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.

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 SA 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


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:

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.