How critical is the network operating system in connecting disaggregated cell site gateways?

Network operators looking to rapidly roll out next-generation mobile services need disaggregated white box solutions and the latest software innovation. Here’s why the right choice of NOS is vital for success both now and in the future.
Arthur Cole
People holding hands

The transition to 5G will require a great deal of disaggregation in the access network. Much of this will take place at the cell site itself, which will decrease in size but increase in number in order to accommodate the relatively limited range of 5G compared to existing 4G infrastructure.

In large part, this will involve the deployment of disaggregated cell site gateways (DCSG) as a means to both open up network hardware while at the same time support higher data rates and throughput without locking providers into static, inflexible system architectures. The leading DCSG solution at the moment comes from the Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP) DCSG group, which has devised a bare-metal router design capable of supporting third-party software, including the operating system, through open APIs.

The link between hardware and software

Under this scenario, operators are able to quickly deploy a white box DCSG solution at scale while maintaining the flexibility to offer innovative solutions in the future using fully interoperable software. In this world, the network operating system (NOS) becomes a key player in the delivery of new 5G services, providing the key link between the underlying commodity hardware and the higher-level software that provides the service to the user.

This makes the selection of the NOS one of the primary decisions facing providers as they migrate to the new 5G level of service. Not only should it provide superior performance and flexibility now, it must extend these capabilities into the future as 5G transforms the world around through innovations like autonomous vehicles, smart cities and IoT-related functions that will operate largely behind the scenes of direct human interaction. 


The selection of the NOS is one of the primary decisions facing providers as they migrate to the new 5G level of service.
ADVA has worked closely with the TIP DCSG group to devise a disaggregated solution that delivers the power of open platforms in conjunction with dynamic specialization capabilities needed to enable rapid time-to-market for new services at dramatically lower costs compared to traditional proprietary, monolithic platforms.


The lynchpin of this system is the Ensemble Activator, the only true carrier-grade NOS for bare-metal switches. Activator provides the management and control planes running atop a Linux kernel. This provides strong service assurance for advanced Layer 2 and 3 networking, as well as for virtual RANs (vRAN) – currently under development by the TIP – that enable broad orchestration between cell sites and further reductions in the hardware footprint.

Tested and ready

Activator has undergone extensive field trials using hardware from Alpha Networks, Delta and Edgecore. Not only does it provide the basis for larger, interoperable networks spanning vast geographic areas, it also integrates seamlessly with legacy management and operating systems. One of the key aspects of a rapid 5G rollout, after all, is the ability to build on existing systems and services, effectively extending them into the new network environment through software-based innovation rather than the time-consuming and expensive process of adding new hardware.

As well, Activator provides a full suite of CE 2.0 and MEF 3.0-complaint interfaces backed by established IP and MPLS protocols. These, along with its open control and telemetry streaming, will provide crucial support for the automated and autonomous services that will differentiate 5G for previous generations of wireless connectivity.

Going forward, network providers will not have the luxury of building out expensive infrastructure in the hope that customers will come to enjoy it. Network services must be implemented quickly and at scale, which is simply not tenable on legacy, single-vendor platforms. By building 5G from the ground up on open hardware with a state-of-the-art NOS, providers can ensure their networks will remain at the cutting edge now and well into the future.

Related articles