ADTRAN Uses Microservices to Advance 5G

It’s no secret that the telecommunications industry is currently going through a massive transformation as part of a general shift toward 5G networking. Less clear is the role microservices are playing to enable that transformation to occur.

Most current implementations of 5G networks focus on the commodity IT infrastructure that will be used to host network functions virtualization (NFV) software. Not as well-appreciated are the modular operating systems that must be built and maintained over time to allow operators of 5G networks to more flexibly add functionality much faster.

To help facilitate that process, ADTRAN has developed ADTRAN Mosaic, a programmable software-defined network (SDN) that includes an operating system built on a microservices architecture. ADTRAN also announced that Mosaic is available as a cloud platform that IT organizations can invoke as an SDN service if they so choose.

Rather than trying to build every element of 5G network from scratch, ADTRAN is making the case of relying on a networking vendor to package up the core technologies required. That approach, says Robert Conger, associate vice president for Cloud and Portfolio Strategy at ADTRAN, should allow network operators to not only deploy 5G networks faster, but also incur lower maintenance costs over time.

Right now most of the major carriers are building 5G networks from the ground up using open-source technologies and commodity hardware. But Conger says there are a host of smaller carriers and cloud service providers looking to take advantage of 5G networks without having to devote engineering resources. A vendor such as ADTRAN is in a much better position to provide those resources to them.

In general, microservices have emerged as a core enabling technology to deliver flexible 5G networking environments. Not only do carriers need new networking architectures to deliver rich multimedia services to billions of mobile computing users, they also need to be able to slipstream upgrades into those services. That’s significantly easier to accomplish using an operation environment that allows individual microservices to be upgraded in isolation.

Less clear right now is the degree to which networking software will be deployed on virtual machines or as a container. Most providers of networking software already have created instances of their software that run on top of virtual machines. Now many of those same providers are creating versions of that same software that run as a container, which can be ported more easily across various types of hardware platforms.

Even less clear are the timetables for when 5G networking services will be generally available. The current working assumption is that 5G networking services delivered by the major carriers will begin to go into production by 2020. But there are also a host of cloud service providers and smaller managed service providers (MSPs) that very well may steal a march on larger carriers by deploying 5G networking services sooner.

Regardless of how the race to 5G networking plays out, it’s becoming apparent that microservices and containers are going to be a core element of modern networking fabrics. The only remaining decision will be the degree to which providers of those advanced networking services want to build everything from scratch versus leveraging up research and development that vendors such as ADTRAN have already made.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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