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Flexible networking ensures Europe is 5G-ready

The Celtic-Plus SIGMONA project has pioneered novel software-defined networking (SDN) to give mobile network operators greater flexibility in responding to the explosive growth of mobile devices and cloud computing. Positive results also help European operators prepare for 5G.

If anything is certain in life, it is that humanity’s dependence on Smartphones will only increase. Users have come to expect ever-faster connections, high-quality services and affordable prices wherever they are. ‘It is also notable that the telecommunications industry is moving increasingly towards open source software and cloud technologies,’ adds SIGMONA project coordinator Jari Lehmusvuori from Nokia Bell Labs in Finland. ‘This involves migrating software from application-specific hardware platforms to a few large-scale data centres.’

While conventional networks tend to be hierarchical – which made sense when client-server computing was dominant – such static architecture is ill-suited to today’s dynamic computing and storage needs. To keep up with transformative trends – and to meet projected traffic increases – the SIGMONA project sought to help mobile network operators find new ways of cutting costs and increasing operational flexibility.

Flexible networking

The SIGMONA consortium focused on software-defined networking (SDN), a cloud-based solution that enables network control to become directly programmable and the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted from applications and network services. ‘The mobile network architecture was changed considerably to optimise for cloud computing principles,’ says Lehmusvuori. ‘This approach provides flexibility and support for the gradual introduction of high network throughputs, optimal flow management and traffic engineering possibilities.’ 

Novel network architecture concepts were validated and tested, and then demonstrated at major events such as the Mobile World Congress in 2015 and 2016. New and improved 4G network products were then extrapolated from the project results. ‘A very high number of publications and conference presentations highlighted the academic rigour of the project’s work,” continues Lehmusvuori. ‘A book on SDN was edited and published, and a White Paper summarising the key results delivered.’

The project has also played a critical role in preparing Europe for the launch of 5G, the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications. Early commercial deployment is expected in the first half of 2019. In particular the project contributed towards industry standardisation, with results feeding into major industry initiatives. Open source software was submitted to the OpenStack cloud platform, for example.

‘Defining 5G network architecture was already underway during this project,’ says Lehmusvuori. ‘Our work on a cloud-based SDN-driven network was adopted as one of the baselines for 5G, which has given our industry partners the opportunity to ensure that all their products are 5G-ready.’

Strengthening industry

A total of eight new or improved products were developed during SIGMONA, with a total of 13 new employees hired by partners during or after the 34-month project. ‘Competences and research capabilities have been strengthened, which has helped partners to apply for new EU or national-funded projects,’ says Lehmusvuori.

‘Our partners in Finland have gone on to deploy a national 5G Test Network, which is based on the enhanced solutions and test beds developed in this project. This will be an important open national platform in Finland for the growth of the 5G eco-systems.’

The success of SIGMONA has also led to the setting up of a new company - Cumucore – which was spun off from Aalto University in Finland. The business currently offers solutions for mobile core networks and performs customer trials. In addition, a French SME partner successfully deployed the SDN technology, boosting the security and robustness of their products ahead of future 5G deployments.
Most recently, SIGMONA won the 2019 Innovation Award at the Eureka Global Innovation Summit in Manchester, crowning it as one of Eureka’s greatest projects.

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.