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Year: 2021

Hyperscale Cloud and Mobile Core: Why They’re Better Together

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

What happens when you put a mobile core in a hyperscale cloud? Awesomeness.

For years, even before the cloud, there was software-as-a-service. Then followed a sort of “service mania” as vendors offered infrastructure-as-a-service, network-as-a-service, storage-as-a-service, ad nauseum. In the telco world, however, networks were still built primarily with dedicated boxes running proprietary software. It wasn’t cheap or easy to scale these networks, but they were reliable. This article outlines mobile-core-as-a-service solutions and the advantages of a fully integrated hyperscale cloud and mobile core.

Cloudification & Mobile Core

Today, many elements of the telco network have been virtualized and even cloudified. The result has been cheaper, more scalable, yet still reliable networks. One area that resisted this sweeping cloudification was the mobile core. Though virtualized, the mobile core remained very much an on-prem solution. That is, until Affirmed announced UnityCloud, the world’s first 5G mobile core that can be fully deployed in the cloud as a mobile-core-as-a-service, and integrates with a hyperscale cloud platform.

Benefits: Mobile Core on a Hyperscale Cloud

Running a mobile core in a hyperscale cloud has a number of benefits:

  • The deployment can be fully automated to increase service velocity and accelerate the time to revenue for new 5G services
  • Operators can orchestrate cloud workloads and private workloads using Kubernetes to compose new services in any configuration
  • Network functions can be scaled up or down automatically based on network demand
  • Operators can automate their continuous integration/delivery (CI/CD) pipeline through automated software upgrades
  • Network fault detection can also be automated and enhanced through AI and machine learning tools

Managing your mobile core with ARM and ARC

UnityCloud can run on the Microsoft Azure  cloud platform as well as private cloud environments or on premise-based equipment. Within UnityCloud is a complete set of cloud-native functions (CNFs) built on a stateless microservices architecture. These CNFs provide both the control and user plane functions and can be separated in different environments; for example, with the control plane functions hosted in the Azure cloud and the user plane functions hosted on premise-based, bare metal servers.

The UnityCloud services reside in the platform-as-a-service layer, where they perform service assurance, CNF lifecycle management, security, and edge functions. One of the great features of deploying UnityCloud on Azure is the Azure Resource Manager (ARM), which serves as a GUI portal and an API layer. ARM lets you easily manage everything in the Azure environment and create templates to automate and orchestrate services.
Automation and unified management are critical to operating a 5G mobile core, but what happens when elements of the core are split between Azure and non-Azure environments?

With Azure Resource Center (ARC), you can manage non-Azure infrastructure from the same GUI portal. So, we’re not just allowing operators to deploy their mobile core any way and anywhere they want, but we’re doing it in a way that doesn’t add any complexity to the management of that mobile core.

Real-world use cases for mobile-core-as-a-service

UnityCloud is already helping some of the world’s most sophisticated mobile operators deploy 5G networks. For example, in Finland, a leading operator is using UnityCloud to deploy both 5G smartphone service and fixed broadband wireless using a mix of 4G and 5G radio access networks. In Latin America, a tier-one operator with 50 million subscribers is deploying its network services closer to the edge with UnityCloud, providing a better customer experience to subscribers across a widely dispersed geographic area. And, in the UK, a tier-one operator has dramatically reduced its network complexity with UnityCloud.

While mobile core efficiencies are a big part of UnityCloud’s story, content optimization is also important. UnityCloud includes a host of value-added content optimization services including TCP optimization, video optimization, firewall, carrier-grade NAT, and more. Consolidating these services, which were typically purchased from different vendors, into a single-vendor solution further simplifies the 5G network.

We expect that other mobile-core-as-a-service solutions will follow from other vendors, but even so, UnityCloud will have a unique advantage: full integration with a hyperscale cloud platform, Microsoft Azure. While accelerated deployment is one obvious advantage of this, UnityCloud can also now take advantage of all the features and benefits of the Azure cloud ecosystem including AI and machine learning. In fact, you could say UnityCloud has taken the concept of “cloud native” to a whole new level.

The Five Key Traits of Highly Successful 5G Networks

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

The new year gives each of us an opportunity to reflect on self-improvements for the future, and maybe networks are no different. Right now, your network could be telling itself that 2021 is the year it’ll finally get serious about IoT or stop talking about cloud-native and take the plunge. In which case, your network has its work cut out for it. For operators looking to get their networks in shape, this blog outlines key elements for successful 5G networks.

 

5G Requirements

Getting your network in shape for the 5G applications of the future isn’t a simple matter of reducing operational fat and running more hardware. It’s a completely different approach that requires unlearning some unhealthy habits, such as:

  • Gaining too much weight (in the form of new hardware) every time the network needs to expand
  • Avoiding network automation because it’s too expensive, too exotic, or too scary
  • Limiting major software releases once a year, while the competition is continuously innovating and improving
  • Accepting downtime during maintenance windows as a necessary evil
  • Piecing network visibility together from different tools that you know will never work together perfectly

In fairness, those habits were ingrained over years of operating a 2G/3G/4G network. But a 5G network doesn’t need telecom operators so much as telecom innovators, and innovation means embracing change. In order to support 5G innovation, telcos must learn to match the agility of over-the-top (OTT) providers, eliminate downtime, automate as much of their operations as possible and leverage both the cloud and edge computing to ensure they deliver amazing experiences to their users.

 

Five Key Elements of a 5G Network

At the heart of the 5G service experience is the 5G mobile core. There are a lot of different technology components that go into making a great 5G network, from virtualized RAN to container orchestration (Kubernetes), but there are five key elements that every successful 5G mobile core requires.

App Store Simplicity

“Plug” and “play” probably aren’t the first two words that come to mind when you think of a mobile network’s service architecture. Plug-and-play simplicity, however, is exactly what telco operators need to rapidly deploy and manage 5G services. Think of it as an internal app store, with portals and APIs that allow you to drag and click your way to creating new services.

Containerized Workloads

Virtualization was a great step forward. Now telcos need to take the next step, toward containerization. Containerized workloads provide the freedom to create services independent of hardware and software so they can run anywhere.

Network Slicing

We’ve been singing the praises of network slices for years, but 5G is where slicing really shines. That’s because 5G can serve so many different services to so many different businesses and consumers, which calls for the kind of network service differentiation that network slicing delivers.

Location Independence

In the past, the user and control planes sat on the same server/appliance. If you needed more of one, you got more of the other—even if you didn’t need it—because you couldn’t separate the two. Now, with control and user plane separation (CUPS), you can keep the user and control planes independent and finally scale network resources efficiently. CUPS opens up a range of deployment possibilities to improve 5G service delivery and reduce costs: local breakout at the edge, hybrid clouds, public cloud vs. on-prem edge, etc.

Access Independence

Wi-Fi and wireline technologies still have a role to play in 5G communications, which means they need to be able to access the 5G core (and vice versa). An effective 5G mobile core is one that allows telcos to manage and apply common policies to non-3GPP traffic such as Wi-Fi, cable/DSL, and fiber.

 

In Closing:

As you can see, 5G involves quite a “core” workout. Fortunately, there is an easier way to get your core in shape quickly: 5G mobile core as a service. It’s a new offering from Microsoft that’s based on Affirmed’s industry-leading 5G core technology and hosted in Microsoft’s new Azure for Operators environment. If that sounds like something in your future, tune in for my next blog on what “5G mobile as a service” means and why it’s a game-changer for 5G operators.