ONF’s portfolio of projects is merging into the Linux Foundation, and as a result a new LF-hosted Aether project has been formed to bring together various component projects under the leadership of a new Aether Governing Board paired with the existing Aether Technical Steering Team (TST). This new LF Aether Project now encompasses all the Private 5G, Open RAN and Edge-X Mobility work of the ONF.
Aether is a Kubernetes-based edge cloud, augmented with a 5G-based connectivity service, and targeted at private (enterprise) deployments that want to take advantage of 5G connectivity in support of mission-critical edge applications that require predictable/low-latency connectivity. More specifically, Aether consists of:
- SD-Core → A cloud native 5G Mobile Core, including a scalable emulator (gNBsim) that puts control plane workload on the Core.
- SD-RAN → An O-RAN compliant software-based split-RAN, including a near-RT RIC, several exemplar xApps/rApps, and a scalable emulator (RANSIM).
- SMaRT-5G → An initiative to develop xApps and rApps, along with corresponding models and APIs in support of power optimization of 5G networks.
- RRAIL→ A collaborative physical/virtual lab environment to evaluate interoperability and application portability aspects of Open RAN – a key enabler of SMaRT-5G
- AMP → A cloud-based management plane that integrates all the Aether components, including a runtime API (ROC) and lifecycle management (OnRamp).
The effort to implement Aether was originally funded by a $30M DARPA contract, and was only practically available to U.S. government-funded researchers as a managed service operated by ONF. That contract ended in May 2023, and Aether has since transitioned to being a “community owned platform,” with Aether now offered as open source under an Apache 2.0 software license. This Aether platform includes support for full customization and control in how the system is deployed, with the project’s focus on making it easy for enterprises to deploy Aether on their own, furthering the democratization of 5G connectivity. The approach empowers the full spectrum of users from those who want to learn about 5G to those wanting to deploy, scale and customize the platform.
Also of note, the hardware ecosystem supporting the Aether Project includes 5G small cells from MosoLabs. An indoor version has already been tested and verified with the latest version of Aether. An outdoor version is about to undergo Aether certification in collaboration with ESNet.
Opportunity to Innovate
Aether provides mobile connectivity in support of innovative edge services in enterprise environments, all provisioned and securely managed from a centralized cloud. The combination of SD-Core, SD-RAN—along with all the associated emulators, APIs, service models, metrics, and CI/CD tooling—makes Aether a highly programmable system that empowers cloud providers, network operators, equipment vendors, system integrators, and new market entrants to deliver innovative 5G edge services. It also provides the academic community with an open platform to perform cutting-edge research.
For example, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently selected Aether’s SMaRT-5G initiative for funding under the Wireless Innovation Fund. The grant funds a collaborative effort to develop models, APIs, and exemplar ML applications in support of intelligent energy savings solutions for mobile networks. An Aether-based implementation will be used to demonstrate advanced energy savings techniques as a Proof-of-Concept.
In a similar spirit, there are many other opportunities to use, extend, and build upon Aether:
- Use AI/ML to deploy, monitor, and control end-to-end (RAN/Core/App) connectivity and performance. This can be used for Intent Driven Orchestration to support users’ intent to maintain and optimize performance, e.g., energy efficiency, Quality of Service (QoS), etc. for use cases of choice.
- Provide multi-access (cellular, WiFi) in support of Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). This can be used to implement end-to-end slices (including slice-specific SLA) in support of time sensitive applications, such as Autonomous Moving Robots (AMR) and drone swarms.
- Use SD-RAN to advance O-RAN architecture and services towards RAN AI optimizing various aspects from RAN energy efficiency to RAN communication and transport efficiency. There is additional opportunity to increase SD-RAN’s scope to include components of O-RAN such as O-CU and O-DU.
- Use AI/ML to maximize energy efficiency across the RAN/Core/App pipeline. Involves defining interfaces to collect power consumption data, store and analyze this data, and steer components to optimize energy/performance behavior through platform features (e.g., Resource Director Technology).
- Run virtualized or containerized network functions in a secure environment (e.g., SGX/TDX), working towards having a Trusted Computing environment.
- Deploy innovative edge services on Aether, and use that experience to drive feature development. Example applications include AI/ML based Defect Detection, AI/ML based Visual Data Management System, and Autonomous Moving Robot (AMR).
A primary goal of the project is to increase adoption of Aether, both in education/research settings (growing the community using Aether to innovate) and in commercial and production settings (growing the community using Aether to provide commercial value). To this end, the Aether TST has recently been prioritizing the following activities:
- Increase Project Visibility and Community Awareness
- Build educational collateral, including hands-on tutorials and on-line training.
- Assemble a Hardware Starter Kit to help newcomers get started quickly.
- Initiate Showcase Deployments, e.g.:
- Improve Ease-of-Adoption for a wide range of use cases
- Work closely with early adopters to identify barriers to adoption
- Make it easy for students to get started and gain hands-on experience
- Make it easy for researchers to drill down on specific subsystems
- Make it easy for enterprises and operators to scale up realistic deployments
- Define an agenda for the community to work towards Product Completeness
- High Availability
- Scalable Performance
- Lifecycle Management
To learn more about the transition of Aether, join us for the upcoming webinar, “ONF Projects Transforming to Full Community-Led Governance” taking place Tuesday, January 9, 2024 at 7am PT (register here).
Those interested in signing up for the new Aether project under the Linux Foundation can do so here.
About the author: Larry Peterson (Princeton/ONF) is the current Aether TST Chair.