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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.

Microsoft and Affirmed: Accelerating the path to 5G Services in the Cloud

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

With the announcement of Azure for Operators, Microsoft has outlined a vision and strategy to unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever, opening new opportunities for service providers all over the world.

Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, while a surprise to some in the telecommunications industry, signaled  Microsoft’s long-term commitment to telecommunications industry. Telcom executives naturally had a lot of questions: What were Microsoft’s 5G plans? How would the new acquisitions align with Microsoft’s cloud strategies? Would Microsoft’s presence accelerate the arrival of 5G? Is Microsoft looking to compete or partner with telecommunications service providers?

Today, we can answer those questions.

On September 28, Microsoft for Telecommunications hosted its inaugural Telecommunications Executive Forum. This live event showcased Microsoft’s strategy, roadmap, and technology for 5G—some of it unveiled publicly for the first time. Attendees heard about Microsoft’s vision for 5G edge computing, cloud-based telecommunications, IoT, and a lot more. (Read more about Azure for Operators).

For Affirmed, it’s an exciting time to be a part of Microsoft. Our decision to join the Microsoft family was driven by the fact that both companies shared a unique vision for 5G and, together, could accelerate that vision. So far, the experience together has been overwhelmingly positive. Our customers are more excited about 5G than ever before, and our recent customer successes validate the vision that Microsoft and Affirmed share for the future.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen more and more telco operators around the world not just testing 5G technologies but embracing them:

  • In Finland, home to the world’s highest consumers of mobile services, DNA is replacing their legacy mobile core with a 5G core to serve up high-speed, high-bandwidth connections and meet consumers’ ever-expanding appetite for mobile services.
  • In Latin America, Millicom is moving to a cloud-based, 5G-ready mobile core to roll out new edge-based services to their customers such as augmented/virtual reality experiences and IoT applications.
  • In the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, Etisalat is leveraging next-generation network automation and orchestration as they continue to roll out 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) services.
  • In Sweden, Netmore is adopting 5G technologies to gain an early market lead on private enterprise services and IoT applications across Europe.

Bringing together the industry’s first cloud-native mobile platform and the world’s second-largest public cloud network provides telco operators with a clear, proven, accelerated path to 5G services in the cloud. Microsoft’s announcement to build a comprehensive cloud platform for 5G service providers is a game-changer for telcos. As for Affirmed, being a part of Microsoft expands the kinds of solutions we can offer our customers, including the option to consume a cloud-based mobile core platform as a service on world’s most advanced cloud computing platform.

A merger is often compared to a marriage. After the initial honeymoon, the real test of the relationship begins as you discover how well you work together. What we’ve discovered is that all the things that attracted us to Microsoft are the same things that make us stronger together. We’re both one hundred percent committed to the cloud as the next-generation platform for telecommunications. The unmatched flexibility the cloud platform offers—from on-prem deployments to mobile core as a service—enables operators to evolve at their own pace.  We both believe edge computing is integral to the success of 5G. We believe in open standards that invite innovation. We both believe in partnering, not competing, with service providers. And, most importantly, we share the same goals and dreams for the future.

In the days and months that follow, you’ll see that future unfolding. You will see how Microsoft, Affirmed, and Metaswitch teams are working together on a diversity of offerings. Microsoft’s Azure platform is a critical piece of the telecommunications industry’s future, and we’re proud to be an important part of that. For Affirmed, it’s been a long and interesting journey from a start-up with a vision of a cloud-native mobile core to being an instrumental part of Microsoft’s vision for the future of telecommunications.

The best is yet to come. We can’t wait to get started.

Read more about Azure for Operators on this blog post and this Microsoft site or reach out here, if you want to learn more about this announcement.

The four key investments in 4G which will pave the way to 5G

by Paul Phillips Paul Phillips No Comments

The journey to 5G has been like a summer road trip, with choruses of “Are we there yet?” mixed with exciting discussions about all the things we’ll do when we get there. It’s going to be a long haul, though, as 5G isn’t expected to officially “arrive” for several years. What we’ve seen so far is a smattering of 5G handsets on the market and a few tier-one operators that have deployed 5G radio access networks. Most operators and consumers, however, are postponing their 5G plans until the future is more certain. Sound familiar?

4 Key Aspects of a 4G Network

In fact, now is the perfect time to be planning for it. There are a lot of things that operators can be doing today to prepare for 5G and, at the same time, improve the 4G networks they have right now. In particular, operators looking to enhance or replace their existing EPC networks should consider these four aspects in order to simplify their transition to 5G:

  • Seamless support for 5G Radio (NR) and dual-connectivity handsets
  • An architecture that provides Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS)
  • Virtualization and support for public and private clouds
  • Interface interoperability and support for multivendor deployments

 

Seamless Support for 5G Radio

Initially, the path to 5G will follow a non-standalone architecture (NSA) for most operators. 5G NSA is a hybrid approach that leverages the existing 4G/LTE network while adding 5G connectivity over time. Another important piece of the early 5G rollout is E-UTRAN New Radio Dual Connectivity (EN-DC), which allows mobile devices to consume 4G or 5G services as they’re supported/available. 

Seamless 4G Experience:

As for the existing vEPC, it should provide a seamless experience across these technologies:

  • For operators: the vEPC should not force changes in the existing billing or policy infrastructure, but it should enable operators to roll out new 5G services
  • For subscribers: the move between NR and LTE connectivity should be invisible, including the delivery of the same QoS levels and value-added services.

 

Control and User Plane Separation

Another important consideration is CUPS (Control and User Plane Separation). This is a native feature of 5G, but one that operators can get value from right now in 4G. As its name implies, CUPS separates the control and user plane functions as opposed to the traditional approach of combining them in the same purpose-built appliance (e.g., a gateway). There are two major benefits to CUPS: scalability and manageability. With CUPS, you can scale selectively, such as adding more user plane capacity at the edge. In a pre-CUPS network, control and user plane functionality is scaled together, which increases cost and complexity as more boxes and more interfaces are added to the network.

 

CUPS & Multi-Access Edge Computing

CUPS plays an important role in multi-access edge computing (MEC)—another cornerstone of 5G—particularly in the case of Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC). For example, in the case of autonomous vehicles, an operator could quickly scale up their user plane capacity at the edge to deliver low latencies, add breakout gateway capabilities to decide which traffic could remain local and which needed to be backhauled through the core network, ultimately reducing network traffic in high-traffic areas, ensuring that vehicles continued to receive reliable, real-time information.

 

Virtualization and support for public and private clouds

Most operators have already virtualized much of their network, but when it comes to how to prepare for 5G, they’ll need to “cloudify” their network—i.e., be able to deploy network functions in the cloud. Another compelling reason for investing in a vEPC today is the ability to deploy core network functions in a private cloud or on a public cloud platform such as Azure, AWS or Google Cloud. The public cloud is a natural fit for edge computing applications because it allows operators to deploy functions close to customers in more regions through a globally deployed network.

 

Interface interoperability and support for multi-vendor deployments

Interoperability is also something that operators need to be thinking about now, especially if they want the flexibility of building a best-of-breed 5G network down the road. A 5G core (5GC) that supports a wide variety of interfaces and standards allows an operator to mix and match the best components independently over time, such as replacing their existing policy control routing function (PCRF) with a dual 4G/5G policy control function. But interoperability can be misleading. Even with the fact that 3GPP has defined standards for PCRF interfaces, there are broad interpretations of those standards from vendor-to-vendor that can complicate interoperability. Therefore, it’s important to choose a vEPC with a proven track record of multivendor interoperability versus a “closed box” EPC vendor.

 

Summer may be over, but it’ll take a lot longer for 4G to end. In other words, you’ve got time—but you’ve also got a lot of work ahead of you. Now is the perfect time to be talking about the road ahead to 5G and planning how to get there faster, smarter and safer. If you need directions, we’re here to help.

 

Affirmed Networks Wins the Best Network Automation Technology Award at 5G World Summit 2020

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

The 5G World Summit 2020 event program may have been a virtual one but that didn’t take away from the event’s ability to highlight the criticality of the telecommunication industry during this unprecedented time.

This was especially true in the awards program.  Consisting of 15 dedicated 5G categories, the 5G World Awards are focused on celebrating and recognizing achievement and excellence in the industry.

We are pleased to announce that Affirmed Networks was named as a “Finalist” in three categories and won the top award for “Best Network Automation Technology.”  This award was created to recognize the best network automation technology from a vendor, with judges looking for specific detail of deployments and benefits.  Deployed at several of the world’s most innovative Communications Service Providers, Affirmed’s UnityCloud Ops solution measured highest in all of these categories, providing multiple use cases demonstrating measurable benefits and cost-savings across the network.

UnityCloud Ops is gaining traction in the marketplace because operators know that successful 5G deployments will require a high degree of intelligent automation, and network slicing to create, deploy, and manage new offerings. UnityCloud Ops is capable of doing just that and provides operators with reduced OpEX, greater deployment flexibility, and service agility.

All of this is contributing to the continued adoption of UnityCloud Ops by CSPs worldwide.

In addition to being named a “Finalist” and ultimate “Winner” in the Network Automation category, Affirmed Networks was named a finalist in two other categories based on our continued success helping operators deploy virtualized 4G and 5G networks.  These categories include:

  • Best 5G Core Network Technology
  • Best Edge Computing Technology

The entire team at Affirmed Networks is honored to receive this recognition from such a respected event and esteemed group of judges.   We would like to thank 5G World for putting on such a well-run and much-needed event and would like to congratulate all of the Finalists and Winners honored during the 5G World Awards Program.