ETSI sets out to develop non-IP networking standards for 5G services

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has set up a new Industry Specification Group to address issues of age-old networking protocols faced by new services, in particular 5G.

The Industry Specification Group for Non-IP Networking (ISG NIN) had its kick-off-meeting at the end of March, but the announcement from the standardisation body only emerged this week. The new group will supersede an existing ETSI group for Next Generation Protocols (ISG NGP), created in 2015 to look at networking technology needs in the upcoming 5G era.

The industry has recognised for some time problems between new services and current networking technology. including ‘the complex and inefficient use of spectrum resulting from adding mobility, security, quality-of-service, and other features to a protocol that was never designed for them. The subsequent fixes and workarounds designed to overcome these problems themselves incur increased cost, latency, and greater power-consumption’.

ETSI set up the ISG NGP in 2015, still in the 4G era, to address these issues, with the work now being carried forward by the new ISG NIN. The group’s stated mission is ‘to develop standards that define technologies to make more efficient use of capacity, have security by design, and provide lower latency for live media’, all of which are key 5G promises.

“I’m really happy to have been entrusted with the Chairmanship of this group,” said John Grant of BSI, who was elected as ISG NIN’s Chair. “Finding new protocols for internet more suitable to the 5G era was essential. Big data and mission-critical systems such as industrial control, intelligent vehicles and remote medicine cannot be addressed the best way with current TCP/IP-based networking.”

Referred to in a group known as TCP/IP, the internet protocol suite, including the packet data identification standards (Internet Protocol, or IP) and the transmission standards (Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP), was developed inside the US defence department in the 1970s for transmitting text-based data between fixed computers.

When internet started to be widely adopted for civil use, there were discussions of building new networking technologies to handle the increased internet usage. In the end however, engineers decided to overlay new technologies on top the existing TCP/IP infrastructure.

“A lot of design and development happened to kind of rescue [it],” said Bilel Jamoussi, head of the ITU’s study groups responsible for ratifying technical standards during an FT interview. “We are now, I think, at another turning point, of saying, is that enough, or do we need something new?”

Built on the similar premise that the current TCP/IP infrastructure is no longer able to support demands from new technologies and new services, the Chinese proposal, titled ‘New IP’, was presented behind closed doors over a year ago at the ITU’s Geneva head office by delegates from Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT). It was only reported to the outside world when the FT got hold of the files.

Though scant in details, the fundamental scheme of the Chinese proposal is to replace the current open, flat, global, almost ‘wide wild web’ with a top-down approach to Internet management which ISPs, operators, and ultimately sovereign states, would have the overall control. The story was covered in detail by Light Reading, our sister publication.

Whether the announcement of ETSI’s new ISG NIN, two weeks after the meeting took place, is a response to the media coverage of the China plan, is anybody’s guess. The focus of the new group is different from the grandstand of the Chinese proposal: it is specific (targeted at supporting 5G services), phased (starting with private networks before being applied to public networks, starting from core networks before extending to the access), and addressing the underlying technology instead of looking at the control of the internet, or the lack of it.

To look at the situation from a positive perspective, at least both the Chinese party and ETSI, and ITU-T for that matter, agree that the TCP/IP infrastructure is getting obsolete.

“The IP stack and OSI layer model have undeniably enabled global connectivity – but since they originated in the 1970s, their design reflects the demands and capabilities of that era,” said Kevin Smith of Vodafone, who had been the chair of ISG NGP and was elected Vice Chair of ISG NIN. “Reassessing the fundamental design principles of network protocols offers the opportunity to deliver performance, security and efficiency gains for 2020 access networks and use cases, and may be achieved with simplification rather than expensive add-ons. The work of ETSI ISG NIN, in co-operation with industry organizations, can provide operators with a cutting-edge protocol suite to add to their service portfolio.”

LG joins the virtue-signalling crowd with AI standardisation plug

LG is the latest technology company to humbly join the ranks of technology disciples preaching standardisation and, of course, its idea is better than everyone else’s.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is in full-swing in Las Vegas, and in the midst of a swathe of technology announcements, LG found some spare time to lecture the room on the importance of a standardised approach to artificial intelligence. That is, of course, before being joined on stage by a partner to talk about how it has developed its own framework, adding to the growing wave of fragmentation.

The technology industry is one which elects to stretch the definition of certain words and phrases to such a degree many will wonder whether the dictionaries are thought of as ancient artefacts to be revered but never given attention. In the ‘C’ section, LG President and CTO I.P. Park might find the word ‘contradiction’, and it might offer some insight to read the definition.

Looking around the world, the European Commission has put together a group to create an ethics framework to guide the development of AI, Facebook has backed a German initiative called the ‘Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence’, the UK Government has formed its own AI Council, the US has launched the ‘American AI Initiative’, Google created ‘DeepMind Ethics & Society’ and there are countless others.

Each of these parties are aiming to develop a standardised approach for the development of AI, weighing up the commercial ambitions of industry alongside privacy issues, the risk of bias and the preservation of fairness in a currently lop-sided digital economy. Each party is attempting to ‘own’ the space, dictate the conditions of the playing field for the benefit of its own interests.

This is where self-righteous executives preaching the benefits of standardisation have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The more frameworks which are in place simply heightens the risk of fragmentation. In this case, LG is pursuing its own agenda, implementing a framework to achieve its own aims under the guise of enhancing co-operation and standardisation.

These statements reflect badly on LG, but everyone in the industry is doing exactly the same. The European Commission, the White House, Downing Street, Google, Facebook or whoever. These standardisation frameworks are all slightly different because they serve the aims of the puppet masters.

From LG’s perspective, AI is the future. This is a company where the heritage is in consumer electronics but is positioning itself to capitalise on the growing interest in ‘intelligence’ and embedded connectivity in everything and anything. LG’s robot vacuum cleaner will not only recognise patterns, but also collect data to learn from previous mistakes, such as getting stuck in gaps and corners.

This of course is not a new idea. Embedded ‘intelligence’ and the ability for products to learn and adapt, has been discussed at length for years. LG is perhaps behind the trend, though as the industry is yet to achieve mass market adoption, there is still time for it to catch up. However, whenever someone talks about standardisation, be wary.

There is a reason this party is not joining an existing group, it probably does not serve its own ambitions the most effectively. Instead, we are probably likely to see the creation of more groups, alliances, councils, think-tanks and boards. Standardisation is the aim, but fragmentation is looking much more likely.

ETSI publishes new spec and reports on 5G tech

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI, has released new specifications on packet formatting and forwarding, as well as two reports on transport and network slicing respectively.

The new specification, called Flexilink, focusing on packet formats and forwarding mechanisms to allow core and access networks to support the new services proposed for 5G. The objective of the new specification is to achieve efficient deterministic packet forwarding in user plane for next generation protocols (NGP). In the conventional IP networks, built on the Internet Protocols defined in the 1980s, every packet carries all the information needed to route it to its destination. This is undergoing fundamental changes with new technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), where most packets are part of a “flow” such as a TCP session or a video stream. As a result, there is increasingly a separation between the processes of deciding the route packets will follow and of forwarding the packets.

“Current IP protocols for core and access networks need to evolve and offer a much better service to mobile traffic than the current TCP/IP-based technology,” said John Grant, chairman of the ETSI Next Generation Protocol Industry Specification Group (ISG). “Our specifications offer solutions that are compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, providing an upgrade path to the more efficient and responsive system that is needed to support 5G.”

The new specification defines two separate services, a “basic” service suitable for traditional statistically multiplexed packet data, and a “guaranteed” service providing the lowest possible latency for continuous media, such as audio, video, tactile internet, or vehicle position. It is worth noting that Flexilink only specifies user plane packet formats and routing mechanisms. Specifications for the control plane to manage flows have already been defined in an earlier NGP document “Packet Routing Technologies” published in 2017.

The report “Recommendation for New Transport Technologies” analyses the current transport technologies such as TCP and their limitations, whilst also providing high-level guidance on architectural features required in a transport technology to support the new applications proposed for 5G. The report also includes a framework where there is a clear separation between control and data planes. A proof-of-concept implementation was conducted to experiment the recommended technologies, and to demonstrate that each TCP session can obtain bandwidth guaranteed service or minimum latency guaranteed service. The report states:

“With traditional transport technology, for all TCP traffic passes through DIP router, each TCP session can only obtain a fraction of bandwidth. It is related to the total number of TCP sessions and the egress bandwidth (100 M).

“With new transport technology, new TCP session (DIP flows) could obtain its expected bandwidth or the minimum latency. And most [sic.] important thing is that the new service is not impacted by the state that router is congested, and this can prove that new service by new transport technology is guaranteed.”

Importantly, the PoC experiment showed that the current hardware technology is able to support the proposed new transport technology and provide satisfactory scalability and performance.

The report “E2E Network Slicing Reference Framework and Information Model” looks into the design principles behind network slicing. The topic of network slices encompasses the combination of virtualisation, cloud centric, and SDN technologies. But there is gap in normalized resource information flow over a plurality of provider administration planes (or domains). The report aims to “provide a simple manageable and operable network through a common interface while hiding infrastructure complexities. The present document defines how several of those technologies may be used in coordination to offer description and monitoring of services in a network slice.” It describes the high level functions and mechanisms for implementing network slicing, as well as addresses security considerations.