5G Mobile Core Convergence – Portfolio Differentiation May Determine Winners and Losers

Glen Hunt – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• Converged core software solutions promise to support all generations of network traffic, reduce complexity, and deliver operational efficiency by leveraging automation and network intelligence.

• Hardware and software acceleration can dramatically improve server performance by offloading data plane traffic from servers, enabling them to focus on computation and storage functions; and open source software contributions can add consistency and optimize software processes.

At MWC Shanghai 2019 in late June, executives representing network operators and infrastructure vendors will gather to share their visions of the mobile industry and discuss current and future trends. The event will provide an ideal opportunity for vendors and operators to offer a progress report on 5G core initiatives, a topic that was front and center at MWC Barcelona in February.

Converged Core Requirements:

In our assessment of emerging converged core solutions the architecture and ability to efficiently deliver a service delivery model with consistency across all generations of traffic stand out as key requirements. The common core architecture must provide the following:

• Converged 2G/3G/4G/5G services

• Fixed network traffic support

• Traffic aware software and hardware acceleration technologies

• SA and NSA networking options for a smooth evolution to the target network

• Simplified and consistent networking experience, regardless of generation and access technology

• Deployable on telco, public, and hybrid cloud environments

• Accommodate 3GPP release 15 and prepared to support Release 16+

• Operator–vendor partnerships and ecosystem

Differentiation Can Be Challenging:

GlobalData analysis shows that the major core vendors are rapidly building up these capabilities. MWC Shanghai should provide an opportunity for vendors to showcase their 5G core strategies, and to stand out from competitors. For example, ZTE, which introduced its “Common Core” in March, will be stressing its strong hardware acceleration strategy as the best way to support emerging 5G services.

According to ZTE, hardware acceleration technology (alongside with software acceleration) can be deployed in a dedicated smart Network Interface Card (NIC) and inserted into COTS servers to achieve higher performance and lower latency for specific services. Emerging services requiring higher bandwidth or lower latency, such as V2X, industrial automation, virtual reality, and HD live broadcast, can be processed and forwarded by the smart NIC. ZTE claims its hardware acceleration technology can achieve up to 90% latency reduction, 3x improvement in throughput, and a 55% power reduction. The common core also plays an important role in ZTE’s edge computing strategy.


5G services are maturing faster than originally expected, and software from vendors in support of a converged core are releasing or are actively engaged in multiple operator trials and pre-commercial services. The device ecosystem is also maturing much faster than in previous mobile generations, especially when compared to 3G and early 4G/LTE. As operators look to reduce the time operators will take to reach full 5G service readiness, vendors will need to focus on their converged core differentiators in an increasingly crowded marketplace. MWC Shanghai 2019 should provide the next big venue for vendors to unveil additional operator trials and to tout early successes in commercial deployments.

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