Thank you, Attorney General Barr, for your remarks highlighting the gravity and urgency of winning the 5G race. Warm welcome to CTOs of Dell, Ericsson, Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, as well as colleagues from State, Justice and FCC. Thank you all for joining us in this special Global CTO Roundtable on 5G ION, a new, practical kind of “open” that can start today.
A basic notion in engineering complex systems is modularization. The tricky step in such “divide and conquer” is interface definition: which module carries out what functions and how to put them back together. Such decomposition gives rise to the layered protocol stack in networks, where each layer is a functional module, as well as to hardware-firmware-software separation.
Some decomposition of information and communication systems did not work out, while others were well done. In digital communications, Shannon provided the foundation of source-channel separation: data compression and channel coding can be carried out independently with a digital interface in between. In the Internet architecture, Cerf and Kahn’s TCP/IP bridged the applications and the physical medium through a ubiquitous connectivity service. In personal computers, operating systems and processor chips can develop in parallel and seamlessly interact.
A collection of interfaced modules might consolidate into a single line of offering, or it might break into multiple swappable products. As a research topic, it could be interesting to explore the pros and cons of opening the interfaces and enabling innovation in each module separately. However, as a practical matter of at-scale deployment within telecom operators’ business models, it is always essential to retain the ability of integration for turnkey solutions.
5G ION refers to a broad collection of related yet distinct efforts in open architectures for carrier-grade cellular networks. Among the special cases and subtle variants, some are in hardware, some in software. Some require virtualization, some do not. ION puts particular emphasis on several key features:
- I before O: Unlike the PC industry, telco operators require integrated solutions and integrator suppliers. Decomposition of modules needs to have integration in mind from day one. A nuanced understanding of engineering possibilities indicates that it is not a binary choice between open and closed, but a gradient in between: what one might call “Ajar Architectures” that are more open than previous generations yet remain practical and offer the highest performance in speed and latency.
- Evolution before revolution: Network services need to be backward compatible and inter-operable. Rather than a revolution some years later promised as a “pie in the sky,” ION can be supported in imminent deployment, while chartering an evolutionary path towards the long-term future of 6G. Today’s trusted vendors with market shares: Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, along with other innovative companies, can play critical roles.
- Agility before over-specification: The defining feature of a successful architecture is the design of interfaces so that each module, such as the most advanced radios, can evolve rapidly without being artificially constrained by these interfaces. ION will enhance such agility and avoid the tendency of over-specification.
With a broad, inclusive tent of what “open” means, a nuanced appreciation of network deployment reality, and a more solid view on architectural choices, ION becomes one of the areas where the United States and partner countries can lead in 5G innovation. We invite technology leaders in the industry to help make that happen. Speed is the key to winning the 5G race.
While technology should not be mistaken as a solution to the fundamental problem of a distorted market, its exploration is still useful. ION and Edge Computing, for example, are two areas of innovation to realize 5G’s promise of a new level of responsiveness and scale. Such innovation leadership, along with the Clean Networks initiative and supply chain security form three prongs in a global strategy for 5G.