August 28, 2019

The 5G Transformational Effect on Network Infrastructure and Software

The ongoing buildout of 5G network infrastructure is having a profound impact on the shape of the physical network, prompting changes in how the supporting software behaves.

Here are the most impactful changes in the deployment phase and how that will impact ongoing telecom software evolution.

Impact on Network Infrastructure

  1. Importance of new terrestrial fiber to reduce data latency
    The deployment of 5G networks worldwide is causing increased and sustained investment will surge in optical fiber infrastructure. In the US, Tier 1 CSPs such as Verizon are brokering billion-dollar deals with fiber cable manufacturers such as Corning to provide them with over twelve million miles of fiber cable between 2018 and 2020. The fiber deals can support both their existing wireline and wireless business, but Verizon has indicated that the new fiber is predominantly to support their 5G network rollouts in the US. Several infrastructure providers such as Corning also reported revenue growth at a higher rate than previous years as many Tier 1 and 2 CSPs move to densify the fiber optic cabling in their networks.

    Changes in RAN configuration, with the ongoing centralization of macro cell kit such as baseband processing units, means that BBUs are being removed from the cell site and the functions is being performed back in the data centers in a cloud model. This creates the need to more fiber fronthaul to eliminate latency issues between the BBU and the antenna head. It is becoming clear that 5G also involves quite a lot of small cell densification, so each one of these small cells requires a fiber cable run to it.
     
  2. Investment in new radio transmission equipment
    It is also clear that 5G will require a whole host of RAN equipment and different site configurations, so there are many functions moving to different places in the network. Advanced antenna systems are being deployed for transmission in the millimeter wave spectrum bands that are not currently in use by LTE, some of which are ‘beam forming’ directional antennas.
     
  3. More SDN/NFV, reducing the need for specialized proprietary equipment
    5G is not just about the new radio capabilities, but is part of the larger digitalization strategies going on within most MNOs. As such, the service-centric silver bullet that 5G will help to deliver is network slicing, which requires virtualization. So the high-pace uptake of 5G will drive NFV/SDN adoption in the core network.

Impact on Telecom Software

  1. Next generation inventory management requirements
    More fiber, means the old siloed attitudes to physical network asset inventory must now end and a more holistic approach must be adopted. The opex spent by CSPs on network maintenance is one of their largest financial commitments and yet the typical inventory situation is a variety of legacy systems with no real overlaying orchestration or harmonization between the databases. In addition, telco physical inventory data quality is often very poor, inherited from years of M&A activity and data migrations. Modern inventory systems are targeting this shortfall as a clear path to helping operators significantly drive opex costs down.
     
  2. Network management systems aligned to next gen OSS/BSS
    New RAN means, new network management, optimization (a new generation of SON), new service assurance, new planning processes, new capabilities to be defined in the OSS which reflect this equipment and configurations. 5G has many service-led advantages which are directly traceable to improved customer experience, linking these technical additions to those metrics is the service orchestrator and all associated core OSS systems. So the OSS and BSS are intimately linked with the profiting from new infrastructure.
     
  3. The move to cloud based OSS
    The cloudification of operations means that everything above that virtualized network infrastructure needs to be radically modernized to make sure that the service-centric ideals of SDN/NFV and 5G can be realized. For MNOs migrating to the cloud is becoming a necessary step to enable next-generation business and operations through enhanced flexibility, security, reliability and scalability. One essential step on this migration path, is to replace monolithic architectures and move toward a PaaS-based microservices approach for applications, which promotes extreme business agility. We are seeing many operators moving quickly towards this approach, in line with their overall digitalization strategy.

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