.

So Ericsson’s message was that it’s all over this 5G thing and that whatever your 5G needs might be, it’s got them covered. “Ericsson has the portfolio in place for service providers to switch on 5G today and we are currently rolling out commercial 5G networks in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Ericsson’s networks head. “We’re continuously developing our portfolio to make life easier for our customers, enabling them to manage increased data traffic growth, simplify operations, and secure 5G revenues.”

We’d expect no less of you Fred, so let’s have a look at some of the fruits of this continual development. Right now Ericsson is all about making the evolution to 5G is smooth as possible for its customers. A key component of that is the Dual-mode 5G Cloud Core, which supports all legacy mobile technology generations as well as SA and NSA 5G and promises to dynamically switch between them depending on what’s available. Here’s how it works, simple eh?

Ericsson 5G Cloud Core

Of course it wouldn’t be an Ericsson launch without a bunch of shiny new radios, nine of them to be precise, including new dual band, triple band, and Massive MIMO ones. On top of that there’s a new microwave backhaul product and an upgrade to all the clever virtualization and orchestration software you need to make all this 5G magic happen, and that’s about it.

“As we evolve our network to 5G, we need to simplify operations, reduce time to market for new functionalities, and open up our network for innovation,” Ericsson got Patrick Weibel, Head of 5G at Swisscom, to say. “Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Cloud Core allows for the flexible evolution of our 4G Core network to a combined 4G and 5G network while maintaining cost efficiency. Adding to this, the evolved Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration solution bring us the automation of network slices required to reduce our provisioning time of services from weeks to hours.”

If Ericsson’s and Nokia’s pre-MWC events are anything to go by, this is going to be a tricky show for us hacks. The arrival of 5G means we’ve entered the boring, pragmatic, implementation phase and the announcements reflect that. While we can hardly hold that against the industry, especially having mocked its hyperbolic tendencies of previous years, it does make finding the ‘story’ a bit more challenging. Bring on 6G, that’s what we say.

Vodafone puts the brakes on core Huawei spend

There aren’t many things that could rival Huawei’s headaches derived from government bans, but a snub from another one of the worlds’ largest telco groups might be up there.

With 275 million customers around the world, plus another 250-odd million through joint-ventures, this is one of the biggest telcos in the world. With networks spreading across Europe, Africa and Asia, the buying power and influence of Vodafone is considerable. This could a massive blow to the prospects of Huawei, both financially and in terms of credibility.

Speaking on the earnings call last week, CEO Nick Read stated the following:

“Specifically on Huawei, what I was really trying to make clear is, I think we need to move to more a fact-based conversation, I think at the moment is a simplistic political level and there is a big distinction between radio and core. We are predominately using Huawei in radio. We are continuing to use them in radio for 5G. However, in the core, we have put them on pause. They are not significant in the scale of our operations in the core and therefore it’s not a big financial implication.”

This is where Huawei finds itself in a difficult position. In numerous markets it is still fully free to compete for on-going 4G and up-coming 5G contracts, though these telcos will question the risk. Does the benefit of working with Huawei outweigh the risk? Why spend money on kit when you might have to strip it out in the near future?

As it stands, Vodafone does not have a huge level of exposure in terms of Huawei in the core, this is the case for most European telcos, though should the ban extend to radio or transmission this might become a significant issue. A full-scale ban is certainly not out of the question, very little is when you consider how aggressive and antagonistic the current political climate is, and this could send ripples throughout the ecosystem.

Vodafone confirmed to us Huawei equipment is in the core in some minor markets and Spain, and this is where the pause is relevant. Huawei will continue to supply Vodafone with equipment in other areas. In this sense, the fallout should be contained. Just to put things in perspective, Vodafone’s position is similar to that many telcos around Europe are taking.

However, as Read notes, should a ban extend to other areas of the network it could proves to be a sticky situation for everyone involved.

“Clearly, if there was a complete ban at the radio level then it would be a huge issue for us, but it would be a huge issue for the whole European telco sector,” said Read. “And what, Huawei have probably, what 35% market share through the whole of Europe, so I think that is a totally different consideration, but we now need to make a lot more fact-based conversation.”

The point which Read is making is a logical and incredibly important one. Too many people are getting swept up in the political rhetoric and not looking at the facts which are on the table. The negativity surrounding Huawei is starting to snowball, but little (if any) hard evidence has been put on the table. People are forgetting about the facts, instead contributing to the momentum.

What businesses like Vodafone need is certainty. The political see-sawing with Huawei is not providing much confidence for the telco to appropriately invest in networks. If this has a negative impact on the performance of the networks in the future, the politicians will be the first to point the finger of accusation at the infrastructure owners. The perfect storm of disaster and disorganisation is started to develop.

Ericsson upgrades Radio System, partners with Juniper on backhaul and buys CENX

Ahead of MWC Americas Ericsson has embarked on a frenzy of announcements around its core product offering.

The headline news is a significant upgrade to the Ericsson Radio System, its signature RAN product suite that has been a major part of its apparent recovery. Specifically Ericsson is launching something called the RAN Compute portfolio, which consists of a couple of baseband processors and a couple of radio processing units designed to be positioned wherever in the network you want your processing to be done. In other words this is a mobile edge computing play.

The other big thing in new, improved ERS is some new software called Ericsson Spectrum Sharing. This is designed to help with dynamic support of both 4G and 5G on the same spectrum, so long as you’re using ERS shipped since 2015, and can be installed remotely. While some of 5G will take place on higher frequencies, the stuff currently being used by 4G has the best propagation characteristics and will therefore remain valuable. This is the kind of 5G software upgrade Ericsson has been promoting as a key feature of ERS from the start.

“The hardware and software that we are launching today continues to address the flexibility needed for the next-generation networks,” said Ericsson EVP of Networks Fredrik Jejdling. “They offer our customers an expanded and adaptable 5G platform, making it easier for them to deploy 5G.”

We had a chat with Nishant Batra, Head of Product Area Networks at Ericsson, ahead of the announcement and he stressed this is all about ramping ERS’s 5G capability. Initially the propaganda was all about it being 5G upgradable, then about being ready for the 5G launch. Now the narrative revolves around this kit being positioned for the mass deployment of 5G.

Ericsson wants the world to see a picture of growing positive momentum and trying to be the perceived leader in 5G kit is a key part of that. “The momentum has never been better and we want to keep accelerating,” said Batra.

All this RAN shininess isn’t much good without some top-notch backhaul, however, and nobody is claiming that as an Ericsson strength. 5G is set to massively increase the volume of data passing across networks so, which being sure to big-up its own Router 6000 backhaul product and microwave tech, Ericsson has announced the extension of its partnership with Juniper to augment its transport efforts, as well as a new partnership with ECI on the optical side. So much for the big Ericsson Cisco partnership eh?

“Our radio expertise and knowledge in network architecture, end-user applications and standardization work put us in an excellent position to understand the requirements 5G places on transport,” said Jejdling. “By combining our leading transport portfolio with best-in-class partners, we will boost our transport offering and create the critical building blocks of next-generation transport networks that benefit our customers.”

“Commercial 5G is expected to represent close to a quarter of all global network traffic in the next five years,” said Manoj Leelanivas, Chief Product Officer at Juniper Networks. “With both companies bringing together industry-leading network technology, Juniper and Ericsson will be able to more effectively capitalize on the immense global market opportunity in front of us and help our customers simplify their journey to fully operational 5G networks.”

In other Ericsson news it has indulged in a rare bit of M&A via the acquisition of US service assurance vendor CENX. This move is designed to augment Ericsson’s OSS and managed services offerings and CENX is all about cloud-native automation, so its technology and 185 staff should be especially helpful in the area of virtualization. They haven’t said what it cost.

“Dynamic orchestration is crucial in 5G-ready virtualized networks,” said Mats Karlsson, Head of Solution Area OSS at Ericsson. “By bringing CENX into Ericsson, we can continue to build upon the strong competitive advantage we have started as partners. I look forward to meeting and welcoming our new colleagues into Ericsson.”

“Ericsson has been a great partner and for us to take the step to fully join Ericsson gives us the best possible worldwide platform to realize CENX’s ultimate goal – autonomous networking for all,” said Ed Kennedy CEO of CENX. “Our closed-loop service assurance automation capability complements Ericsson’s existing portfolio very well.”

Lastly Ericsson has announced a new partnership with US operator Sprint to build a new virtualized core and operating system dedicated just to IoT. Network slicing will be a major feature of the 5G era and IoT has network requirements quite distinct from other usage models, so it makes sense to not just apportion a piece of the network to it, but customise all the other tech too.

“We are combining our IoT strategy with Ericsson’s expertise to build a platform primed for the most demanding applications like artificial intelligence, edge computing, robotics, autonomous vehicles and more with ultra-low-latency, the highest availability and an unmatched level of security at the chip level,” said Ivo Rook, SVP of IoT for Sprint. “This is a network built for software and it’s ready for 5G. Our IoT platform is for those companies, large and small, that are creating the immediate economy.”

“Sprint will be one of the first to market with a distributed core network and operating system built especially for IoT and powered by Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform,” said Asa Tamsons, Head of Business Area Technology & Emerging Business at Ericsson. “Our goal is to make it easy for Sprint and their customers to access and use connected intelligence, enabling instant and actionable insights for a better customer experience and maximum value.”

That Ericsson is making so many announcements ahead of MWC Americas would appear to be a major endorsement of the event and of the GSMA’s regional expansion of the MWC brand. The timing might also have been influenced by the staging of Huawei’s Operations Transformation Forum event and even IFA, and it’s clear there is room in the telecoms calendar for big Autumn trade fests.