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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.