Your chance to shape vital standards for small cell virtualization

However forward-looking Small Cell Forum’s work may be, it always remains grounded in real world operator requirements. That is why, as the Forum’s ambitious new work program gets under way, we are reaching out to experts in critical areas of focus for 2016 – virtualisation, multi-operator networks and enterprise. If you have trials or deployments in any of these areas, you could play a significant role in influencing future standards and accelerating the development of key technologies.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the new work agenda, which was laid out in September, is to marry two of the most important developments in mobile networks – densification and virtualisation. The latter is so new to the RAN that it is challenging to keep the program firmly anchored to real commercial requirements. But in fact, such is the urgency to bring these technologies to market, that a real body of expertise is already building up around the industry.

The centrepiece of the Forum’s work is the nFAPI interoperable interface between physical and virtual elements of the cell. We want to surround that with the tools and methodologies which will be needed to manage, orchestrate and automate the virtualized network from end to end. These will be critical to allow large numbers of cells to be launched and coordinated effectively – these architectures are going well beyond the capabilities of manual tools, but current systems were developed for an era when connections were made singly and remained in place for a long time.

New methods are needed, but these do not need to be specific to small cells. Most are applicable to a wide range of use cases, and the agile and automated management of virtual network functions, throughout their lifecycle, is a fundamental goal of virtualisation in every type of network.

In particular, we are keen to involve experts in the emerging standards for management and orchestration (MANO), to complement the Forum’s existing cooperation with ETSI and its NFV MANO initiative. Some of the important programs include the TMForum’s ZOOM (Zero-touch Orchestration Operations and Management), and OASIS’s TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specific for Cloud Applications); as well as open source initiatives like OpenFlow.

If you are working with these technologies, or contributing to the specifications, this is your chance to ensure that Small Cell Forum’s work taps into the latest developments. That will help address one of the key challenges of virtualisation – achieving common platforms across all use cases and topologies, by joining the dots between the different initiatives.

You will also get the opportunity to shape the specific scenario of virtualized small cells – which will have a particularly radical impact on the operator business model. Virtualisation will be one of the most important enablers of mass-scale deployment of small cells, reducing cost and increasing flexibility, but more importantly, supporting highly agile service models. The ability to create and target virtual network functions wherever they are required will allow operators to deploy resource where it is needed and launch large numbers of services in response to changing demand.

One of the most important use cases to be enabled by these changes is expected to be neutral host services. Some operators are already exploring the potential of allocating virtual ‘slices’ of the network to large numbers of enterprise customers or service providers. This is just one of the ways in which a virtualized HetNet will be able to revolutionise the mobile operator’s cost base and business model, the Forum believes.

This is not bluesky thinking. Those business challenges are already real, so the technology needs to come to market as quickly as possible. Core interfaces like nFAPI will be fundamental, but to underpin practical, commercially successful roll-outs, they need to be surrounded by the tools and expertise which will support huge scale, high automation and maximum agility, while remaining fully interoperable.

If you can help ensure that the HetNets of the future fulfil all these goals, please sign up to be part of one of the critical virtualisation efforts of 2016. Contact sue@smallcellforum.org