Of all the industry talk around 5G, most of the discussion has focused around radio evolution. But what about the other pieces of the puzzle? Let’s not forget the access, transport and core network that ensure our devices can connect to the services and applications being desired.
In particular the core network will play a central role as it will be the intelligent interconnection hub residing in the heart of the network – an anchor point, so to speak, for all the different wireless and fixed access types. This interconnection hub needs to deliver a seamless service experience across these access technologies, with the advanced 5G New Radio (NR) being an important new access technology in our interconnected world.
What it means to go cloud-native
However, along with the radio, the core network, which is often a 3GPP Evolved Packet Core (EPC), needs to undergo a transformation to the cloud. And while some organizations, such as communication service providers, may consider the virtualization of their core networks (or EPCs) as sufficient in this cloud transformation, the reality is that this step alone is inadequate to support the multitude of service and applications of our interconnected world. Instead, what’s required is a re-architecture of the core network EPCs to be cloud-native. This isn’t yet another piece of marketing jargon. Cloud-native is about taking full advantage of what cloud and web technologies have to offer, to truly realize the economics of supporting these diverse services and applications.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to hear a cloud-native architecture is all about flexibility and scalability. A key requirement is the ability to disaggregate core network functions into smaller stateless software elements, combined with ‘state-efficient’ processing and a common data layer. Although a core network function would consist of many software elements, each one needs to be independently configurable and manageable (hence scalability), and be used and placed when and where needed (hence flexibility).
Much of what’s required to support 5G will already be needed today in Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks to deliver ultra-broadband and the Internet of Things (IoT)/Machine Type Communications (MTC) services. So, a cloud-native architecture is imperative for today’s EPCs, and moving forward to a 5G Next Generation Core (NGC).
Virtualizing your EPC isn’t enough
Delivering on this ubiquitous, interconnected world means meeting the demands for bandwidth, connectivity and performance, no matter where you are – at home, work, or on the go. New wireless access types like MulteFire and Citizens Band Radio Services (CBRS) will be used alongside traditional cellular and Wi-Fi access or in combination with fixed line technologies like DSL or fiber/coax to meet these more stringent requirements. Organizations will use one or more of these technologies to provide the necessary coverage and deliver services, all over a common interconnection hub that is today’s 4G/LTE EPC, and moving forward, a 5G NGC.
Standards work is well underway for 5G in 3GPP as reported last week from the Brooklyn 5G Summit in the blog “5G may arrive faster than you think…”. It’s been split into two phases. Phase 1 includes specifications needed primarily for enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), but recently items to support low latency aspects of Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) have now been defined in phase 1. Phase 1 also includes the specifications for the overall system architecture that encompasses the 5G NG core. Phase 2 will include specifications for massive IoT and further enhancements to URLLC. The first pre-5G commercially defined offers will be available in 2017. 3GPP 5G Phase 1 standards will be available in 2018, and 3GPP 5G Phase 2 and full standardization will be available in 2019, with phase 1 being fully compatible with phase 2. The transformation to a cloud-native core network architecture is fundamental, and not something that can be achieved by simply virtualizing the EPC. It requires a re-architecture of the network functions software so that it too becomes as flexible and scalable as the cloud itself. Nokia is ahead of the curve with its cloud packet core offer, which is ready today for new services and applications that have been sparked by LTE, as well as for new 5G use cases. Organizations who are on the path to 5G are thus well advised to invest in a cloud-native packet core architecture now, so they can comfortably and confidently evolve to a 5G Next Generation Core in the future.
Whitepaper & Webinar
To learn more about the next generation core, read the Heavy Reading whitepaper, “Designing 5G Cloud Core Networks” and watch the webinar, “Cloud-Native Architectures Will Be Key to 5G NG Core”
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