3.5 GHz for Utilities is Not Your Grandpa’s CB Radio

Move over, county mounties and bears in the air – there’s a new Bubba Big Rigger in town, wall-to-wall and treetop-tall. The FCC recently opened a block of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, known as Citizen Broadband Radio Services (CBRS). This newly available block enables efficient use of radio spectrum, while helping to promote innovative SmartX applications and Internet of things (IoT) technology.

In the past, utilities have turned to Wi-Fi networks, bulk network data buys, or even spectrum leasing partnerships for their wireless infrastructure needs. All of these options can be expensive and difficult to scale, especially with the onrushing deluge of IoT devices, all of which require wireless connectivity. Now with CBRS, the FCC has opened up more efficient and secure wireless networking options for utilities.

For many utilities, SmartX is a major driver for owning, managing and controlling their own wireless network infrastructure, enabling them to modernize their existing services while introducing innovation and new revenue opportunities to their businesses. With high-performance wireless connectivity, utilities can benefit from industrial IoT “smart” sensors to increase operational efficiencies from automation and analytics. These efficiencies can take many forms. A few examples are automated data collection over wind farms extending over several miles; fiber replacement/supplement for operation; and easy deployment of remote surveillance cameras, power plants, water, gas and electricity metering and data security.

With CBRS, utilities can now deploy private LTE networks in available shared spectrum instead of hard-to-get or expensive licensed spectrum. CBRS offers more secure connectivity than Wi-Fi, with the high speeds and quality of an LTE wireless network. Whether connectivity is required in a tall office building, a college campus, or a large remote site (as in the mining industry), CBRS solutions allow utility companies to build a local private LTE network for their entire enterprise – regardless of the scale of their operation. The ability to aggregate multiple channels or carriers within the CBRS band will now allow utilities to offer mobility services to their existing customers while modernizing their existing operations.

For data transmissions from fixed wireless access points, CBRS will allow utilities to use SAS-enabled shared spectrum to create a robust, carrier-grade, broadband wireless network. (SAS, Spectrum Access Sharing, allows the FCC to monitor and manage any network interface between CBRS users and the US government who currently own a portion of the CBRS spectrum.) Utilities acting as wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) can build a highly reliable wireless network that offers cost-effective fixed wireless access with low latency and delivers real time communications to all their sensors, cameras and industrial IoT needs. Wireless networking over CBRS spectrum offers a means to tap into the growth opportunities for smart connected systems in various industries. CBRS offers plenty of spectrum to go around and although initial deployment costs can seem high in relation to Wi-Fi, the ongoing costs are lower, to the extent that LTE over CBRS deployments are expected to prove more economical over the long term. Utilities planning their SmartX and IoT implementations should start evaluating CBRS at this early stage of the game, and take advantage of the potential benefits for the new generation of connected utility technologies and big data analytics. The glory days of Citizens’ Band radio may be in our rear view mirror today, but for Citizens’ Broadband radio, it’s a big wide open road out there.

How Utilities are Creating New Revenue with Legacy Assets

Changing market dynamics across the power industry are creating a shift in the way that utilities operate. As more people leave rural America in search of high-tech lifestyles in urban centers, electric cooperatives and public power companies alike are dealing with the realities of customer erosion and an ever-increasing demand from their members to provide broadband. This situation is compounded by flat revenues due to lack of growth, as well as adoption of renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances. As a result, utilities are striving to develop new, more lucrative revenue streams. Furthermore, utilities are facing increasing pressure from customers to offer high-speed Internet, since many incumbent carriers are not expected to update their networks anytime soon.

At Fujitsu, with our long information and communications technology industry heritage, we can easily see a parallel with the rise of the mobile phone roughly 25 years ago. As telecom subscribers began ‘cutting the cord’ in favor of wireless service, and reduced subsidies, established telcos were faced with the challenge of developing a revenue replacement strategy. Fortunately, established players in the telecom industry had existing capital and operational investments — in the form of infrastructure, unused capacity, systems and support and most importantly, people — that they could leverage to offer new broadband services to their existing customer base.

Likewise, utility companies also have significant assets at their disposal that can be monetized for new revenue opportunities. The key is knowing where to look and how to make the most efficient use of existing investments to improve profit margins.

Shifting Focus

Many utilities have existing fiber buildouts that they are upgrading to the latest technologies to take advantage of digital transformation to operate their electrical service. As a result, these utilities are realizing they will soon have surplus network capacity on their hands. For savvy public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives, the best way to monetize their fiber assets is to deploy a below-the-line, or unregulated, service over their own broadband network.

For example, many utilities have invested in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in parts of their service areas, with fiber networks capable of speeds up to 100 Gbps supporting electrical substations. A utility with this infrastructure could offer broadband service to customers in the vicinity of each substation.

Beyond fiber infrastructure, utilities have other assets that can be leveraged to offer fixed broadband services, Wi-Fi or fixed wireless access:

  • Knowledgeable workforce with service delivery expertise
  • Current fleet of vehicles
  • Vertical assets, such as light poles and towers
  • Data centers for electronics and colocation services
  • Back-office administrative and billing support systems.

Now more than ever, utilities have options available for using existing infrastructure to replace lost revenue sources with minimal additional capital investments. This strategy not only improves the bottom line, it also, more importantly, brings 21st century services to rural America at a much lower cost since they have existing assets/foundation to launch a new service. And as more consumers, businesses and cities embrace advanced broadband technologies, like smart applications and the Internet of Things (IoT), the opportunities will only grow stronger, particularly with the addition of data analytics, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Where to Start?

While the promise of profitable broadband services is certainly enticing, some utility companies are reluctant to consider a new business model. How do they choose the right strategy? What can they do to minimize costs and alleviate risks? What assets can they combine and how do they put them together?

To ensure a successful transition to digital transformation, an important first step is choosing the right partner to make the journey with you. Becoming a broadband service provider is more than just building a network. The right partner will offer expertise in how to finance the network build-out, the best approach to implementing deployment, and what sort of services and “smart” applications you can offer to maximize monetization. In many cases, the right partner will even handle rollout and manage the network for you, until you are ready to take over.

As a full-service integration company, Fujitsu works closely with utilities to help them design, deploy and manage broadband networks, bringing all the pieces together in an end-to-end solution that fits their unique business case. We can analyze your existing assets to determine what capital investments and support systems can be leveraged, and develop a strategy to speed services to market so you can begin to realize below-the-line or unregulated revenue as quickly as possible. And with our years of experience and networking skills, we can manage network operations for you.

Lighting Up a Bright Future

A convergence of trends is creating new challenges for utilities, from the shifting demographics of rural America to increasing adoption of renewable energy. At the same time, the advancement of broadband technology, along with the IoT, smart applications and “always-on” connectivity, opens up vast potential for new revenue models and business opportunities across the utility market. To learn more about how you can put advanced technologies to work within your existing electrical utility, and grow “below-the-line” revenue, call Fujitsu to arrange for a complimentary assessment of your opportunity.

These Four Tenets are the Secrets of Hyperscale Optical Transport

The ever-expanding demands of data center interconnect were never going to be easy to address. Data center operators facing constant pressure for better cost metrics in terms of bandwidth and rack space density know that when the chips are down, it’s all about economics of scale—or more accurately, scalability.

With the new 1FINITY T600 optical transport blade, the quest to deliver the maximum amount of traffic and the highest performance at the minimum possible cost is suddenly much more reasonable and achievable. In addition to being the first compact modular blade to offer ultra-high speed transmission up to 600G, the T600 delivers the highest spectral efficiency in the industry: up to 76.8 Tbps per single fiber, enabling maximum performance and capacity for both data center interconnect (DCI) and 5G applications.

The T600’s value for data center operators can be broken down into four tenets that were uppermost in our minds as we designed the platform. These four tenets represent the cornerstones of hyperscale optical transport for next-generation DCI as well as 5G:

  • Flexibility – Designed to support all DCI applications, the T600 offers a wide range of configuration options and is engineered to scale progressively while controlling cost per bit per km.
  • Capacity – To enable extreme optical transport use cases, the T600 supports 600G transmission with both C- and L-band spectrum on the line side, as well as providing client ports that are upgradeable to 400 GbE, further boosting capacity; the blade will soon offer 6 × 400 GbE client ports as an option in place of the existing 24 × 100 GbE ports.
  • Automation – Starting with the feature-rich system software on the blade, Fujitsu has embraced the open-source model and laid the foundations for automation that simplifies operations and enhances adoption of network-level automation.
  • Security – From management to control to data plane, the T600 incorporates security measures to protect critical data from intrusion, including Layer 1 encryption and compliance with Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 as well as built-in physical design defenses.

Hyperscale optical transport will require extreme but flexible fiber capacity and reach capabilities that can be scaled for various DCI applications. Fujitsu addresses these needs with the 1FINITY T600 Transport blade, enabling data centers and cloud providers to equip their networks for the demands of the hyperconnected digital economy.

Find out more about the four tenets of hyperscale optical transport on the 1FINITY T600 blade—watch our video intro and check out the hyperscale transport technology brief.

A Domain Approach Could Simplify 5G Network Management

With the advent of 5G, a much more highly virtualized and dense mobile network infrastructure will place greater demands on management.  5G virtualization presents new challenges, both through individual components running as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and through network slicing, chiefly because these factors result in complex networks and consequently, much more complex network management.

Work is underway among the industry groups charged with developing and ratifying standards for 5G implementation. However, the current visions for slice management run a high risk of making network management so complex that it will significantly impact 5G roll-out and flexibility. The burdens of complexity will likely drive service providers to avoid the problem by adopting single-vendor network solutions. This will impact openness, and reduced commitment to openness carries a high price.

But what if there were an approach that simplifies slice management and allows service providers to bring 5G quickly to market.  Such an approach could base network management on a simple technology domain-based model, using standard interfaces per-domain to address 5G management and then evolving this design after initial deployment.

Engineering principles tell us the way to solve a complex problem is to break it down into simpler smaller problems. For 5G this means breaking the network into domains that can be managed individually but also linked to each other for capacity planning, service management, correlation, etc. A great deal of work is going into slice management for 5G, but it is also essential to think about the big picture and consider the entire approach for a fully manageable, easily implementable 5G network.

Figure 1: The 5G domains we expect to manage 

By breaking the problem down to domains, we can rely on each domain to understand the best way to provide resources for each 5G service class. These domains could also own the job of keeping service classes separate, so as to provide each as a separate network slice.  It would then be the job of multi-domain orchestration to manage the combined resources to provide the end-to-end network and make it visible to the service layer.

The domains shown in Figure 1, and their interfaces are as follows:

  • User Domain: The 5G user equipment, such as a smartphone, set-top box, PC, or IoT device. User equipment management standards will be part of the base specifications for 5G.
  • Virtualized Radio Access: Contains the remote radio, distributed unit and central unit, and where possible, runs as VNFs on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) compute, storage and inter-networking provided by the virtualized infrastructure domain. The ORAN (Open Radio Access Network) Alliance is standardizing management interfaces for the 5G RAN as well as for interworking interfaces in the network.
  • Transport Domain: The transport domain is potentially split beyond what is in 4G. It contains fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul elements, and will typically be an Ethernet over optical infrastructure. This domain may contain a cloud control layer based on virtualized compute. Existing transport interfaces across IP, Ethernet and optical layers are usable here including: Transport API (TAPI), Metro Ethernet Forum lifecycle orchestration (MEF LSO), and TM Forum interfaces. Open-source tools like OpenDaylight will be relevant to building interoperable controllers in this domain.
  • 5G Core: The core 5G network functions for functions such as authentication, access and mobility management and policy control. The 5G Core runs as VNFs on COTS provided by the virtualized infrastructure domain. 5G Core domain functions will have management interfaces defined per-function as part of the base 5G specifications.
  • 5G Services Domain: The 5G services domain understands the business logic and service class requirements for 5G services. Various standards and open source technologies may be applicable such as TM Forum and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), as well as work in the 5G Public Private Partnership (5G PPP) and other bodies.
  • Virtualized Infrastructure Domain: This domain includes the COTS infrastructure and the software stack for virtualization, including technologies and APIs from OpenStack, Kubernetes, and the Cloud Native Computing foundation. Telecom-specific software such as ONAP and Open Source Mano (OSM) can be applied.

Figure 2: A domain management approach to the complex 5G infrastructure 

In the scenario represented by Figure 2, each domain understands how to deliver its own appropriate set of network slices. This set of slices is then brought together by the multidomain orchestration layer to deliver an end-to-end network. The service layer can then request an end-to-end network from the orchestration layer that specifies the service class required.

Clearly, there will be cases where one domain needs visibility or control of an adjacent domain to provide the service level required. The multidomain orchestration layer could provide a dependency model that ensures such dependencies between domains. Ultimately some form of peer interworking between domains will be needed.

Looking at the long term, one desired goal may be to reduce the overall number of domains by combining management to get better capacity utilization and control over the infrastructure. However, separation allows for smoother initial roll-outs while retaining the openness desired by network operators. Another goal will be to begin to implement the full network slicing models envisioned by groups like 5G PPP and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as the 5G network matures.

The simplicity of a technology domain-based approach in early roll-outs of 5G will ensure that operators can mix and match technologies and avoid vendor lock-in, while still providing the services needed by customers and fulfilling the overall potential of the 5G network.

The Reality of Delivering the 5G Vision

With the start of 2019, the era of 5G is officially here… or is it? Are you ready? While a few early market leaders are already hyping 5G services, most service providers are still making plans. And as the build-out begins, the reality of deploying complex new architectures is introducing a variety of challenges.

Due to the increased speed and capability that 5G promises, service providers can expect mobile subscribers to consume more and more data, particularly rich multimedia content. Add to that the flood of device-to-device communications expected with the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as new use cases for the smart home enabled by fixed wireless access, and it’s easy to see that substantially greater capacity, scalability, reliability and performance will be needed — from the first mile all the way to the edge.

Intelligent RAN Plan

Next-generation 5G networks will require robust transport infrastructure, including a dense radio access network (RAN) architecture with distributed intelligence. This increasing densification means more advanced topologies in the access part of the transport network, as well as evolved fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul (i.e., X-Haul) interfaces.

As the 5G RAN becomes increasingly virtualized, service providers will be able to dynamically support a range of use cases with varying demands using SDN control and orchestration. Plus, a key benefit of this virtualization is the opportunity to disaggregate the optical transport network, simplifying the evolution to an integrated and modular 4G/5G network that is highly programmable.

However, X-Haul deployment plans will be highly dependent on the varying capacity needs and latency sensitivities of the specific use cases to be supported, requiring careful consideration of many different factors.

Vision to Reality

The potential for significant revenue from diverse 5G services is very real. And with a robust transport network capable of adaptively handling multiple open radio interfaces, network latencies and virtual infrastructures, your network will be able to support countless devices and applications, delivering the full 5G experience.

Yet, the complexities of next-generation architecture mean that service providers are essentially in uncharted waters as they transform this vision into reality, requiring them to fundamentally rethink network design and deployment. For this reason, Fujitsu is working closely with leading network service providers to help them plan, design and deploy 5G networks that will allow them to deliver new services they can monetize immediately, while preparing for more evolved use cases in the future.

To help other service providers learn from our real-world experience, we’ve published a paper entitled “Transporting 5G from Vision to Reality” that examines 5G transport challenges, the evolution of the RAN architecture, best practices for design and deployment, early business model opportunities and a vision for the future.  Click here to download this informative paper.

Assessing and Addressing Risk to Internet-Connected Critical Infrastructure

Advancing communications technology has brought real benefit to utilities of all kinds.  Connectivity allows utilities to gather data from remote industrial control systems, communications devices, and even passive equipment and other ‘things’ as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). This data creates valuable information for greater automation and efficiency, as well as improved customer service.

While this growing connectivity provides significant advantages, it also brings new challenges as networks become more interrelated and automated. From rural cooperatives to public and private power companies, utilities must be aware of the threats posed by cyberattacks in today’s hyper-connected era.

Is My Utility at Risk?

Hackers are constantly attempting to gather sensitive information, such as which SCADA systems are exposed to the Internet using tools such as Shodan. In fact, your SCADA systems and other critical infrastructure may already be at risk through inadvertent connections to the Internet. Even though the number of attacks on SCADA systems are much fewer compared to IT systems, hackers are always looking for easy targets. For example, note the unprecedented attack on a Ukrainian power company by hacker group BlackEnergy APT in 2015. This was the first confirmed attack to take the down an entire power grid.

The software we use to communicate with SCADA systems, IoT sensors and other connected devices makes our work day simpler and more efficient. However, unsecured services, such as management interfaces built into your computer operating system, may be exposing connected devices to vulnerabilities through insecure legacy clear text protocols such as telnet, file transfer protocol (FTP) and remote copy protocol (RCP). Once these protocols are spoofed by hackers in your corporate network, they are one step closer to your SCADA network.

On the SCADA side, protocols such as Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) that are used to unify data transfer have vulnerabilities for threats such as man-in-the-middle attacks, denial-of-service attacks and authentication attacks, etc. Although vendors release upgrades and patches from time to time to address these security vulnerabilities, the very nature of critical infrastructure means that many utilities are reluctant to take it offline to apply security patch updates.

While these legacy protocols have served us well for many years, they were not designed to withstand increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. For example, legacy systems can be exposed to threats due to default passwords that don’t require updates, or unencrypted transmission of user names and passwords over the Internet. These systems may be unable to run the latest security tools if they are based on outdated standards.

Consequently, many utilities are unaware of the risks to critical infrastructure, exposing employees and the community at large risk of intentional or accidental harm.

How do I Mitigate my Risk?

You can, however, protect critical infrastructure from vulnerabilities. First and foremost, ensure that your network is protected from less secure networks so that SCADA devices and other critical infrastructure are not exposed to the Internet.

Many guidelines and recommendations are available to mitigate security vulnerabilities. Some of the more important ones are:

  1. Establish a network protection strategy based on the defense-in-depth principle.
  2. Identify all SCADA networks and establish different security levels (zones) in the network architecture. Use security controls such as firewalls to separate them.
  3. Evaluate and strengthen existing controls and establish strong controls over backdoor access into the SCADA network.
  4. Replace default log-in credentials. If a SCADA device doesn’t allow you to change the default password, notify the vendor or look for a device elsewhere with better security. If you have to install a device with default login credentials which you cannot change, ensure that defense-in-depth based security controls are in place to secure the device.
  5. Avoid exposing SCADA devices to the Internet, since every connection can be a possible attack path. Run security scans to discover Internet-exposed SCADA devices and investigate if/why those connections are needed. If a field engineer or the device manufacturer needs remote login access, implement a secure connection with a strong two-factor authentication mechanism.
  6. Conduct regular security assessments, penetration testing and address common findings such as missing security patches, insecure legacy protocols, insecure connections, SCADA traffic in corporate networks, default accounts, failed login attempts, and missing ongoing risk management process, etc.
  7. Work with device vendors to routinely solve device security issues such as update firmware and security patches. Ensure you are on their email list to get notifications for available security patches.
  8. Establish system backups and disaster recovery plans.
  9. Perform real-time security monitoring of IoT and SCADA devices on a 24/7 basis, along with the implementation of an intrusion detection system to identify unexpected security events, changed behaviors and network anomalies.
  10. Finally, if you don’t have security policies for both your corporate and SCADA network currently, take the lead, be a champion and work with your management to develop an effective cybersecurity program.
  11. Stay informed about security in the utility industry. Events such as DistribuTECH, where Fujitsu will be exhibiting, offer plenty of opportunities to learn more about this critical topic.

If you operate a generation and transmission cooperative, be advised that you are obligated to comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) rules, and failure to do so can result in huge penalties. Identifying your compliance obligations is a critical task, especially since NERC rules are created to secure your network.

For some utilities, particularly small rural electric cooperatives, the idea of a serious security threat to their essential infrastructure may sound far-fetched, like the plot to an action movie. However, it’s important to note that the biggest security risk is not necessarily a targeted attempt to physically destroy your equipment. A random malware attack is much more likely than a cyberterrorist, but this can devastate your critical infrastructure systems all the same, potentially causing significant damage and harming the public.

5G Transport: The Impact of Millimeter Wave and Sub-6 Radios

Part two in a blog series about how Fujitsu is bringing the 5G vision to life

As communications service providers (CSPs) prepare to deploy 5G, a number of factors will need to be considered as they plan their radio access network (RAN) architecture. An important aspect of this planning is an understanding of the 5G radio interface (NR) specifications and spectrum options.

Both millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz radio architectures have a fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul in terms of transport. However, the differences in the coverage aspects of these two radio types will define the network topology.

The high frequencies of mmWave radios result in reduced coverage of a given area, requiring a more dense deployment outside of traditional cell towers. The mmWave radios will be deployed in a small cell type of configuration, since a large number are required to cover a given area.  In urban areas, the dense deployment of mmWave radios will most likely be on street lamps, and the side or top of buildings. Sub-6 radios, however, enable coverage configurations similar to 4G LTE radios. Therefore, Sub-6 radio topology could be similar to a C-RAN LTE fronthaul, in which dark fiber is used where available, and some form of multiplexing such as WDM or packet multiplexing is used where fiber is lacking.

Initially, the mmWave radios will be best-suited for high throughput applications such as fixed wireless access (FWA), while sub-6 radios will be best used for mobility.  In the long term, both radio types will be used for both use cases.

Since sub-6 radio coverage dynamics are similar to LTE, many CSPs will consider deploying sub-6 much like 4G LTE in a C-RAN to realize DU pooling efficiencies and offer higher performance using cell site aggregation.

Alternatives to a centralized pool of DUs, whether mmWave or Sub-6 radio, is an integrated DU and RU which eliminates the fronthaul transport and discrete fiber connections between the two.  This alternative expedites service delivery while reducing capital and operational expense, but also eliminates pooling and cell site aggregation capabilities.  Cell sites with integrated DUs will have midhaul, or what the IEEE refers to as fronthaul-II, in this section of the RAN transport.

Based on the various deployment options for mmWave and Sub-6 radios, either WDM based transport or a newer packet based transport using Time Sensitive Ethernet (TSN) will be used to pass 5G eCPRI/xRAN channels, as well as legacy 4G CPRI channels, from the cell site to a central aggregation point when an abundance of dedicated dark fiber is not available.

This blog is the second in a series about our vision for 5G transport. See part one here.

Networks and Vehicles Follow Similar Journey to Automation

Autonomous vehicles (let’s call them AVs) and Autonomous Networks (ANs) are road-mates; they’ve essentially traveled the same route in the quest for full automation. They share the overarching Holy Grail objective of zero-touch operation, undisturbed by human hand as they go about the full range of their respective operations.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined a six-degree taxonomy that classifies the level and type of automation capabilities in a given vehicle. This is summarized on Wikipedia’s Self-Driving Car page and illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: SAE levels of vehicle automation

Both AVs and ANs have already arrived at their third level of automation, i.e. partial automation, where most of what they do is automated—but human supervision, monitoring, and even interaction is still needed. And just as AVs have relied upon an evolving set of building blocks over decades, ANs have also employed and built upon a number of tools along the way. Figure 2 illustrates this cumulative evolution.

Figure 2: Building blocks of network evolution

There are many examples of these building blocks in the network world. For instance, we have the availability and growing adoption of zero-touch provisioning (ZTP); YANG model-based open interfaces (NETCONF, REST APIs, gNMI/gNOI); gRPC-based deep-streaming telemetry; extensive, detailed logging and monitoring; and streaming for rapid fault isolation and prediction.

Perhaps the most critical characteristic that AVs and ANs share is that in order for their potential to be fulfilled, diverse stakeholders need to come together and coordinate. In the AV world, massive efforts are underway at every level (governments, cities and towns, car companies, insurance companies, and technology vendors) to standardize and streamline end-to-end operations based on key principles of interoperation, openness and reliability.

For ANs, there is a similar and pressing need by networking community for collaborative, coordinated development of an open, generic framework for a fully autonomous optical network, which could be used for setting up reference use cases that can be extended to various network architectures. This framework should be driven by the primary requirement of ZERO human intervention in network operations after initial deployment—including configuration, monitoring, fault isolation, and fault resolution. The framework should leverage currently available tools and technologies for full-featured and automation-ready software, such as Fujitsu System Software version 2 (FSS2) for network element management, in conjunction with Fujitsu Virtuora®, an open network control solution for network element and network management.

Efforts to achieve autonomous networks and autonomous vehicles show strong similarities in terms of both pace and trends.  These similarities are driven by common objectives to, primarily, address scale and the need for a growing number of applications, while tackling the human error element, and enabled by an intertwined and cross-dependent set of technology advancements and adaptations.

Four Key Enablers of Automated, Multi-Domain Optical Service Delivery

New advancements in software-defined control and network automation are enabling optical service delivery transformation. Stitching together network connectivity across vendor-specific domains is labor-intensive; now those manual processes can be automated with emerging solutions like multi-vendor optical domain control and end-to-end service orchestration. These new solutions provide centralized service control and management that are capable of reducing operational costs and errors, as well as speeding up service delivery times. While this sounds good, it can be all too easy to gloss over the complexities of decades-old optical connectivity services. In this blog post, I will explore the four enabling technologies for multi-domain optical service delivery as I see it.

The first enabler, optical service orchestration (OSO), is detailed here. In the not so distant past, most carriers deployed their wireline systems using a single vendor’s equipment in metro, core, and regional network segments. In some cases, optical overlay domains were deployed to mitigate supply variables and ensure competitive costs. While this maximized network performance, it also created siloed networks with proprietary management systems. The OSO solution that I imagine effectively becomes a controller of controllers, abstracting the complexities of the optical domain and providing the ability to connect and monitor the inputs/outputs to deliver services. As such, an OSO solution controls any vendor’s optical domain as a device, with the domain controller routing and managing the services lifecycle between vendor-specific end-points.

The second enabler is an open line system (OLS) consisting of multi-vendor ROADMs and amplifiers deployed in a best-fit mesh configuration. A network configured this way must be tested for alien wavelength support, which means defining the domain characteristics and doing mixed 3rd party optics performance testing. This testing requires considerable effort, and service operators often expect complete testing before deployment. The question is, who takes on the burden of testing in a multi-vendor network? Testing is a massive undertaking and operators do not have the budget or expertise; perhaps interoperability labs at MEF and CE services could help define it. Bottom line, there is no free lunch.

The third enabler is a real-time network design for the deployed network. Service operators deploy optical systems with 95%+ coverage of the network and are historically limited to vendor-specific designs. Currently, the design process requires offline tools and calculations by PhDs. A real-time network design tool that employs artificial intelligence algorithms promises to make real-time network design a reality. Longitudinal network knowledge combined with network control and path computation can examine the performance of optical line systems and work with the controller to optimize system design, variations in optical components, types, and quantity of fiber optical signals, component compatibility, fiber media properties, and system aging.

The final enablers are open controller APIs and network device models that support faster and flexible allocation of network resources to meet service demands. Open device models (IETF, OpenConfig, etc.) deliver common control for device-rich functionalities that support network abstraction. This helps service operators deliver operational efficiencies, on-boards new equipment faster, and provides the extensible framework for revenue-producing services in new areas, such as 5G and IoT applications.

Controller APIs enable standardized service lifecycle management in a multi-domain environment. Transport Application Programming Interface (T-API), a specification developed by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), is an example of an open API specific to optical connectivity services. T-API provides a standard northbound interface for SDN control of transport gear, and supports real-time network planning, design, and responsive automation. This improves the availability and agility of high-level technology independent services, in addition to specific technology and policy-specific services. T-API can seamlessly connect the T-API client, like a carrier’s orchestration platform or a customer’s application, to the transport network domain controller. Some of the unique benefits of T-API include:

  • Unified domain control using a technology-agnostic framework based on abstracted information models. Unified control allows the carrier to deploy SDN broadly across equipment from different vendors, with different vintages, integrating both greenfield and brownfield environments.
  • Maintaining telecom management models that are familiar to telecom equipment vendors and network operations staff, making its adoption easier and reducing disruption of network operations.
  • Faster feature validation and incorporation into vendor and carrier software and equipment using a combination of standard specification development and open source software development.

Service operators are looking for transformation solutions with a visible path to implementation, and many solutions fall far short and are not economically viable. Fujitsu is actively co-creating with service operators and other vendors to integrate these four enabling technologies into mainstream, production deployments. Delivering ubiquitous, fully automated optical service connectivity management in a multi-vendor domain environment is finally within reach.

Open and Automated: The New Optical Network

Communication service providers (CSPs) are increasingly transforming their networks with an eye towards more openness and automation. There has been a continued push to disaggregate optical networking platforms in order to drive down total cost of ownership and provide network operators with the flexibility to upgrade their networks while keeping up with the accelerated pace of innovation across different layers of the network framework stack. The promise of vendor interoperability and automated control through open standards, APIs and reference platforms are the key drivers enabling CSPs to make the shift to open.

There are varying degrees of openness that one can choose to adopt in this transition – from the proprietary systems of today to a fully disaggregated open optical network. The sweet spot in which the industry seems to be converging is to be partially disaggregated, as in the open line system (OLS) model. OLS provides a good trade-off between interoperability and performance; however, we still have a long way to go to make these systems future-proof and deployable. Multiple industry organizations such as the Open ROADM MSA, OpenConfig, Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and Open Disaggregated Transport Network (ODTN) are working towards bringing this vision of open networking to reality. Though there are multiple initiatives addressing disaggregation in optical transport, we believe there is a strong need for harmonization among them so that the industry can truly benefit from standardization of common models and APIs.

As optical equipment vendors aggressively evolve their offerings to help enable this open optical transformation, care must be taken to address the key business and technical requirements which are unique to each network operator, depending on the state of their current network infrastructure. There is no one single solution that can be applied across the board, bringing both challenges and opportunities to vendors who have embraced open and disaggregated architectures. The migration to open networking requires the operator to reevaluate the manner in which networks are architected, deployed and operated. Enabling this shift presents multiple challenges (such as network planning and design and multi-vendor control) when it comes to the implementation and operationalization of the various building blocks. Effectively addressing them will be key to this transformation.

Fujitsu believes a collaborative process with CSPs that involves a thorough assessment of the network architecture and OSS/IT workflows, along with establishing a phased deployment plan for implementation of hardware and software solutions, will be instrumental in navigating this transition seamlessly. The enclosed white paper provides an overview of the open optical ecosystem today, identifies and describes some of the key challenges to be addressed in implementing open automated networks, and outlines some migration strategies available to network operators embracing open networking.