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5G Core

What if 5G could be as simple as an app store?

by Blogs & Opinions
Article ImageDeploying a 5G network can be a complex endeavor for any operator. The New Radio (NR) aspect of deployment gets all the attention, as well as frequency issues, whether indoor coverage can be provided and more. When considering a 5G core, most operators are proposing the non-standalone (NSA) architecture reusing the 4G core for 5G as an interim solution.

However, most or perhaps all the benefits that justify an investment in 5G can only be exploited with a 5G standalone (SA) architecture and a prerequisite for this option is the deployment of a 5G core.

The 5G core is currently treated by operators as a complete system with a group of more than 15 new functions communicating in new ways using the service-based architecture, and by means of new protocols. There is a lot of new complexity to be grasped, and that is why many operators prefer to view the 5G core as a simplified "black box" with all functions provided by a common vendor.

This strategy is ineffective because the 5G core encompasses a wide range of functions that can be improved with specialized competence. At a bare minimum, there should be a distinction between the user plane and the control plane. But there is good reason to differentiate further and, for example, separate functions that read, process and store subscriber profiles and settings.

Functions such as UDM, UDR, AUSF, PCF, NEF and EIR are all examples of products that would benefit from an approach with a modular core network architecture. The products all use subscriber and device data to perform specific actions when 5G connectivity is established for various use cases. There is no obvious reason why all associated functions should be sourced from one and the same vendor.

Here are five reasons why operators should deploy a best-of-breed 5G core:

  1. Avoid vendor lock-in By avoiding the "black box" syndrome and having to purchase the complete solution from a single vendor, operators can differentiate their offering and gain a competitive edge. Best-of-breed sourcing has never been easier. With 5G and the introduction of the service-based architecture the opportunities will be endless, and using open APIs and automation for deployment and testing(!) eliminates or mitigates any possible drawbacks from using multiple vendors.
  2. Support new use cases 5G will create a multitude of possible new use cases, beyond that of commodity mobile broadband. Well-known examples include massive Internet of Things (IoT) as well as industrial, vehicle and health-related applications. Also, using network slicing to operate one single network at the same time with different service levels allows advanced differentiation of subscribers, services and revenue.

    To support this, the network elements that control connectivity and allocate adequate network resources for devices and subscribers have to be flexible and support custom business logic.

  3. Implement a scalable solution With the introduction of massive IoT applications, and generally by using a data centric architecture, there will be a huge increase in the amount of data that the 5G core needs to access, processes and store. A data management solution must be designed taking these requirements and demands into consideration. This is no small task and the required capabilities are an order of magnitude greater compared to legacy systems.
  4. Assure interoperability and interworking The interfaces between network elements are now standard-version APIs with registries to allow their automated use, which reduce the time for interoperability testing and eliminates potential incompatibilities. This means that the deployment and integration of systems based on best-of-breed approaches has been greatly facilitated.
  5. Gain insights Data has an intrinsic value. The value of authentication data is self-evident but data can also help gain new insights, for example about subscriber and device behavior. This is primarily of commercial value but can also concern other important aspects such as cybersecurity. For the long-term success of operators, it is essential that the data management solution provides capabilities for analysis and produces this type of insights.

When building 5G networks, it can be tempting to take existing 4G functions and retrofit them so they behave similarly to cloud-native, 5G functions. While this works in the short term, this is a temporary solution and service providers will eventually be faced with the task of cleaning retrofitted 4G functions out of their networks and replacing them with truly cloud-native technology.

The sooner service providers adopt a best-of-breed approach for a standalone 5G core, this work will be kept at a minimum and they will be able to use 5G to its full potential.

Perhaps 5G could soon be as simple as an app store.

— Roland Steiner, Senior Vice President of Policy and Access Control, Enea

Photo by unsplash-logoRob Hampson

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