Dr. Patrik Rokyta, VP of Systems Architecture

I had the opportunity in May to join a panel of my peers from BT, Verizon and the Dell’Oro Group at the virtual 5G Evolution Summit.  The focus of the panel was 5G core systems and the impact on how service providers will run their networks and develop and market new services.  I’ve captured some of the key points from the panel below.

The panelists agreed the 5G core will deliver more and faster data, but the difference and the benefits will depend on what use case is being addressed. While enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services can be rolled-out using the existing EPC in combination with the new 5G air interface (NSA mode), services that require, for example, low-latency communications or network slicing are optimally served using a 5G core.  Another benefit comes from how the 5G core is implemented and deployed. The virtualization we have experienced with the 4G core is not necessarily needed with 5G because the 5G core is built on cloud native technology. This cloud native ecosystem can orchestrate a high amount of containerized workload.  By building the 5G core as a set of smaller software units that are easily moved between suppliers like NetNumber and the operators like BT and Verizon, more agility can be brought to our automated deployment and lifecycle management compared to the legacy.

Why 5G?

5G is an essential upgrade because it brings with it more security, flexibility and functionality.  Network slicing will allow operators to custom tailor the service level agreement that they might want to have with an enterprise customer, or deliver the network characteristics (reliability, latency, QoS…) that are required on a fully automated manufacturing plant for example.  A 5G network slice becomes a powerful tool to offer differentiated services to first responders, technical networks and so on — serving particular needs in very specific geographies and times of the day.  5G also will enable operators to serve enterprises with new capabilities, expanding revenue beyond the mobile broadband networks that have been served traditionally by 4G.

Migrating to 5G

Migration is tied to a spectrum allocations, but also device availability and also device refresh. When do we expect customers to refresh their 4G devices and move on to 5G devices, whether that’s single connectivity (5G only) or dual connectivity (4G and 5G) devices? There are many different factors tied up with the migration to 5G, however, NetNumber is taking the approach towards a single core that will support 4G and 5G as well.

Our intent at NetNumber is to migrate all customers on to that single core and there are various ways to cut that for different operators. Depending on the approach, some operators are deploying 5G overlays and others are rolling out more widespread NSA deployments.  Some operators may opt for seamless interworking and harmonized subscriber data management between their existing EPC and the new 5G core, while other operators may keep EPC for 4G services including NSA and focus on building new services around a new converged core. We consider the different customer groups — enterprise customers versus consumer customers, the different services and the speed of migration of each customer type and how we can bring them onto the new 5G core, but supporting all of our existing NetNumber products as well.

The Converged Core

Most operators have EPC and legacy 2G and 3G cores.  For service providers, there are economies in having one core to manage and operate and the ability to extend some services to customers that are still on the older technologies.  A common core is easier to manage rather than operating multiple core stacks with the added complexity of seamless session continuity and subscriber data management for four different generations of the mobile core.

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