There’s little doubt that the introduction of 5G-based networks and services will change the communications networking landscape more than any other previous generation of standardized mobile technology.
The excitement is already palpable, as operators around the world launch their initial services and unveil the kinds of bandwidth-hungry services, including virtual reality (VR) and ultra-high definition (UHD) video, that previous iterations of cellular technology have been unable to support.
But this is only the beginning: These initial launches and services are based on enhanced mobile broadband capabilities, made possible by the deployment of upgraded radio access network (RAN) systems and the introduction of 5G-enabled devices that deliver fiber-like broadband connectivity.
While that’s a significant step forward for network operators, the full potential of 5G can only be realized once the core network -- the “brain” of the network that manages authentication, session management, mobility, policy control, signaling, quality of service (QoS) and more -- is also upgraded.
There are a number of steps to be taken yet before mobile operators are able to deploy a full 5G core solution and it’s not something that can be done at scale right now: The specifications for a fully functional, flexible 5G core network will be included in the 3GPP’s Release 16, which is set for a ‘functional freeze’ in March 2020. In the meantime, to support their early nonstandalone (NSA) 5G mobile broadband service launches, operators will focus their initial core network investment phase on upgrading their existing evolved packet core (EPC) solutions that have been deployed to support evolving 4G/LTE services, says Heavy Reading Principal Analyst Gabriel Brown. Such investments may involve the introduction of functionality such as control- and user-plane separation (CUPS) to provide the scalability needed to support greater traffic volumes, he notes.
Ultimately, though, operators will be focused on deploying full, cloud-native 5G core solutions for standalone (SA) mode operations. “The new core is what you need for advanced services such as network slicing and to achieve a common core for fixed and wireless access – this is the next phase,” says Brown.