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Year: 2020

Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G Architectures: The various paths to 5G revenues and profitability

by Seshadri Sathyanarayan Seshadri Sathyanarayan No Comments

A Telecom Transformation is underway. With 5G, a whole new generation of networks is being built to connect 50+ Billion Devices, creating more than a $12 trillion-dollar market opportunity for Mobile Network Operators. The road to 5G, it turns out though, isn’t a straight line. This leads us to a discussion of non-standalone architectures (NSA) and standalone architectures (SA). Here are the differences and benefits of NSA and SA and how MNOs can take advantage.



Differences Between NSA and SA 

The main difference of NSA (Non-Standalone Architecture) and SA (Standalone Architecture) is that NSA anchors the control signaling of 5G Radio Networks to the 4G Core, while the SA scheme connects the 5G Radio directly to the 5G core network, and the control signaling does not depend on the 4G network at all. NSA, as the name suggests, is a 5G service that does not ‘stand alone’ but is built over an existing 4G network. SA, on the other hand, allows completely independent operation of a 5G service without any interaction with an existing 4G core.


Per 3GPP TR 21.915, Two deployment options are defined for 5G: 

  1. The “Non-Stand Alone” (NSA) architecture, where the 5G Radio Access Network (AN) and its New Radio (NR) interface is used in conjunction with the existing LTE and EPC infrastructure Core Network (respectively 4G Radio and 4G Core), thus making the NR technology available without network replacement. In this configuration, only the 4G services are supported, but enjoying the capacities offered by the 5G New Radio (lower latency, etc). The NSA is also known as “E-UTRA-NR Dual Connectivity (EN-DC)” or “Architecture Option 3”.
  2. The “Stand-Alone” (SA) architecture, where the NR is connected to the 5G CN. Only in this configuration, the full set of 5G Phase 1 services are supported. 
5G NSA (non-standalone) SA (standalone) diagram

Image from GSMA


Non-Standalone Architectures for MNOs

The path that mobile network operators (MNOs) follow to 5G will depend a lot on how they plan to pay for that journey. During the deployment of 4G from 2010-2015, virtualization was not a mandate. Operators took many different approaches to deploying 4G architectures utilizing proprietary and virtualized solutions. With 5G, virtualization is a must. MNOs now have an opportunity to transform the way they build and operate their networks. 

For MNOs that are looking to deliver mainly high-speed connectivity to consumers with 5G-enabled devices, a non-standalone architecture (NSA) makes the most sense, because it enables them to leverage their existing network investments in transport and mobile core —rather than deploy a completely new end to end 5G network.

This can be combined with efforts to reduce network operating costs by adopting virtualization and CUPS (Control and User plane separation) using software-defined networking (SDN). These initial steps toward 5G, enable MNOs to begin offering 5G services providing faster data speeds and capture additional revenue streams.

Benefits of 5G NSA:

  • deliver high-speed connectivity to consumers with 5G-enabled devices
  • leverage existing network investments in transport and mobile core


Standalone Architectures (SA) for MNOs

For some MNOs, however, who have their sights set on new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities, smart factories, or other vertical market solutions, a standalone architecture (SA) could make more sense.

In this scenario, which 3GPP has now standardized, MNOs can build an entirely new fully virtualized 5G network that includes new radio access network, new transport network, and new 5G mobile core and edge networks – standing alone and separate from their existing 4G and legacy networks. 5G standalone architecture is a fully virtualized, cloud-native architecture (CNA) that introduces new ways to develop, deploy, and manage services. CNA includes concepts of microservices and service-based interfaces that greatly simplify services, dramatically reducing the cost of operation and speeding up the introduction of new revenue-generating services.

With 5G SA, the distinct advantage here is end-to-end support for 5G speeds and services. And the true promise of 5G is enterprise-driven revenue – it changes the business model from consumer-driven to enterprise-focused opening up entirely new use cases and revenue streams.

Benefits of 5G SA:

  • MNOs can launch new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities, and smart factories
  • It is fully virtualized, cloud-native architecture (CNA), which introduces new ways to develop, deploy and manage services
  • The architecture enables end to end slicing to logically separate services
  • Automation drives up efficiencies while driving down the cost of operating the networks. 
  • By standardizing on a cloud-native approach, MNOs can also rely on best of breed innovation from both vendors and the open-source communities 
  • By choosing a cloud-native microservices-based architecture, MNOs can also decide on a variety of deployment models such as on-prem private cloud, public cloud, or hybrid to meet their business objectives


The Future of 5G Includes NSA and SA

It’s worth noting that NSA and SA aren’t an either/or proposition, but more of a “sooner or later” consideration. MNOs that begin with NSA can gradually add or migrate to SA over time. What we’ve seen at Affirmed from early 5G adopters are primarily NSA deployments as MNOs compete for the bragging rights (and the competitive advantage) of being the first to offer 5G speeds.

These MNOs were typically the first to adopt 4G/LTE technologies as well, and so are fairly advanced in terms of network virtualization. Many of them are still using Affirmed’s solution as their virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) solution. One of the advantages of Affirmed’s NSA-based solution is its ability to handle both 4G and 5G-based traffic as MNOs transform their networks.

At some point, of course, NSA and SA will converge as MNOs move to a full 5G architecture. Recognizing that, MNOs would do well to look for a mobile core platform that can transition easily from non-standalone to standalone. Having a completely virtualized 5G architecture will offer MNOs the flexibility to migrate select functionality of their existing NSA solution to the 5G core platform over time, as new 5G services are enabled, allowing them to monetize their investment gradually rather than go all-in and hope to recoup their costs later.

With a clear path to evolving their networks from NSA to SA, Mobile Network Operators can win the race to revenues by operating their networks at webscale. Learn more about our 5G core solution.



Source for market reference


Inventec Selects Affirmed for Private 5G Network to Drive Industry 4.0 Initiative for Advanced IoT, Automation and Smart Manufacturing

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

Taiwanese Manufacturer to Deploy First Truly Cloud-Native 5G SA Network to Ensure High Performance, Reliable, and Secure Connectivity for Robotic Automation

ACTON, Mass. – December 16, 2020 – Affirmed Networks announced today that it has been selected by Inventec, a leading Taiwanese manufacturer of consumer technology solutions, to deliver secure, private 5G networks for their smart manufacturing. This selection is an important part of Inventec’s adoption of Industry 4.0 and their transformation towards digital operations and robotic automation for large-scale manufacturing. Affirmed’s 5G Standalone (SA) UnityCloud™ will drive the connectivity for Inventec’s Automatic Optical Inspection (AOI) systems.

Inventec’s long history of innovation has been a key component of the company’s sustained growth and leadership. The company’s current digital transformation initiative is being deployed in alignment with its regional Industry 4.0 strategy. Industry 4.0 serves as a model for how industrial processes can leverage smart technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data. By using advanced technologies to automate and improve operations, Industry 4.0 enables companies to proactively respond to changing environments and markets—an increasing concern for manufacturing companies in the wake of COVID-19’s effect on global markets and supply chains. Inventec’s UnityCloud deployment is the first fully Cloud-Native 5G Standalone network within the Industry 4.0 arena.

“Inventec has fully embraced the Industry 4.0 initiative, as it is in direct alignment with our focus on innovation and our digital transformation strategy,” said Albert Chen, Senior Vice President, Inventec.  “As the most critical component of IoT and Smart Manufacturing, connectivity must be ubiquitous, reliable, and secure. After evaluating some of the more traditional approaches, we realized that the implementation of our own Private 5G network was the best way to ensure we had ‘always on’  coverage. Affirmed Networks was the obvious partner for us, as their innovative, cloud-native 5G standalone core delivers unrivaled performance that matches our Industry 4.0 needs.”

To deliver on its goal of automating manufacturing operations across its campus in Taoyuan city, Inventec sought a network solution with the inherent performance, scale, and security capabilities to ensure carrier-grade connectivity. After ruling out Wi-Fi and centralized solutions from service providers, the company selected the Affirmed UnityCloud solution to serve as the cloud-native core of a private 5G network capable of connecting robots, devices and machines, while automating operations throughout its campus.

Affirmed UnityCloud is a 5G core, cloud-native solution built on an open, webscale architecture that enables the delivery of 5G networks capable of improving reliability and performance while decreasing network operation costs by as much as 90 percent. UnityCloud converges “Any G”—including 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G networks, and wireline core—onto one unified platform, greatly simplifying the overall network architecture. Affirmed has partnered with HPE Communication and Media Solutions for its 5G Subscriber Data Management and ASOCS to provide Inventec with a complete end-to-end 5G solution to enable this innovative use case for Industry 4.0.

“Inventec is an example of an innovative company that seeks to use cutting-edge technology to deliver on its digital transformation objectives and ambitions,” said Sanjay Mewada, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Affirmed Networks. “Through their selection of Affirmed Networks as their 5G partner, Inventec is ensuring that its Smart Manufacturing initiative is equipped with the flexibility, security, and performance required to deliver upon its Industry 4.0 vision.”

To hear more about how Inventec reduced their manufacturing cost while increasing the yield using Private 5G Networks, click here to tune in to this exclusive on-demand webinar on Mobile World Live.


About Inventec
Founded in 1975, Inventec manufactures computers, telephones, notebooks, and servers and has developed a strong foundation for global success. Upon entering the 21st century, our company has become even more active in such industries as cloud computing, wireless communication, intelligent devices, IoT and green energy. For many years, the business concepts of Inventec have been “Innovation, Quality, Open Mind, and Execution.” At the forefront of our corporate beliefs are “Talent Assets” and “Social Responsibility.” The combination of business concepts and corporate beliefs create the core of Inventec that encourages us to embrace sustainable operations.


About Affirmed Networks
Affirmed Networks was founded to transform the future of the mobile industry. Our vEPC and cloud-based solutions are enabling Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to change the economics of deploying and scaling networks. CSPs have deployed Affirmed’s NFV solutions to deliver differentiated 5G services, including mobile broadband, IoT, carrier-grade Wi-Fi roaming, connected cars, and more. Proven in more than 100+ networks and over 80 countries, our NFV solutions are deployed in the world’s largest networks. Affirmed Networks was acquired by Microsoft in April 2020. For more information, please visit www.affirmednetworks.com.


4 Key Capabilities for a 5G Slice Management Tool

by Adam Dorenter Adam Dorenter No Comments

No matter how you slice it, your slice manager matters a lot

If you were to ask mobile network operators what keeps them up at night, “5G slice management” probably wouldn’t be their first answer. Or their second, third, fourth… well, you get the point. The fact is that slicing is just a very small slice of 5G rollouts at first, with operators deploying only a few 5G slices initially: one for consumers, another for enterprises, maybe a third for an MVNO partner, but nothing so elaborate that managing those slices becomes a cause for sleepless nights.

Operators who ignore 5G slice management altogether, however, could be in for a rude awakening. By 2023, 5G users are expected to make up about half of all mobile subscribers. When that happens, operators will go from a few slices to a few hundred and, eventually, a few thousand. There will be slices for every app (e.g., Netflix, Facebook, YouTube), for every enterprise, and even for every application within an enterprise (e.g., manufacturing floor sensors, delivery vehicles, virtual private networks, videoconferencing). And managing all those slices will be unmanageable without an automated slice management tool.

Now that we’ve got you thinking about 5G slice management, the question is What should you look for in a slice manager? It ultimately comes down to four key capabilities:

  1. Operational Agility
  2. Support for Virtualization
  3. Service Optimization
  4. Intelligent Orchestration


1. Operational Agility

When 5G ramps up, operators are going to need to create slices quickly. Think sushi chef fast. So, their slice manager has to support a DevOps framework that allows them to create, spin up, iterate, and spin down slices dynamically to meet rapidly changing subscriber demands. Ultimately, slices will define the services you sell; the more slices you have, the more revenue streams you’ll have coming into your business.

2. Support for Virtualization

It’s a given that any operator implementing 5G capabilities will already be pretty far down the virtualization/container path. 5G slice management needs to support a virtualized environment, which brings to the fore unique concerns. For example, how do you measure NIC bandwidth, CPU, memory, and disk space on virtualized hardware? And how do you prioritize and balance traffic when you only have a single rack of virtualized servers in an edge deployment? The slice manager needs to be able to capture these metrics and re-balance or re-tune traffic in as close to real-time as possible.

3. Service Optimization

Conserving physical resources is important, but so is serving up great subscriber experiences. Service optimization isn’t a new concept for operators, but it requires a new process in 5G. Today, operators optimize their services by drilling down into their data to pinpoint areas for improvement and then making manual adjustments accordingly. With a 5G slice manager, operators can now do this automatically. For example, a slice manager may detect congestion issues and decide to optimize Netflix videos through video compression. This traffic could be moved to an automatically instantiated slice in order to prevent impact to other services. A lot of these automated optimization capabilities will be enabled by a new network function defined in 5G, the network data analytics function (NWDAF).

4. Intelligent Orchestration

Orchestration in this sense refers to integration within an ecosystem of solutions. Some 5G vendors will try to sell operators a complete ecosystem based on their own technology and, yes, you would expect tight integration in such a case, but that’s not necessarily the best approach. Our approach is that best-of-breed is best because it gives operators more flexibility to pick and choose the right components. You might have a RAN slice manager from one vendor, a transport slice manager from another, and a core network slice manager from Affirmed. Choosing an orchestration solution built on open standards ensures that everything works together, allowing operators to perform service activation, subscriber provisioning, and slice management all from one shared platform.

The intelligent part of the intelligent orchestration refers to out-of-the-box, automated capabilities. Affirmed, for example, includes a lot of prebuilt content and wizards in its slice manager to help operators quickly and automatically set up, customize, and manage slices. The advantage here isn’t just speed but accuracy, as automated slice management reduces common, manual errors.

So, now that you know what to look for in a 5G slice manager—and that Affirmed can deliver those capabilities today with its UnityCloud 5G core solution—maybe you’ll rest a little easier. But don’t rest too long, or you could risk missing out on your slice of the 5G revenue pie.

5 Revenue-Driving Applications of Private LTE Services

by Tim Irwin Tim Irwin No Comments

In my last blog about monetizing Private LTE Networks, I made the case for private LTE services as a way for mobile network operators (MNOs) to monetize their networks. In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the use cases and applications for private LTE services—that is, the nitty-gritty of how MNOs can actually make that money.

Today, the mobile network is more or less a pipeline between content consumers and content providers. As mobile communications increase—and they stand to increase significantly for the foreseeable future—that pipeline needs to expand. If MNOs intend to backhaul that traffic through their network, they need to expand the entire pipeline, from core to edge. From a network transformation perspective, that’s like starting your journey by climbing Mt. Everest.

Private LTE services offer a shortcut to expanding network capacity at the edge, which also gives MNOs more control over the user experience. They can deploy private networks, including Private 5G and LTE at the edge of their cell sites or at the edge an enterprise’s network. By moving network services to the edge, MNOs can then decide whether traffic should remain local (e.g., a retailer delivering an in-store wireless experience to shoppers) or be backhauled through the network. This ability to break out services at the edge allows MNOs to infuse more security in the private LTE service or connect it directly to the cloud for more flexibility.

Applications of Private LTE Services

Although the uses cases for private LTE will largely be driven by enterprises themselves, here are five applications that represent an opportunity for MNOs right now:

  1. Secure in-building wireless access
  2. In-store experiences
  3. Healthcare applications
  4. Theft mitigation for IoT devices
  5. Stadiums


Secure in-building wireless access

Most enterprises use Wi-Fi for in-building wireless communications. But Wi-Fi has limitations in coverage, bandwidth, and security that LTE does not. Enterprises could use a private LTE network in their building to provide secure, wireless access to business applications. They can even add an extra layer of security to their communications by using a captive portal within the private LTE network to serve as an authentication proxy, thus blocking unauthorized users from accessing those applications.

In-store experiences

Retail customers are looking for enhanced experiences in brick-and-mortar stores, from digital shopping assistants to augmented reality. A private LTE can help deliver these experiences on mobile devices with security, quality, and low latency.

Healthcare applications

The healthcare industry is heavily regulated in terms of how it can collect and share data. While many of these regulations are around personally identifiable information, even devices like heart monitors are subject to strict requirements. Wireless heart monitors must demonstrate a chain of trust in communications that ensure data cannot be manipulated in transit. A private LTE service combined with technology such as Affirmed’s vProbe can provide a detailed record of every IP flow and satisfy the need for compliance reporting and auditing.

Theft mitigation for IoT devices

While the chances of someone running off with our home thermostat are probably slim, manufacturing companies are reasonably concerned about equipment theft, particularly when that equipment contains sensitive information. In the event that a wireless-enabled device is removed illegally from a factory floor, a private LTE service could allow the device owner to effectively shut off its operation once it leaves the private LTE network’s range, even limiting the device’s functionality to just sending out a location signal.


Sporting events are often cited as an ideal use case for 5G technology, but private LTE services can deliver the same cost-efficient connectivity for dynamic events that require short periods of large capacity. Much like in-store experiences, in-stadium experiences can include augmented reality, secure mobile payments, and strong wireless connectivity within the stadium structure.

Let Private LTE Services Open the Door to Profitability

As you can see, private LTE applications and services provide an entry point into next-generation services that can drive revenue today. Enterprises will pay more for these experiences because their customers will pay more for them. You don’t need to wait for 5G; the revenue opportunities are knocking right now. Let private LTE open the door to a more profitable future today.

UnityCloud Ops Brings Together Orchestration, Management, and Automation for Accelerated Digital Transformation in the World of 5G

by Sanjay Mewada Sanjay Mewada No Comments

Digital transformation is central to everything you do. It’s what determines how you build your network. It’s what sparks innovation in your business. It’s what will drive the great customer experiences of tomorrow. But without a new approach to orchestration, automation, and management, telco operators will never realize the full benefits of digital-driven initiatives such as 5G, multi-access edge computing, and the cloud.

Orchestration, automation, and management solutions support digital transformation by helping telco operators optimize processes and workflows, simplify network operations, accelerate service creation, ensure quality and reliability, and reduce operational costs. This becomes even more important, especially as the deployment of 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) accelerates. Despite the fact that many vendors offer orchestration, automation, and management solutions today, these solutions fail to deliver true digital transformation under the challenges facing telco operators:

  • Network complexity due to multivendor, best-of-breed environments that lead to long service provisioning cycles, particularly as operators begin to decompose those services into microservices;
  • Struggling to monetize use cases, even when there’s clearly market demand for the use case, because of lengthy service creation cycles and limited slicing capabilities;
  • High OpEx because of multiple O&M stacks from different vendors to manage the core, the edge, and the cloud;
  • Lack of service velocity as operators continue to rely on inefficient processes that do not support the need for continuous delivery, testing, and integration (CI/CD/CT);
  • Too many different workflows that strain an operator’s support capabilities;
  • Keeping up with evolving 5G and MEC standards from 3GPP, ETSI, TM Forum, and other groups.

So, what do operators need overcome these challenges and achieve true digital transformation? An orchestration, automation, and management platform that is designed from the ground up to support this kind of transformation. This platform would need to rapidly migrate legacy technology. It would need to accelerate new service creation by leveraging pre-defined service templates. It would have to operate seamlessly across any cloud environment. And, perhaps most importantly, it must reduce or eliminate the amount of coding needed to complete change requests and other historically resource-intensive tasks.

Where can operators find a platform like that? With Affirmed’s UnityCloud Ops.

Introducing UnityCloud Ops: Orchestration for 5G and the Cloud

Affirmed’s recently introduced UnityCloud Ops is a completely new and cloud-native solution for telco cloud operations and management. Within UnityCloud Ops are tools, products, and technology that provide the service automation, simplified “any-G” network management, and network observability that telco operators need to digitally transform their business.

UnityCloud Ops addresses the challenges that telco operators are facing today as they look to embrace 5G and cloud technologies by:

  • Delivering intelligent automation through orchestration, network visibility, and big data/business intelligence;
  • Providing a common user experience across any cloud environment: private, public, or hybrid;
  • Supporting the leading network standards including 3GPP, SA5 O&M, and ETSI;
  • Adding dozens of pre-built applications that allow operators to rapidly address 5G monetization, MANO functions, and slice management;
  • Establishing the foundation for a DevOps approach to service creation that supports continuous integration, design, and testing (CI/CD/CT).

UnityCloud Ops delivers automation by implementing intelligent domain orchestration across service models, service templates, and workflows for each 5G use case. This automation features a no-code approach, instead using a GUI interface to create, orchestrate, and manage services. This approach has a number of benefits for telco operators: it eliminates the extra coding normally required for change requests and other tasks, it redirects skilled programmers to more critical tasks, and it drives down OpEx.

UnityCloud Ops offers robust slice management capabilities based on Affirmed’s unique technical approach to slice management, which addresses both the network slice management (NSM) and the network slice sub-net management function (NSSMF). Designed to interface seamlessly with third-party network functions, UnityCloud Ops simplifies and accelerates slice creation, slice monitoring, slice modification, and slice management using a standards-based approach.

Other key features of UnityCloud Ops include artifact management; lifecycle management across OpenStack, Kubernetes, and UnityCloud environments; northbound and southbound interface integration; real-time network observability through virtual probes; cloud management and optimization; and analytics/BI capabilities that support 5G’s network data analytics functions (DAF, NWDAF).

As you can see, UnityCloud Ops brings together a world of functionality to help operators simplify, accelerate, automate, and orchestrate their digital transformation in a soon-to-be 5G world. Stay tuned for more to come from Affirmed and Microsoft.