Broadband Forum specs offer operators more CPE freedom

via Flickr © Gavin St. Ours (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Gavin St. Ours (CC BY 2.0)

  • The Broadband Forum has published new optical network unit (ONU) interoperability specifications
  • The idea is to encourage competition, enhance flexibility and reduce costs
  • Specifications also give operators a new range of choices when creating, activating, and maintaining services associated with ONUs 
  • The specs should increase the number of potential ONU vendors, allowing operators to negotiate better prices
  • The specs will also future-proof operator infrastructure while maintaining the operators’ investment in existing ONU devices

All these years on, and despite so many changes designed ostensibly to foster competition between vendors, most operators still struggle with vendor lock-in issues. That’s why the industry should applaud new specifications from the Broadband Forum that are designed to help operators deploy multiple broadband customer premises equipment (CPE) that can easily hook up to their network optical line termination units (OLTs), the network-based systems that link to multiple CPE units via fibre, instead of taking everything from a single vendor (either because of convenience, cost or because the OLT only works with the same vendor’s CPE units). 

The Broadband Forum, which is renowned for its development of widely deployed industry specifications for the fixed broadband access networking sector, hopes the new specs will further encourage competition in the market for FTTH home gateways/CPE, lower costs, reduce complexity, and enable interoperability between optical network units (ONUs, the CPE devices for fibre-to-the-premises deployments) from different vendors. Operators will, in theory, benefit from quicker and cheaper onboarding of new ONUs from different vendors and more easily migrate and evolve their networks. 

In its official release about the specifications, the Broadband Forum notes that its TR-451 vOMCI interface specification (virtualised ONU Management and Control Interface) and MR-451 ONU Management using Virtualized OMCI give operators a wide range of new choices when it comes to creating, activating and maintaining services associated with ONUs. 

Hitherto, an ONU’s management cycle was tied to a specific vendor’s OLT but the specification enables operators to de-couple the ONU and OLT from control and management purposes, with the vOMCI being introduced as a solution to centralise operations without relying on each OLT to act as a management entity.

The technical report is as detailed and lengthy as one might expect of a complex technology, but, in essence, it provides the architecture, requirements, and interface specifications for a vOMCI solution that moves the OMCI functionality that is traditionally embedded within OLT network elements into an operator's network. The standard supports various deployment models of the vOMCI solution where functions such as OMCI translation and OLT & ONU management functions of the architecture can be deployed as virtualised network functions and are expected to be used within access domain SDN (software-defined networking) management and control solutions – the Broadband Forum’s CloudCO, for example – or as a standalone process that can be deployed with existing management system solutions.

The vOMCI solution allows operators and service providers more flexibility in how they create, activate and maintain services associated with ONUs, and “enables easier interoperability testing and on-boarding of ONUs within an operator’s ecosystem and cloud-based network,” noted the Forum.

It means that operators’ OLT vendors no longer need to be intimately involved in the rollout of the management services and features provided by the ONU. The TR-451 specifications also increase the number of potential ONU vendors an operator can deploy in its network, allowing operators to negotiate better ONU prices. It also supports various models where virtualised functions can be deployed in the cloud or within existing management system solutions.

Bruno Cornaglia, co-director of the SDN/NFV Work Area at the Broadband Forum commented, “The latest specification can be used in the evolution of the management of ONUs, not as a replacement for the management processes and data models already in use by operators but to future-proof their infrastructure while maintaining their investment in existing ONU devices. Ultimately, ONU management will be more adaptive to changes in operators’ processes and services, as well as less costly to maintain."

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