Is Open Source Becoming a Better Way for CSPs?

In the past, communication service providers (CSPs) enjoyed decades of solid financial returns. Over time, however, as with many other industries, they found that competition, for them in the form of IP-based competitors, followed by cloud-based competitors, made it increasingly difficult to maintain, let alone improve their financials. Now, many communication companies are taking a second look at open source concepts to evaluate whether embracing such a methodology could allow them to become more innovative and agile, trim operational costs, and, in general, set their own direction for the future.

In this article, we will define what open source is as well as briefly touch on the history between CSPs and open source methodologies, and then discuss how CSPs are finding ways to leverage the power of open source to maintain a competitive edge.

Open Source – Increases Agility and Security

The concept of open source, where codebase and all development, including fixing bugs, building new features, and writing documentation for a specific platform, is all performed in public, has been around for some time. The technology world is very familiar with governing bodies such as GitHub and GitLab, which oversee the public repositories of various open-source platforms.

Agile — By allowing the public to contribute to the creation and maintenance of open source projects, collectively, the best and the brightest minds can often bring projects to the market much faster than development companies who work alone to create their own software products. 

Secure — While initially, it might have seemed counterintuitive to expose one’s code to the public for review, it didn’t take long for companies and individual programmers to discover that by allowing other developers to point out the potential flaws in one’s code and development processes, it actually helped them build better and more secure products.

History – Holding Open Source at Arm’s Length

Until fairly recently, communication service providers essentially held open-source concepts at arm’s length. Security has always been a concern; however, as mentioned earlier, competition from both IP and cloud-based competitors is pushing operators to take another look at open source to see if it’s possible to take advantage of its positive aspects while closing any loopholes associated with security concerns.

Open Source With a Twist 

Some telecom operators are trying to use the best of both worlds and have formed their own internal open-source groups. Many companies, including Orange, Bell Canada, Sprint, Vodafone, and AT&T, already have their own internal open-source groups. In fact, one study purports that telecom operators are planning for open-source CSP software technologies to become a mainstream practice by 2025.

T-Mobile Poland – Leading the Way

One company that is forging ahead is T-Mobile Poland. They were the first to deploy into production the OMEC (Open Mobile Evolved Core), an open source (GitHub) and scalable mobile core platform. With this launch, T-Mobile Poland became the first in the industry to successfully deploy a production-grade Evolved Packet Core (EPC) that is open source. OMEC itself is a disaggregated, control-user plane separated (CUPS) mobile core, capable of running on a single-tenant physical server, as well as virtual machines (VMs) and containers.

So far, the results are very promising. According to Michal Sewera, who heads the EPC Shared Service Center at T-Mobile Poland, “Our OMEC deployment provides us with a lightweight packet core providing connectivity, billing and charging at a scale for a large number of fixed mobile subscribers. By taking the bold step of embracing open source as part of a new approach for building and deploying solutions, we are realizing a much lower total cost of ownership, rapid customizability, and greater transparency than we can achieve using any traditional EPC.” 

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