Flux Research Group / School of Computing

Nervion: a cloud native RAN emulator for scalable and flexible mobile core evaluation

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Jon Larrea, Mahesh Marina, and Jacobus (Kobus) Van der Merwe

Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking (MobiCom) 2021.

DOI: 10.1145/3447993.3483248

Testbeds, Mobile Networking


Given the wide interest on mobile core systems and their pivotal role in the operations of current and future mobile network services, we focus on the issue of their effective evaluation, considering the radio access network (RAN) emulation methodology. While there exist a number of different RAN emulators, following different paradigms, they are limited in their scalability and flexibility, and moreover there is no one commonly accepted RAN emulator. Motivated by this, we present Nervion, a scalable and flexible RAN emulator for mobile core system evaluation that takes a novel cloud-native approach. Nervion embeds innovations to enable scalability via abstractions and RAN element containerization, and additionally supports an even more scalable control-plane only mode. It also offers ample flexibility in terms of realizing arbitrary RAN emulation scenarios, mapping them to compute clusters, and evaluating diverse core system designs. We develop a prototype implementation of Nervion that supports 4G and 5G standard compliant RAN emulation and integrate it into the Powder platform to benefit the research community. Our experimental evaluations validate its correctness and demonstrate its scalability relative to representative set of existing RAN emulators. We also present multiple case studies using Nervion that highlight its flexibility to support diverse types of mobile core evaluations.