< back to overview

2020 State of the ONF

Feb 5, 2020
Timon Sloane
Timon Sloane About the author

Executive Summary Update from the ONF Board

ONF is at a pivotal inflection point in its mission to catalyze a transformation of the networking industry. We have successfully delivered platforms and solutions that leverage disaggregation, merchant silicon, white box hardware systems and open source software; and in doing so, ONF is providing a highly disruptive value proposition to service providers and participating supply-chain companies. 

With ONF platforms and solutions entering tier-1 production networks in 2019, ONF’s model has now been proven and the tangible results are undeniable.  We as operators are transforming our networks, we are on a path to delivering new innovative solutions, and all this is being achieved while yielding notable capex and opex savings.

We clearly see the ecosystem for building and deploying networks changing.  Where we used to rely on incumbents’ proprietary products and solutions for network build-outs, all of our deployments of ONF platforms have used suppliers that have embraced building solutions based on merchant silicon, white boxes, and open source platforms.  A new ecosystem is emerging, and this represents the start of a major shift in the service provider landscape. With this shift, we see strong evidence that early adopting operators will have a competitive advantage. We also see that a new class of vendors is likely to emerge.  In all cases, forward thinking organizations will be best positioned to navigate this shift for competitive advantage.

This shift in the ecosystem represents a unique and compelling opportunity for both operators and suppliers.  For operators, this is a transformative opportunity to take back ownership of your network from incumbents, and in so doing increase top-line revenue while reducing expenses by as much as 25-40%.  For the supply chain, this represents a $73B new market opportunity over the next 5 years. These claims are substantiated later in this update, but suffice it to say that we as operators would not be investing in ONF and be as bullish as we are without having seen first hand that these claims are far from overblown.

State of the ONF 

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is a non-profit operator-led consortium with a mission of driving the transformation of network infrastructure and carrier business models. The ONF is building open solutions by leveraging network disaggregation, white-box economies, SDN/NFV/Cloud technologies and open source software to revolutionize the networking industry.

By working closely with network operators and other stakeholders, the ONF has achieved significant momentum. 

  • ONF has catalyzed the formation of a community of over 200 partners, members, and collaborators.
  • ONF has led the SDN movement and brought open source collaborative development to networking. 
  • ONF has invented a unique, curated open source model and an operator driven Reference Design process that is powering our efforts to take platforms into our production networks.
  • ONF is releasing both open source components (ONOS, VOLTHA, Stratum, etc.) as well as integrated mobile, broadband and SDN platforms constructed from those components, including:


  • Enterprise 5G/4G EdgeCloud-as-a-Service
  • O-RAN Compliant SD-RAN 
  • OMEC (Open Mobile Evolved Packet Core (EPC))


  • SEBA (PON and other forms of fixed broadband access) 

Edge Cloud

  • CORD and XOS (edge cloud infrastructure/platform)

SDN Infrastructure

  • Trellis (a distributed SDN NFV leaf-spine fabric) 
  • ODTN (Optical Transport)
  • NG-SDN (Next-Generation SDN) software stack with support for P4 and programmable forwarding with P4Runtime, OpenConfig/gNMI, and gNOI.

ONF Project Portfolio, with mobile, broadband, edge cloud and SDN infrastructure solutions

64X62fR7I4VeRV85zvHiaNHbEL3 SWOVIUGiOB7uIw1XPEehx3zftGJ4lhsD Eht5ZxmrD8AxHXSaoOp2 WTLGpDfvYJ5ZlydIg11Rila0XJbMnxDwXUQ71 3RJyZZDDJHRWbfUI

Transformation Taking Root

In 2019, ONF platforms began to see full scale production deployment by a select handful of tier-1 operators.  We believe this is the start of a major transition for our industry, and might well in hindsight be recognized as the start of a third era in telecom.  The ONF board and broader ecosystem is extremely optimistic, as there are a number of elements that are now in place:

  • Operators have proven that open solutions both simplify networks and lower TCO, and we are eager to help continue driving new solutions forward.
  • Operators want the transformation enabled by ONF platforms, and want to see ONF and its community deliver on its mission and succeed.
  • Operators have immediate plans to transform their broadband networks with PON and fixed wireless, and ONF platforms are playing an important role in those deployments.
  • Operators see great opportunity leveraging open source solutions for mobile, 5G and multi-access edge cloud deployments, and again, ONF platforms are positioned well to play an important role.
  • With the emergence of Next-Gen SDN (which builds on P4, P4Runtime, next-gen silicon, OpenConfig/gNMI, and gNOI), and with an emerging effort to  enhance SONiC with P4 programmable forwarding and open interfaces for NG-SDN support, ONF is well positioned to truly deliver on the vision of “software-defined” for control as well as data planes with compelling use cases. 

There is significant evidence that ONF’s work is having a transformative impact on the industry.  There is no better indicator than operator deployments of ONF platforms, and 2019 marked a remarkable year where meaningful production deployments started to take place.  Here is a summary of current deployments:

Production Deployments
Comcast - access and edge transport network (Trellis)
T-Mobile - mobile core (EPC)
Turk Telekom - broadband access (SEBA)

Pending Deployments
Deutsche Telekom - broadband access (SEBA)
AT&T - broadband access (SEBA)

Ongoing Field Trials
Telefonica - Optical Transport solution in field trial (ODTN)

Pending Field Trials
Sprint - mobile core (EPC)
China Unicom - Enterprise 5G/4G Edgecloud-as-a-service
China Unicom - O-RAN compliant SD-RAN

In each of these examples, incumbent vendors’ proprietary products did not play any role.  Operators are working directly with ONF, white box vendors and system integrators to build and support their implementations.  Whereas incumbents historically provided everything needed for deployments (network design, hardware, software, service and support), in this new world operators have the opportunity to take ownership of their networks by building solutions using products and services from best-of-breed suppliers.  And this is precisely what we observe is happening and we expect this to accelerate over the next few years.

Market Opportunity

We believe the movement towards open networking represents one of the greatest transformations to have taken place in our industry, and this disruption is creating remarkable business opportunities for organizations across the entire spectrum of our ecosystem.

For operators, we believe the use of open solutions creates tremendous value, giving operators greater control while simultaneously significantly reducing costs.  Three operators (AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica) together pooled learnings and financial models with ADLittle, and the research forecast 25% to 40% cost savings, along with 11% top line revenue growth for operators embracing use of ONF (or similar) platforms for access and edge transformation.

Operators are also seeing value in creating new enterprise 5G/LTE services in the form of an edge cloud implementation leveraging disaggregation, open source and SDN/NFV.  ONF is about to launch a new project to deliver such a platform, and the excitement around this initiative indicates that this represents a promising new market opportunity for building new services and new sources of revenue.

For vendors, now is the time that the supply chain for this new era is being defined.  Incumbents are not playing an active role (at least not as of yet -- although we would welcome them to do so as long as they embrace an open business model).  Instead, we are seeing a new class of companies entering the market, companies that have not historically worked directly with operators. These companies are finding opportunities as they cross over from adjacent markets to serve the needs of operators (whose needs are not being met elsewhere).  And the opportunity is sizable. Forecasts surmise that over the next 5 years $73B USD of spend will shift to new vendors specifically as a result of ONF platforms and solutions.


This journey, like all big undertakings, has taken some time.  Although we are not done, it is remarkable to see what we have accomplished from our modest beginnings.  There is now broad agreement that the transformation towards software defined networks based on open source platforms and white boxes is inevitable.  The only question is a matter of time. How much longer will it take?

Our historical reliance on incumbent vendors and fixed function network appliances is shifting at an unprecedented rate.  With market disruption comes opportunity for innovative companies and new players to emerge as market leaders. For existing ONF members, we encourage you to take a fresh look at the remarkable portfolio that ONF has developed with an eye towards leveraging more of ONF’s work.  And for new companies, now is a great time to come join us so that you too can participate and benefit from the vast changes that reshaping our ecosystem.

We expect the next couple of years to be exceptionally exciting as ONF operators come together with the continued resolve and commitment to transform our access and edge infrastructure with ONF and its community - leveraging disaggregation, merchant silicon, and open source software to achieve true transformation of the networking industry. 

ONF Board

Jochen Appel
Vice President Access Network Engineering &
Vice President Cost Engineering, Deutsche Telekom

Mustafa Ergen
Chief Technology Advisor, Turk Telekom

Andre Fuetsch
President, AT&T Labs & Chief Technology Officer, AT&T

Rob Howald
Vice President of Network Architecture, Comcast

Dai Kashiwa
VP of SDN/NFV Technology Development, NTT Communications

Nick McKeown
Professor, EE and CS, Stanford University

Guru Parulkar
Executive Director, ONF

George Tchaparian
Member Elected At-Large ONF Board Member
President & CEO, Edgecore Networks

Amin Vahdat
Engineering Fellow and Vice President, Google

Tang Xiongyan
Chief Scientist, China Unicom

Share this post:
Timon SloaneVP, Marketing & Ecosystem
Timon Sloane is the general manager of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). He leads the organization’s efforts building an open source ecosystem, thus helping to enable broad transformation of the networking industry through the adoption open source business practices.