Kathy Gibson is at Mobile World Congress 2022 – Edge computing is rapidly becoming one of the most significant topics in the IT world, with the potential to completely transform the way businesses and individuals engage with the world around them.

That’s according to Sanjay Uppal, senior vice-president and GM of VMware’s Service Provider and Edge business unit, who believes that in the months and years ahead the edge is going to be as big the metaverse, electronic vehicles (EVs) and cryptocurrencies.

“We talk about 5G in healthcare, public safety, retail, esports, learning, manufacturing and more – and it’s all happening on the edge,” he says.

The new era, where computing needs to happen in realtime at the place where activity is happening – the edge – can only happen if the workload can be freed, he adds.

“As what happened in the data centre when we introduced virtualisation and software layers, we now need to free the workload at the enterprise edge so it can run across multiple clouds, enabling the service provider to support a new class of applications.”

To achieve this, communication service providers (CSPs) need to modernise their networks, Uppal says. “The old way of doing things no longer works.”

Alongside modernising the network, they need to work on speeding the journey to cloud-native apps and think about how to monetise enterprise services.

This involves four steps, Uppal believes: modernising apps, disaggregating the network, programmability, and automation.

“These are the elements that will enable CSPs to free the workload,” he adds.

VMware isn’t a name traditionally associated with the telco space and CSP solutions, but Uppal explains that the company offers technology solutions that free the workload at the edge in that same way the organisation has liberated the data centre, the application and the workspace.

“Freeing the workload happens on three layers of the stack,” Uppal explains.

“The bottom stack – the network – is the underlay with the radio access network (RAN) is and everything else that runs in the core.” This stack also includes Private 5G.

Above that is the overlay stack, with SASE and workplace services. “SASA is the foundation service for SD-WAN and moving to the cloud,” Uppal says. “And VMware has a strong push in the SASA environment.”

The top layer is where edge applications are built in cloud-native format to be used in the new solutions.

“Importantly, the software infrastructure needed across these layers is common – the first time in the industry there is a commonality of software stack on all three layers.

“The VMware Telco Cloud Platform operates at the enterprise edge, the RAN, the provider edge, the core and the public cloud,” Uppal says. “We provide the platform that allows the workload to be freed.:

With VMware offering the unifying infrastructure, the company is partnering to ensure there is a comprehensive 5G partnering ecosystem providing the relevant applications and services.

There are already 140 service providers, 250 certified VNFs and CNFs, and more than 100 telco IaaS cloud partering with VMware. They have already taken part in more than 200 service provider-led SD-WAN deployments that touch 1-billion mobile subscribers around the world.

At Mobile World Congress this week , VMware demonstrated its solutions in the CSP space, and made a number of new announcements.

“As telcos build 5G networks around the world, they are creating new services that will change the way we work and live,” says Uppal. “VMware’s multi-cloud approach sets our customers apart during this once-in-a-generation shift. It helps them innovate–from the core and the RAN to the edge and cloud–and deliver advanced services to move their business forward.”

Modern app transformation for telcos

As service providers modernise their networks to use virtual and cloud-native network functions, many are choosing VMware Telco Cloud Platform as the common foundation on which to do so. It lets them take their operations to the next level. For example:

* Millicom is working with VMware to unify siloed networks and begin the transition to virtualised and containerised network functions.

* Safaricom has selected VMware Telco Cloud Platform to build out a greenfield network in Ethiopia.

VMware is also partnering to streamline testing and validation of third-party solutions on Telco Cloud Platform. For instance, Dell, Oracle and VMware have created a validated design that provides a blueprint for building a robust, scalable 5G core on industry standard infrastructure. The solution can shorten network deployments by reducing the time needed to design, test, and integrate components from multiple partners.

Disaggregation of the RAN

When it comes to RAN modernisation, service providers are moving beyond talk to action. Many are in the process of transitioning to vRAN or Open RAN–or have plans to do so. And they are working with several RAN vendors to meet their specific needs.

VMware works with a broad ecosystem of RAN vendors to test and validate the interoperability of their solutions with VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN. It does this so that service providers do not have to. Instead, they can simply run and manage RAN functions from a variety of vendors on a platform that is built and optimised for the RAN.

New updates on VMware’s work with strategic RAN partners include HCL, a VMware partner since 2008, is expanding its portfolio of managed infrastructure services powered by VMware technology to include support for VMware Telco Cloud – 5G Core and VMware Telco Cloud RAN.

Programmability of the metwork

In O-RAN architectures, the RAN Intelligent Controller–or RIC–hosts apps that enable new capabilities such as automation, network optimisation and service customisation. Now generally available, VMware RIC hosts both near-real-time applications (xApps) and non-real-time applications (rApps) built by a growing ecosystem of third-party software developers.

Modern service providers are working with VMware to trial and implement VMware RIC in their network. For example, Vodafone recently completed a proof-of-concept designed to enable more efficient use of spectrum. They ran a new app from Cohere Technologies, the Spectrum Multiplier, on VMware RIC connected to a Capgemini 5G RAN. The results: Vodafone doubled 5G spectral efficiency – and effectively cell site capacity – using Cohere’s xApp intelligence.

Programmability of the network extends beyond the RAN. Announced today, Arrcus’ virtualizsd routing solution, Arrcus ACE 2.0, is now interoperable with VMware Telco Cloud Platform, enabling service providers to increase the programmability of their networks and extend them to the edge.

At Mobile World Congress 2022, SoftBank is demonstrating how it can utilise this solution to achieve its vision for 5G Mobile User Plane enablement.

Enterprise transition to the edge

Enterprise customers are actively moving modern app workloads to the edge. They are betting on 5G to accelerate this journey. And on private 5G as a foundation. That’s why VMware is working with several partners to deliver private networking solutions to service providers that they can in turn deliver to enterprise customers.

For example, ASOCS, Druid and VMware have unveiled a validated design for private mobile networks, enabling enterprise customers to take advantage of more secure, robust, 5G connectivity at the edge. Running on VMware’s Edge Compute Stack, ASOCS CYRUS RAN and Druid Raemis Core, deliver a Private 5G solution.

Additionally, STL, ASOCS and VMware introduced a 5G enterprise solution offering a powerful on-premises, fully virtualised and open RAN. Featuring STL’s Garuda, a smart 5G indoor small cell, this solution can be hosted alongside enterprise IT infrastructure on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, seamlessly blending with an enterprise’s existing infrastructure.

Lastly, service providers are adding VMware SASE to their portfolio of managed solutions to enable enterprise customers to innovate at the edge.

* BT will offer multinational customers VMware SASE as a global managed service, combining BT’s extensive networking capabilities and in-depth security expertise with VMware technology.

* MetTel will offer customers a managed SASE solution powered by VMware SASE.

* Verizon will add VMware SD-WAN to its global managed SD-WAN service portfolio.