Vodafone Group was one of a group of eight operators to participate in a proof-of-concept project exploring the use of 5G, augmented reality (AR) and multi-access edge computing (MEC) to deliver enterprise services across a diverse range of industries.

The operator is leading the Blade Runner Catalyst which, at its simplest level, aims to produce a composite set of enterprise cloud services which can be offered by multiple operators. The project aims to enable next-generation use cases including IoT-based services such as remote surgery and connected cars.

Operators AT&T, BT, du, NTT Docomo, Orange, TIM, and Verizon are also participating in the project, along with BearingPoint, CENX, EXFO, Infosys, RIFT.io and Riverbed Technology.

In action
A demonstration conducted here showcased how artificial intelligence (AI)-based AR can be used to support the maintenance of remote industrial equipment and vehicles, enabled by MEC technology. During the demo, participants showed how AR could help a local engineer based at a mine in Dubai to repair earth-moving equipment by receiving instructions from an expert located at an enterprise customer’s facility in Germany.

Dimitris Symeonidis, enterprise architect, service management for Vodafone Group and Blade Runner Catalyst project lead, said the project has focused on virtual network functions for now, but will evolve further with network slices in 5G networks.

“The core aspect for us is how the operators talks to each other,” said Symeonidis, pointing to the project’s focus on standards including open APIs and modelling languages including the Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications (TOSCA), a data model standard which can be used to orchestrate NFV services and applications.

This standards-based approach aims to enable operators to use shared service catalogues and more swiftly deploy cloud services.

Another focus area is providing multi-operator closed loop assurance and wholesale enterprise billing/charging operations.

The TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) technology architecture and set of best practices forms the core of the catalyst, to ensure abstract orchestration layers are properly integrated through the organisation’s open APIs.

ONAP integration
One of the more challenging aspects was the use of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) to act as a technology-specific domain orchestrator for resource-facing services. Symeonidis explained that the team took something of a risk by using the current ONAP release, as it does not yet support open APIs and thus required a considerable amount of patching.

The proof-of-concept is seen as just the beginning for the Blade Runner project, with future phases set to explore business cases and benefits for real-time policy management and charging for cloud services, among other aspects.