Rakuten, NEC, Intel show off containerised UPF

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Jun 25, 2021

Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin

Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin

  • Disaggregated user plane is key piece of the edge services puzzle
  • Lab test yields 640 Gbps processing speed per server
  • No word on when this will make it into Rakuten's live network

Rakuten and its vendor partners have reached another milestone in their quest for disaggregated networking glory, taking the wraps off a high-performing, containerised user-plane function (UPF).

Separating the user plane from the control plane is an important piece of the multi-access edge computing (MEC) and 5G Core puzzle, because it enables the telco to deploy multiple UPF instances closer to where the traffic originates, rather than at fixed locations in the network. The result is lower latency and a better user experience. It also means they can be turned on and off as capacity demand dictates, enabling operators to dynamically allocate network resources.

Rakuten, NEC and Intel highlighted that their new UPF was able to process data on a 5G SA core at a rate of 640 Gbit/s per server, albeit under lab conditions. Nonetheless, they claim that this level of performance is up to snuff for operators.

"With NEC and Intel, we have demonstrated that extremely high-speed processing is possible on containers, " said Tareq Amin (pictured above), EVP and CTO of Rakuten Mobile, in a statement.

"We aim to continue to pursue performance improvements in the core to achieve higher throughput and reduce cost and energy consumption in the rollout of network technology in Japan and worldwide," he said.

"The fully virtualised Rakuten mobile network featuring NEC's containerised 5G UPF software, built on the latest Intel technology, is another key proof point of how ecosystem collaboration and industry leading technology are both essential to fulfil the promise of 5G," added Dan Rodriguez, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's Network Platforms Group.

The question of when this technology actually makes it out into the wild is an open-ended one. Given that Rakuten et al are still in the lab-test phase, the answer is probably not any time soon. That said, others are also hard at work on cloud-native UPFs, and that could have a bearing on when this technology is ready for commercial deployment.

Earlier this week, Deutsche Telekom, in partnership with Mavenir and MobiledgeX, demonstrated a cloud-native, distributed UPF. Much like Rakuten, NEC and Intel's effort, it can be deployed at the edge of the network where it is most needed.

Back to Rakuten, and the Japanese operator's VC arm, Rakuten Capital, on Monday emerged as the lead investor in a Series C funding round by one of its cloud-native networking partners. Called Robin.io, the company makes a network-oriented Kubernetes platform suited to RAN, core and edge networking deployments. The funding, which came in at $38 million, will support Robin.io's next phase of expansion, and strengthens the relationship with its key customer, Rakuten.

- Nick Wood, reporting for TelecomTV

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