Broadband Forum wants to facilitate broadband network gateway (BNG) scalability by creating a more agile architecture and protocols that simplify network operation, address increased bandwidth use and reduce operational expenses.
The Broadband Forum's BNG Disaggregation project addresses challenges operators experience in control plane and user plane scaling because of the surge in broadband demand, video consumption and additional bandwidth-hungry applications. 5G will only add to this need, and the Forum is incorporating 5G planning into its development, said David Sinicrope, director of Transport Networks for Development Unit Networks at Ericsson, as well as Broadband Forum vice president and Access and Transport Architecture Work Area director, in an interview. He's heading up the group of router and access professionals working on this project.
Several operators already are interested and involved in disaggregated BNG, said Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh to Broadband World News.
Vodafone, which is in the Broadband Forum workgroup, has been working with Huawei (a probable participant, as it is a forum member) on disaggregated BNG since at least 2017. In September 2018, Vodafone deployed a proof-of-concept BNG solution, which used Huawei's Control & User Plane Separation (CUPS) architecture, designed to offer improved capabilities for scaling, resilience and efficient IP address use, according to the vendor.
Disaggregated BNG is foundational for a company's digitalization, network functions virtualization (NFV), cloud-based implementations such as BBF's Cloud Central Office, and open-source advances, he said. While disaggregated BNG does not require virtualization, it does tie into service providers' efforts to move from legacy systems, Mersh said.
"There are a number of areas where you can see direct benefit from disaggregated BNG," he said. "There's no doubt we see the advent of what's happening with NFV -- and obviously the various different projects include what we're doing with Cloud CO [Cloud Central Office] and the other open source projects -- and then when you throw in the wireless-wireline convergence, there are all sorts of things happening and new ideas for new business practices that are driving this as well."
Conventional BNG is packed into one box, Sinicrope said. As networks and demand for more services grow, operators must add more boxes, placing them closer and closer to the network edge. This becomes increasingly expensive and complex to operate and maintain, he said.
Given the additional sophistication of 5G, gaming and video, and other upcoming markets soon predicted to be mainstream, operators can only expect this situation to worsen, Sincicrope said.
"More boxes means more to manage. Even if the only reason you're doing it is for more capacity, you're adding more things to manage. If I'm able to separate out the control plane and the user plane, I can add the user plane to increase the scalability -- in other words, add capacity and performance -- and yet keep the control plane in a special place (this is one deployment we're discussing) and that allows me to actually meet the customers' demands without actually increasing the operational costs -- or at least not proportionately," Sinicrope said.
"As we go forward with trying to link up the 5G network with the fixed network, as we go forward with things like ultra-high-definition video services, some of the more real-time services we're starting to see, then you see the importance of the operators trying to get the scalability without necessarily taking on the operational costs," he added.
An unspecified number of "the usual suspects" of vendors (potentially relevant Broadband Forum members include ADTRAN, Calix, Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia) and operators are in this group, Mersh said. In addition to a mix of businesses, the convergence of two areas of focus within this working group adds new dynamism and improves the process, noted Sinicrope.
"This is one area in particular where it's interesting to have the routing guys in the same room as the access guys because we saw the routing guys brought new insights into what can and can't be done," he said. "A lot of carriers are very interested."
Plotting Out a Protocol
It's early days yet, but the Broadband Forum workgroup is considering whether one of two protocols is right for disaggregated BNG. (Source: David Sinicrope, Broadband Forum)
Currently, the volunteer group is discussing architecture, a debate that's been going on for "quite a while," according to Sinicrope, although viewpoints are starting to converge. Other steps include: Defining BNG -- what should be included and what should be excluded from the term; ensuring current BNG work dovetails with Broadband Forum's prior 20-plus years of work in BNG and future developments such as 5G; choosing or developing a protocol, something the team already has begun investigating, and compiling a market report or white paper to support the benefits of disaggregated BNG.
"This work has the potential to be very disruptive to the industry," said Geoff Burke, chief marketing officer at Broadband Forum, during the conversation.
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