5G Implications on the Network Core: Moving Beyond Vagaries

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • The deployment of 5G networks will require innovation in the radio access network (RAN) as well as the network core. Most discussions of 5G network transformations, however have focused on the RAN alone.
  • Outside of the RAN, 5G will require changes to the mobile core, SDN/NFV implementations, OSS/BSS, analytics, orchestration, self optimizing networks (SON) and cloud systems. Executing on those changes successfully will require service providers to begin identifying (and messaging) their requirements.

Founded in 1991, ETIS bills itself as “The Community for Telecom Professionals.” What this translates into is an information sharing organization bringing together telecom service providers to tackle pressing issues along diverse business lines and business imperatives: Procurement, Innovation, OSS/BSS, Business Intelligence, CIO.  Current Analysis has been fortunate to work with ETIS for several years.  This year, we joined their Community Gathering in Zagreb (October 13-14) to talk about 5G – specifically, the impact 5G will on telecom networks beyond the RAN.  You can find a a copy of our presentation here.

5G RAN innovations have gotten a lot of attention from vendors and telecom service providers, and with good reason; a new air interface, new spectrum bands (mmWave) and new spectrum architectures (unlicensed / shared) all point to the need for critical new RAN R&D and RAN solutions. Yet if we recognize that 5G will be more than just the radio access network, we need to acknowledge the need for 5G-oriented core network innovations as well.

These core network innovations will build on key 5G use cases (massive IoT, critical communications, and enhanced mobile broadband).  And while they’ll introduce some new capabilities (like network slicing), they will largely build on existing network functions and assets given the evolution to 5G from today’s 4G (through 4.5G) networks.  Think the mobile packet core, SDN/NFV, SON, analytics, and OSS/BSS.  Yet even where these capabilities and technologies exist today, 5G use cases, and the network architecture changes they usher in, will drive them to develop in new ways.

Consider SON functionalities (something we consider as a part of the core, given linkages to OSS).  To execute on 5G network densification, SON systems will need to handle many more RAN elements, not to mention the transport links serving them.  Just as importantly, they will need to address the interaction between diverse spectrum types and dynamically support diverse applications – ensuring that needed capacity is available when and where it’s needed for critical communications.  The basic SON tenets may remain the same, but the capabilities of SON systems will need to evolve immensely.  This will be just as true for SDN and NFV, OSS/BSS systems, analytics, etc.

Beyond looking at any individual technology through a 5G lens, however, there’s a larger point here.  Service providers need to begin thinking about 5G in the context of the network core very soon.  5G is on track to arrive much sooner than originally expected.  Before that, 4.5G will begin introducing 5G-like capabilities and requirements. More than just thinking about the core network requirements 5G implies, then, service providers need to identify specific requirements and begin actively engaging with their network vendors (as well as new ones) around these requirements, messaging them in the way they have with RAN technologies.

If 5G truly is about enabling new business models for service providers (in the way 4G was supposed to be), it cannot involve RAN innovation alone.  That’s not news.  However, to execute on its promise, the conversation around 5G needs to begin including core network considerations much more going forward, and soon.


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