Published: 25/01/2017
Author: Dan Meyers, RCR Wireless

Originally published in RCR Wireless on January 25, 2017

Carriers see open source as a way to break vendor-lock model, but standards and compliance remain key challenges to deployments.

Telecommunication operators appear to be full on board in terms of the movement towards open source platforms, or at least those large enough to be at a point of driving software deeper into their operations. However, there remain numerous challenges for those operators in actually deploying open source-based solutions into their networks.

Operators have for years denounced the dreaded vendor lock scenario that has shackled them to a dwindling equipment vendor community. But, those vendors are exceedingly familiar with the needs of telecommunication operators and have built a level of trust with the network operations folks in terms of comfort with equipment deployments.

The new world of open source and software is bringing with it the web-based mindset of “fast fail,” which is similar to the application model where software can just be updated after it’s released. That might be a good model for “Angry Birds,” but is a different story for operators dealing with specific and expensive service level agreements.

“That’s the good and bad of it,” said Bryan Hill, VP of engineering at Sonus. “The community does do a pretty good job of finding bugs. But I also believe we may need to camp out for a while. I am not sure the customers are going to be interested in going through a test cycle and then a deployment every time there is a new enhancement.”

Sonus, which is focused heavily on the session border controller space targeting real-time communications, is a supporter of open source, but also knows telecom operators and enterprise customers require a certain service level quality that the open source community can’t yet meet in some instances.

The company recently unveiled its latest SBC 5400 product it said allows companies to take their time in moving towards cloud- based virtualized deployments.

“Long-term, the SBC market is clearly headed toward a cloud- based architecture,” said Greg Collins, founder of Exact Ventures, tied to the announcement. “In the near term, however, there remains a strong need for high performance, scalable solutions like the Sonus SBC 5400. Solutions like this provide the ability to operate in hybrid environments where certain aspects of the SBC are virtualized, while other, more processor intensive functions, remain in purpose-built network elements.”

Jennifer Clark, VP at 451 Research, noted operators will need to find a balance between the old model that was based on rigid standards and the new model where standards are more flexible in nature.

“There are significant challenges in terms of standards,” Clark said. “These models have significant upgrades every couple of months. If you are the carrier you need to test these and make sure they don’t disrupt the network. You are in a constant react mode with new software updates coming down the pike. … Operators, despite what they might say, are still in a cap-and-grow model and do not want to mess with their current moneymakers.”

John Isch, director of network and voice practice at Orange Business Services Network and Voice Center of Excellence, echoed the standards challenge, explaining they often don’t want to be in the middle of the organizational process.

“It’s definitely a tricky spot to be in – on the one hand carriers benefit greatly from open source development, but on the other hand we don’t necessarily want to be setting the standards,” Isch said. “Orange has created a consortium of sorts with AT&T to propose the kinds of things we want to see in an open source environment, but I don’t think we’re interested in getting to the point where we’re defining it. It’s an onerous task best left to governing bodies, not carriers.”

Clark also pointed to the highly regulated nature of the telecommunications space, which erects another barrier to operators looking to implement new technologies into their operations.

“Telecom operators are heavily regulated and there are compliance issues that they need to deal with today and they have to plan for what they might need to deal with tomorrow,” Clark said. “There are rules that govern how people are connected, what happens in an emergency and 911 regulations. … That’s going to be even more complicated with security and regulations coming out of recent [distributed denial of service]attacks.”