5G Promises Great Things – But Only with a Robust 5G Core Ecosystem

Glen Hunt – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • The 5G Core Is Needed for Digital Transformation: The 5G core (5GC) is significantly different than its predecessor (4G/LTE); it is a service-based architecture designed to deliver on multiple new and emerging service types and support flexible new business models.
  • Connectivity & Computing Are Key Pillars: A robust business enablement platform, based on multi-access edge computing (MEC), is needed and must support guaranteed anytime, anywhere connectivity with ‘plug & play’ simplicity.
  • The Telco Cloud Completes the Business Model: Creating an agile telco cloud supports new innovative business opportunities and enables the creation and rapid turn-up of new services. The combination of telco cloud, 5G core, and MEC supports the goals of 5G.

The Importance of the 5G Core: The transition to 5G has many moving parts and requires the full transformation of the mobile core infrastructure to embrace agility, scale, and new service delivery capabilities. Over time, 5G requires the convergence of traditional network and application environments. Naturally, 5G requires a more distributed architecture (including the core and edge) to bring dramatic improvements to performance, uptime, resiliency, and the ability to support innovative new services. As the ‘control center’ for the 5G network, the core must support all generations of mobile and fixed services, adopt relevant standards, and support open source innovations that improve interoperability and speed innovation. The 5GC uses a service-based architecture (SBA) that has evolved as part of ongoing 3GPP standards initiatives and leverages a common repository and a separation between the control and user planes in order to support distributed deployment modes. The 5G core is based on cloud-native technology, which is used to develop containerized applications deployed as microservices. The lifecycle is managed via DevOps processes supporting continuous innovation (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and hitless upgrade and testing (A/B test) of new services. The 5GC will also be expected to operate in a converged mode, where all generations of mobile traffic are supported (2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G) as a unified network.

Connectivity & Computing Are Key: Building a business enablement platform with MEC capabilities addresses the need to support edge-based applications with a greater level of performance, lower latency, and improved reliability. Operators can support the high expectations of users by delivering the connectivity and computing capabilities at the edge of the network that empower the 5GC to deliver service orchestration and control. Providing a more adaptable user plane model dramatically shortens development cycles and can accelerate the time to service. MEC has been front and center as an industry topic, and telcos agree that higher-bandwidth 5G networks will, by themselves, be insufficient to support data-intensive applications. Recent initiatives by large service providers illustrate the importance of edge computing as an essential component for unlocking the benefits of 5G.

5G Use Cases for MEC: 5G-powered use cases such as AR/VR, V2X, B2B, B2C, and B2B2C represent true market opportunities; further, Industry 4.0 opportunities in manufacturing as well as other vertical markets like utilities, automotive, and healthcare represent currently identified opportunities actively pursued by operators. With all the application diversity, a MEC platform must address inherent network complexity by providing tools, development aids, and support concepts such as codeless integration of third-party applications, ‘plug & play,’ and maintenance-free capabilities. 5G can leverage key new technologies and functions such as:

  • Uplink classifier function (ULCL) for on-demand dynamic local traffic offload;
  • SBA architecture (NEF, NRF, AF) for multiple scenario application support;
  • 3GPP, release 16, will add guidance for URLLC, 5G LAN, and TSN for industry use-case scenarios.

Service automation and policy-driven operations are also critical for operators to rapidly introduce and support diverse 5G services. Effective MEC platforms, such as offered by Huawei, leverage the 5GC and telco cloud capabilities to deliver new services and promote expansion of the 5G ecosystem.

Evolving Telco Cloud for 5G: An agile and efficient telco cloud is imperative in the 5G era, as it supports new innovative business opportunities and enables the creation and rapid turn-up of new services. Operators across tiers are increasingly focusing on building a 5G-oriented telco cloud. A business-driven approach and a full-stack model deployment have been widely visible in the majority of transformation cases. Telco clouds, based on a cloud-native and microservices-centric architecture, can enable operators to accelerate time-to-market for new services, validate new use cases, satisfy fluctuations in capacity and connectivity, and promote the rapid release of new features. A distributed and heterogeneous infrastructure meets 5G performance challenges such as the requirement of high-level QoS, stringent SLAs, and predictable performance for a network, especially at the edge. Automation across design, delivery, operation, and maintenance is needed to fully realize the core benefit of telco cloud.

Conclusions: GlobalData’s research suggests telcos are seen as the preferred partner for delivering 5G-enabled enterprise solutions. However, maintaining this status will require the operators to do more. They will need partners that can support the 5G business case (especially for the enterprise transforming digitally), in addition to supporting system integration and access to a broad ecosystem. Partners should also have a strong position to support multiple application environments. 5G is moving quickly, but far from full potential; an emphasis on partnerships and the 5G ecosystem expansions are developing now for these reasons. And carriers believe that mobile edge computing (MEC) will become an even greater differentiating factor for 5G, one that will set apart carrier-backed initiatives such as gaming, VR/AR, remote-controlled robots, and a myriad of enterprise offerings from over-the-top service providers. MEC moves processing power from the center of the network to the edge to drastically increase network performance in terms of speed and latency.

  • Operators should seek MEC solutions that not only deliver on the key metrics such as latency, capacity, and flexibility, but are also manageable and leverage dynamic slicing and CUPS to deliver on a broad set of applications.
  • Operators should consider a cloud-native architecture to lay the foundation of an agile and reliable network, distributed and heterogeneous infrastructure to meet 5G performance challenges, and end-to-end automation to move towards an autonomous core network while building the 5G-ready telco cloud.
  • Operators should consider the depth of a vendor’s ecosystem and ability to efficiently support VNFs from third-party suppliers and manage the full VNF lifecycle.

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