Oracle might not be the first name that comes to mind in wireless, but Dish Network’s latest 5G vendor is already working with major telcos on 5G efforts.
Dish last week announced Oracle will help enable a service-based architecture (SBA) for the operator’s standalone 5G core, including control plane network functions.
Oracle’s Andrew De La Torre, Group VP of Technology, spoke to Fierce about network slicing and the vendor’s role in 5G networks.
“We’re kind of quietly doing a lot of business already on 5G out there with major tier one’s around the world,” said De La Torre, who before joining Oracle spent more than 20 years at Vodafone, including two CTO positions for global enterprise operations in the Americas and Vodafone Malta. Dish, he said, is the third of the large North American operators that Oracle’s engaging with on 5G.
Oracle’s strategy on 5G fits in with Dish’s cloud-native approach for the build, which uses open radio access network (open RAN) architecture. While there are different versions of what some describe as cloud-native, Oracle likes to think it has one of the purest versions out there, according to De La Torre.
It’s one of the few cloud players that also provides telecom communications solutions. Working with other customers, the vendor has seen almost any flavor that a provider could deploy – including deploying Oracle’s own cloud environment with network functions on top.
And “it’s been a privilege to work with Dish as a partner because they’re building what I would say is the purest version of 5G that you could build.” Dish is also hardcore cloud, partnering with AWS as its preferred cloud provider hosting RAN and core.
For Oracle’s telecom offerings, it zeroed in on the control plane components of the 5G core, or what De La Torre likes to describe as “the brains.”
Some of the control plane network functions Dish is using includes Policy Control (PCF), Network Repository Function (NRF), and Network Exposure Function (NEF). A component like NEF can provide a straightforward API front-end he said, where customers could have applications integrated directly, enabling them to spin up their own instances of the network.
Dish said it aims to offer thousands of network slices, though a first 5G market won’t be up until later this year. Network control functions will help Dish create and manage customized, service-specific network slices, with policy control and granular access to third-party enterprises and web applications, according to the operator.
“Our decision was to take a best in breed approach to be very focused on trying to create products that stand out in the market from a capability perspective but to wrap that all in something that was really embedded in cloud principals and that cloud ecosystem,” De La Torre said.
Network slicing, which comes into play with standalone 5G, is one of the key capabilities where Dish is looking to give enterprise customers added control of the software and services they use.
“Oracle’s capabilities will essentially serve as the control tower of our network core, enabling our customers to consume software on demand and facilitating the advanced core functions required to power a truly automated network,” said Dish Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne in a statement.
Looking ahead, particularly at 5G as more than a consumer-serving technology, to IoT and Industry 4.0, it’s difficult to get the level of flexibility with existing technology generations and tools to underpin the needs for various specific services, according to De La Torre.
Operators currently are limited, he said, in terms of what they can do with radio schedule, quality of service (QoS) parameters and the number of different QoS channels they can put through the fixed network that serves the backbone and connectivity.
“It’s sort of hard work at the moment to create these differentiated pipes,” he said, adding that’s amid the backdrop of operators largely concerned with voice messaging and internet connectivity. Once IoT and other services come in to play, network slicing and the ability to carve up portions of the network in increasingly sophisticated ways “is really critical both to [operators] to be able to differentiate and to sell, but also really to the IoT ecosystem which desperately needs that degree of flexibility as well.”
Oracle in that sense has an advantage, he believes, in that it has nearly a dozen vertical industry business units, with around 23,000 employees – some who have worked for years on industrial specialization, giving the company a close understanding of the transformations different industries are undergoing.
From the communications unit side, Oracle was able to tap into that wisdom as it thought about development for the functionality and capabilities for network slicing. It’s one of the reasons the vendor believes Dish selected Oracle compared to other potential alternatives.
In terms of the package of functions that enable a slice, De La Torre called out slice selection function itself, policy function and binding function “the holy trinity” of making it all work really well.
And Oracle put a lot of intelligence from its learnings in observing the industrial journey into its 5G core products that goes beyond communications knowledge.
“We think it’s going to be key for Dish because ultimately their whole business is enterprise-centric and they don’t have a large consumer base to lean back on if it doesn’t work out for them,” he said. “So it’s going to be more important for these guys than anybody else to have a really powerful slicing solution.”
Still, other operators are thinking about how to monetize their 5G networks and De La Torre expects to see lot of established operators watching Dish very carefully, taking inspiration and “probably doing a fast-follower” route.