The ability to virtualize network functions in the access, edge and core of the network will help guarantee 5G performance and service flexibility.
October 18, 2018
In a recent Insights post, the role that 4G/LTE networks play in helping to pave the way to 5G was shown to be a significant factor in creating the right guiding principles; LTE doesn’t stand for “Long-Term Evolution” for nothing, right? At the same time, the reasons why many CSPs are pointing to 2019 as the target data for initial 5G network deployments are well founded. In order to support the myriad of use cases that are being ascribed to the Industry 4.0 era, massive network scalability and flexibility will be required. Much of this flexibility and scalability can be enabled in the way that 5G networks help to not only create discrete network slices within a given spectrum band, but also decouple access types from transport links to the cloud and/or mobile core networks.
In order to deliver on these promises, network virtualization will play a crucial role. Indeed, the ability to virtualize network functions in the access, edge, and core of the network will be required to support scale-in/scale-out of network resources as well as tap into off-the-shelf hardware cost efficiencies, and software-based development models required to meet rapidly changing network requirements.
Specifically, examples of where virtualization will be key to 5G include:
- Network slicing. Mentioned previously and seen as one of the more significant offerings, network slicing gives the ability to create multiple logical networks on top of a common physical infrastructure. However, to deliver the desired service enablement benefits slices must be able to be dynamically created, allocated, and reclaimed on an on-demand basis.
- Multi-access edge compute (MEC). If one driver of 5G deployments will be in support of ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) applications such as autonomous driving and industrial automation, then the ability to process information to and from endpoints in real-time is a must. MEC will be a very important enabler of reducing latency to sub-millisecond ranges.
- Local traffic break-out. If 5G promises to enable a myriad of use cases that rely on eMBB and URLLC capabilities it will also create exponential traffic growth at the edge of the network. This could force CSPs into an untenable network CapEx situation as they seek to build-out comprehensive 5G networks. The CSP can ease the impact on this traffic growth by using virtualized network elements to break-out local traffic, and/or traffic destined for the cloud before it hits the mobile core.
With all that said, the trade-off required by tapping into the scale and flexibility enabled by software-defined, virtualized networks is that there will be new levels of complexity in terms of how networks, and the services that ride over them, are tested, measured, fulfilled, and assured. It also means that network operations organizations will have to adapt their processes to manage rapidly changing network characteristics and requirements.
To manage this complexity, and adapt to the business process changes required to function in a 5G world, CSPs must rely on an ecosystem of trusted suppliers and partners. To this end, taking the time to line up, vet, and then work with these partners could end up being some of the most important decisions a CSP will make during the course prepping for 5G deployments.