Tuesday 20 March 2018

CrowdCell heads for TIP

Recently I wrote about Facebook's Telecom Infra Project (TIP) here. The following is from a recent announcement coinciding with MWC:

In our existing project groups, there are numerous TIP technologies that are moving from the lab stage to field and production trials. Each trial has operator sponsorship and includes key members of our technology ecosystem. Together, these TIP teams are working to validate technologies, share learnings, and accelerate toward commercialization at scale. Simultaneously, TIP members are contributing designs and specifications for new technologies and building new network tools.

Our TIP community is also growing and expanding in scope to address new challenges. Over the last month, TIP has added three new project groups and subgroups: Crowd Cell, Power and Connectivity, and Disaggregated Cell Site Gateways. At MWC, we are also announcing a new TIP community lab near BT’s Adastral Park campus in the UK and more than €100 million in venture capital funding available for infrastructure-focused startups participating in the TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Center (TEAC) in Germany.

In addition, we are excited to welcome some of TIP’s newest members: China Unicom, Sprint, and Telenor. They join more than 500 companies around the world that are active within TIP.

Crowd Cell is a new project group led by Vodafone. Crowd Cell is a concept based on relay architecture to help extend the range of existing cellular networks. Due to its plug-and-play design, Crowd Cell can be a rapid and low-cost small cell solution for traditional 4G networks. This project will focus on creating a Crowd Cell by leveraging generic hardware and open source designs for software to minimize costs through this “one design” flexible platform.

I blogged about the CrowdCell concept back in 2016 here. Then there were updates on the CrowdCell at MWC 2017 which I blogged here. This year, as the TIP announcement says, Vodafone is taking the CrowdCell to Telecom Infra Project. The following is from Vodafone's announcement:

Vodafone is developing new technologies designed to enable the cost-effective deployment of base stations in currently unconnected areas of Africa and India. The deployment will be supported by Vodafone’s new Open RAN technology and Facebook’s OpenCellular wireless access platform, which were developed within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP).

Open RAN technology significantly reduces the costs of rolling out networks in rural areas, fundamentally improving the economics of providing data and voice services to millions of unconnected people.  This new approach is expected to reduce the cost of radio network equipment by up to a third.

Vodafone also believes Open RAN technology will jump-start the establishment of an end-to-end industry of software and hardware vendors and integrators that will drive innovation, which is critical for achieving such a complex endeavour.

Picture Source: Michael Thelen

Vodafone has already conducted successful trials in India with two new vendors that have developed bespoke high-power base stations using software-defined radio and general purpose hardware based on Vodafone’s specifications and support. Wider scale trials are planned for later in 2018 where up to 200 sites will be equipped with the new technology. Tests are also currently ongoing in South Africa with TIP´s OpenCellular platform for 2G and 4G services.

This OpenCellular technology is being showcased at Vodafone’s booth at Mobile World Congress 2018.

Vodafone joined the TIP board in November 2017 and is a founding member and co-chair of TIP’s Open RAN project group, which aims to develop fully programmable RAN solutions based on general purpose processing hardware and disaggregated software. TIP is an engineering-focused initiative driven by operators, suppliers, integrators and startups to disaggregate the traditional network deployment approach.

The acceleration and expansion of this collaborative trend – embodied by TIP – will lead to significant change in the telecom industry and provide the ability to connect millions of people in rural communities for the first time.

Other TIP initiatives in which Vodafone is playing a major role include:
  • Vodafone is leading a TIP working group to develop a new, open version of CrowdCell. The award-winning CrowdCell technology – developed by Vodafone’s Networks Centre of Excellence in Madrid – makes networks more “localised” to deliver faster download speeds and enhance the network’s reliability. For more information: http://www.vodafone.com/content/index/what/technology-blog/crowdcell.html
  • Beyond radio, Vodafone and TIP are working together with Cumulus, Zeetta Networks and the University of Bristol’s High Performance Networks Group on evolving Voyager, the industry’s first white-box transponder and routing solution. Vodafone will demonstrate Voyager’s capabilities in a trial in April.
  • Vodafone is also founding a new TIP sub-group within the Open Optical & Packet Transport project group focused on transport on disaggregated cell site gateways. Similar to the gateways in radio, these would reduce the current vendor lock-in that operators face in transport networks. Cell site gateways will be also based on off-the-shelf hardware, open software and interfaces on a technology agnostic platform.

Here is a slide deck that I prepared and shared on 3G4G blog here. The part embedded below starts from Vodafone section.

Happy to hear your views on TIP or Vodafone's CrowdCell announcement. Please add them as comments.

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