5G ‘will drive all of Orange’ to transform

23 November 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Transformation has started at Orange, one of the backers of the ONAP open networking approach. But it’s 5G that is driving progress, Roberto Kung tells Alan Burkitt-Gray

Orange is preparing for the advent of a 5G-driven transformation in all its 30 territories across Europe, Africa and the Middle East – and Orange International Carrier and Orange Business Services “are twin sisters” in this process, says Roberto Kung.
“They’re focusing on virtualisation,” he says. “Even before 5G they are working hard on this, with features such as network on demand.” Orange is rolling out its Easy Go Network, which allows enterprises to instantly provision virtual network functions (VNFs) via a user-friendly portal.
“Enterprises and carriers can set up their own virtual private networks (VPNs) with more flexibility,” says Kung. “This is operational in more than 60 countries.” Orange provides it to enterprise customers, “an automatic way to set up features such as firewalls and bandwidth and cloud”, he says.
We are talking in a hotel outside Munich, where Huawei is running its Operations Transformation Forum, an annual event that gathers together industry executives from across the world. Elsewhere in the hotel there are speakers from BT, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Hong Kong Telecom, TIM and others addressing the conference and meeting colleagues.
Kung trained at two of France’s top universities, École Télécom ParisTech and École Polytechnique, and he has been in Orange for much of the time since, including six years until 2010 as head of the company’s core network research and development centre.
Now he is senior vice president for quality operations, and he has a demanding timetable ahead of him. “There is only 18 months to get ready for 5G,” he warns.
Each of Orange’s operations has its own CTO, and many of them are keen to be among the first in 5G. “Some countries are advanced, and they are pushing to be leading in 5G – operations in Europe and some Middle Eastern countries,” he says.
“We want to get prepared culturally for 5G, to prepare for virtualisation,” Kung tells me. The term he uses is “CICD” – meaning continuous integration and continuous delivery. “If you want to be listening and responding to customers, you will need to integrate on the fly.”
Speed will be of the essence in developing new services. “Two years is way too long,” he says. “The idea is to be able to do corrections [to existing services] in a week or a day, and develop new services in a month,” he says.
The second thing on Kung’s agenda is “working with virtualisation”, he adds: “That will allow us to automate and install applications quickly.” The operator’s network platform will allow that, he notes.
But there’s a further consequence of all this new technology. “It pushes us to transform ourselves,” he says. The effect will work right across different parts of the organisation that currently work in silos, such as marketing, engineering and operations. “You need to work transversally,” he notes.
At the same time Orange is urging its national operators to be “leaner on capex”, he warns, even though the transformation means the “architecture is different”, but “operators are used to that and we’re not afraid of that”.
When will we start to see the first new services that emerge from 5G? In the slightly longer term, 2021-22, he says.
There will be network slicing in order to achieve reliability for industrial internet of things (IoT) services. “There will be massive IoT for agriculture,” he says. “We’ve got to learn IoT with 3G and 4G. There is LoRa [IoT technology] in France and we are waiting for the LTE solution, LTE-M. We see there will be an impact in the way we operate.”
Orange is already planning for virtualisation with 4G, ready for 5G, he notes. “We are testing virtual RANs [radio access networks] in several countries and with several vendors – the three big ones,” a reference to Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, as well as “maybe a newcomer such as Altiostar”, a virtual RAN company.
“The great industry challenge for 5G is that we need to be more flexible,” says Kung. “We have a spaghetti of IT applications in all our countries. We need to change everything.”
Orange needs to decide what needs to be harmonised with the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP), says Kung. “Almost all operators have endorsed ONAP, and within Orange we will transform ourselves with ONAP. We think ONAP is a good way. This should be done with ONAP. Vodafone is a big supporter of ONAP. Deutsche Telekom just joined.”
ONAP, supported by the Linux Foundation, was born in February 2017 with the merger of two earlier open-source approaches, one backed by AT&T and the other by China Mobile, Huawei and ZTE – a fascinating combination of companies.
Founding members of ONAP back then included the operators AT&T, Bell Canada, China Mobile, China Telecom and Orange, plus hardware and software vendors such as Amdocs, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Nokia, VMware and ZTE.
Moving to ONAP will mean a change for Orange’s Easy Go Network, which Kung describes as “pre-ONAP”. He notes: “It’s good to standardise,” implying that Easy Go will be converted to conform with ONAP. “There’s a worldwide consensus on virtualisation,” he adds. “Let’s have the same way of working, the same design studio.”