Orange announces project Pikeo, its cloud 5G network of the future
Orange has announced what it calls “the network of the future”, an experimental cloud-based network that it hopes will eventually provide “ambient connectivity”.
The company has applied to the French regulator, Arcep, for permission to run the trial network in Lannion, the town in Brittany, north-western France, where the company has its research centre.
The need for permission is because Orange will be signing up real-life business customers and consumers to use the network.
“It is Europe’s first 5G standalone end-to-end network operating in a cloud-native mode,” Michaël Trabbia, the group’s chief technology and innovation officer, told Capacity in a pre-briefing ahead of today’s announcement.
“This is an experimental network, but it is a network with real users. The technology is maturing fast but it is still not carrier-grade.”
It is 100% softwarised, not just the radio access network (RAN) but the core, the IT, the operational support system (OSS) and the devices, Trabbia said. That means it is not just an open RAN system, “and we support open RAN technology”, but applies the principles to the core too.
“We have deployed a fully automated core,” said Elisabeth Py (pictured), Orange’s 5G next-generation operator project director, who is managing the project.
“It is a blueprint for the next generation of agile networks,” added Trabbia.
One of the crucial aspects of the trial is to test how different vendors’ components work together. The Lannion network will use Mavenir cloud 5G kit, Casa Systems for the core network, HPE for the cloud software-defined network (SDN), Dell infrastructure and servers, Amdocs business support systems (BSS) and Xiaomi devices.
Orange will carry out interoperability tests between devices and the RAN. “Softwarised networks need physical elements. That takes time,” said Py.
Orange is using the Linux Foundation’s Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), she added. “There are some key components built by Orange around artificial intelligence (AI) and security.
Orange is calling the project Pikeo, which Py said “is just a code word”, though the Urban Dictionary online says pikeo is a person “that is unstoppable by human ability”. The name “was selected by the project team, and they like it”, she said.
The company hopes to expand Pikeo to further locations in France in 2022 ,“and maybe other countries”, said Trabbia. “We want to test use cases and test network slicing”.
He emphasised that Orange will not take Pikeo into account in the short term when it builds its 5G core network. “Pikeo will come later.” But “by 2025 100% of the new equipment [in Orange] will be open RAN” and will move to cloud-based architecture.
“We don’t believe we are ready today — that’s why we are building this experimental network,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have all the answers today. That’s why we are doing Pikeo. We will refine our plans.”
One of the challenges is that Orange will need people with new skills to build and run the future networks, said Py. “People with network skills and IT skills. A new kind of network needs both skills brought together.”