The fifth generation of wireless communications, 5G, has a lot of people excited: consumers, because of all the neat apps it will support, from virtual reality to self-driving cars; enterprises, for the new efficiencies it will bring through smart devices and remote-controlled factories; and mobile telco operators, for the broad number of new revenue opportunities that 5G services represent. Few people, however, are likely to get excited about the idea of control and user plane separation—or CUPS as it has come to be called—yet in terms of 5G, CUPS holds the key to many of the most exciting services.
What is CUPS (Control and User Plane Separation)?
The value of CUPS is closeness, because it allows mobile service providers to bring the service closer to the user. In a traditional 3G/4G network, services are run out of the mobile core, which may be hundreds of miles away from the user. Surprisingly, this distance may only add tens to hundreds of milliseconds to the service transmission, but even a half-second delay can make a world of difference when you’re talking about an application like a self-driving car. In fact, the majority of the most exciting 5G applications require CUPS—virtual reality gaming, smart cities, emergency response services—because they can’t tolerate latency.
Current Applications of CUPS
What does CUPS bring to the table in terms of better experiences? Let’s look at a few 5G applications with and without CUPS.
Keeping with the car theme, there has been a lot of talk about smart cities, particularly around services such as smart parking, where cars are automatically directed to the closest available parking space. As more people move to urban centers, smart parking is a time- and space-saver, but time is the operative word here. If the information you’re getting is delayed by a second, your spot may already be gone by the time you get there. A CUPS smart city network is currently the most efficient way to smartly eliminate that delay.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
AR/VR is a game-changer for gaming companies, live events, hospitality/tourism and just about anything where “being there” is the name of the game. Beyond the big helmets of today’s VR applications, however, is an even more inconvenient reality: the cable that connects the headset to the application server. CUPS would replace the need for a physical connection with a 5G connection, which would free AR and VR applications to go anywhere.
Imagine you’re walking through an airport or standing on a moving walkway (it’s okay, everyone deserves a free ride sometimes) and you’re met by a series of advertisements directed especially to you. Granted, maybe you’re not that excited about personalized mobile advertisements, but advertisers certainly are. The challenge of mobile video advertisements is figuring out who someone is (and what they like) and where they are at that exact moment in time. If those calculations need to be routed miles away to a mobile core, well, you’ve missed your opportunity. CUPS can reduce those calculations to a few milliseconds, allowing advertisers to be in the right place and time for the right person, every time.
Mobile Video Marathons
Any discussion of 5G eventually gets around to how much more video people are watching on their mobile devices, and how much more network bandwidth is required to meet that demand. For mobile service providers, this is a bleak future; think of the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, but with network engineers running around in terror instead of serfs. CUPS can change all that by allowing content providers like HBO, Netflix and others to store content closer to the user—say, in fifty metropolitan locations instead of one or two national locations—which dramatically reduces the impact on the network and gives viewers a better, faster experience. Unfortunately, CUPS will not prevent your friends from posting spoilers about your favorite shows before you’ve had a chance to watch them.
Few applications are driving interest in 5G like the promise of not having to drive at all. Car companies have already released vehicles with autonomous capabilities—from self-driving to self-parking—but they carry a cost because of the extra equipment involved, notably the onboard compute, storage and memory that these cars require to eliminate information delays. Using CUPS, car companies can benefit from a service provider’s low latency network and shared compute resources to ditch the on board resources and get real-time information via a 5G connection, which increases what cars can do on their own and reduces how much they cost.
In the movies, the audience always sees the bad guy hiding around the corner, even when the hero can’t. In real life, unfortunately, officers and firefighters have limited insight into live situations. With CUPS, emergency responders could share helmet and body camera footage as live feeds with their colleagues, in essence giving them a second and third pair of eyes.
As you can see, CUPS is more than a cool acronym; it’s the foundation behind some of the coolest 5G services. The bad news is that, for now, CUPS is out of reach for most network equipment vendors, who are still trying to figure out how to separate the control and the user planes in the first place. Affirmed’s networks solutions have had that separation from day one because we knew a day would come when mobile service providers needed that kind of real-time response. In fact, we’re still one of only a few companies that can offer a CUPS solution today, and we’ve been doing it for longer than anyone else. So if you’re serious about delivering the next generation of mobile services, there’s really only one place to start: Affirmed.