Unless you’ve been weathering the storm that is the year 2020 on some secluded remote island (in which case, lucky you, got room for one more?), you will no doubt have heard of the latest wireless broadband and cellular network standard known as 5G.
5G is the Fifth Generation of mobile network technology standards developed & published by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the telecommunications standards organisations which develop protocols for mobile telecommunications. 5G is the planned successor to 4G/LTE networks which provide connectivity to the majority of today’s telecommunication service provider networks around the world (refer to the reference links at the end, for a summary of all five telecom generations).
As a result of working within the telecommunications industry, I have witnessed first-hand the transformation and impact of 5G since mobile service providers worldwide began rolling it out circa 2019. As those of you who follow my articles, interviews and social posts can attest, I am convinced 5G is already changing the world. My own “daily driver” smartphone is a 5G enabled and activated device.
The impact is already being seen across key market segments, from end user and consumer markets to small/medium business, large enterprise, state and federal governments alike – as most of you have most likely already heard me say before, 5G is not “just another G”, it is an entirely new family of technical standards which define and make possible high speed, low latency, high bandwidth / throughput / density, massively scalable, flexible, dynamic and secure networking architectures, the likes of which we have never seen.
As with all such new and innovative technologies, there is enormous interest for telco & -Communication Service Provider (CSP) organisations to join the 5G marketplace early, to establish a market lead and gain early technical or commercial benefits.
A substantial number of leading communication service providers around the globe have already successfully launched various B2C or B2B products and services, based on 5G New Radio (NR) non-standalone (NSA) and existing Evolved Packet Core (EPC) networks. 5G-enabled smartphones or devices of some form are rapidly becoming the norm, and consumers are showing readiness to move to 5G where coverage is available.
I pay particular attention to the leading telecommunications vendors supporting CSPs on their 5G journey. In fact, Ericsson Digital recently announced they have over one hundred (118) 5G agreements signed and in play supporting 72 live 5G networks worldwide, highlighting how rapidly mobile carriers are moving to adopt 5G in some form.
Driven by both consumer demand and market opportunity, telcos and CSPs alike now face the immediate challenge of unlocking the full potential of 5G and taking the natural evolutionary steps to transition to and evolve to NR standalone (SA) and 5G Core (5GC).
Interested parties such as telcos, carriers, and CSPs and enterprise businesses of all shapes and sizes should become familiar with what 5G is, where this new technology fits, and how best they can approach it from early strategy and planning through to design, development, and deployment. It’s a big topic, and it needs appropriate attention to detail.
New “How to” guides released by Ericsson on 5G core networks
Ericsson Digital have developed a powerful library of knowledge to address the most pressing business and technology questions that decision-makers have around 5G. Their newest addition is a series of guides covering the six strategic areas CSPs should consider when building an e2e cloud native 5G core network:
- 5G Voice
- 5G Core
- Cloud infrastructure
- Automation and orchestration
- Operations and management
- Network security
I’ve read them all (multiple times) and have key takeaways on each topic for you. I strongly suggest downloading the series (see Further Reading below). My goal for you is to be informed and empowered, to be ready and able to develop appropriate strategies and plans, and to see your organisation successfully deploy and manage the type of cloud-native 5G core solutions required to secure your future success in this rapidly emerging model for telecommunications, carrier, and service provider business and technology.
Especially in the post-pandemic world and remote-first working environments, consumers are looking for highly reliable, always-on digital voice communications. Demand for video calls, high speed data, applications of mixed media, music streaming, video streaming and more will only accelerate – and that’s just the consumer side.
With the fourth industrial revolution well underway, demand for secure and reliable enterprise connectivity solutions will scale exponentially with new sensors feeding information and data being processed and relayed back within milliseconds. Enterprise companies also require high-quality, reliable and flexible mobile voice and communication services, to communicate effectively within their own company, as well as with customers and partners.
The IP Multimedia Subsystem or IMS is the magic component enabling mobile 5G voice and communication services. Widely used for VoLTE today, the IMS also supports efficient 5G Voice deployment. Telcos can begin their 5G voice journey with Ericsson’s existing cloud automated IMS, before evolving to cloud native IMS with improved total cost of ownership (TCO) and faster time-to-market. Between core, IMS and radio network functionality, Ericsson has all the pieces in place to enable CSPs to introduce 5G Voice. Reference the “5G voice network evolution” guide to learn more.
4G isn’t going away overnight. CSPs need to simultaneously introduce 5G services while continuing their 4G operations. Managing that total cost requires an integration solution and a migration path to cloud-native. Ericsson’s solution for this is called ‘dual-mode 5G Core’.
It’s built on cloud-native, micro-services based technology and combines Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and 5G Core (5GC) network functions into a common multi-access and cloud-native platform that supports 5G and as well as previous generations. This makes it much easier to migrate to 5G and to reduce total core network cost of ownership during the migration phase.
In Ericsson’s new series of guides, you’ll find two relating to 5G Core: “One core – the best of two worlds” and “Building a new world, evolving from EPC to 5G Core.” Within you will find the architectural description and business justification for embarking on the 5G journey.
Network functions virtualisation (NFV) started back in 2012 and many CSPs are now ready to evolve significant parts of their telco cloud infrastructure to cloud-native. Cloud-native spans application design and development to technology and infrastructure, processes and ways of working, and management and orchestration.
The process usually involves technology from multiple vendors, which means that an open-source ecosystem is required. Moving to cloud-native means shifting to a micro-services model and a DevOps framework utilising CI/CD and container-based software.
And, for 5G, it also means shifting to a shared infrastructure with orchestrated network slices to efficiently deploy multiple services. Service orchestration is an automated framework for rapidly designing, creating, delivering and monitoring new service offerings. Network slicing involves digital partitioning of the infrastructure to group specific characteristics and capabilities according to the business case or SLA.
In their “Cloud native transformation” guide, Ericsson outlines five design principles to follow when designing cloud native telecom applications. And, in the “Building a cloud native infrastructure” guide, Ericsson guides us across the multi-year journey of evolving the cloud infrastructure, by adding a container-as-a-service (CaaS) layer, based on Kubernetes, to support cloud native network functions.
Automation and Orchestration
Automation and orchestration both deserve deeper understanding, as they are core to operating a digital network infrastructure. Automation and orchestration are the digital building blocks that create the agile platform enabling 5G capabilities. Ericsson defines network automation as “the process of automatically deploying, configuring, orchestrating and assuring network functions and services using software.”
The distribution, scale and complexity of 5G network functions will be incredible, far beyond human capability to manage, and they will have to be constantly optimised, across every event impacting a service.
Automated orchestration calculates and executes the appropriate steps while maintaining service intent via ongoing closed-loop monitoring. It uses AI/ML to perform and improve operations to create an intelligent network. The Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration model is multi-vendor and standards based, which means it’s applicable to any network, IT or cloud service. Let that sink in.
I advise starting with the “Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration” guide first, to see the automation workflow, and then absorb the “zero-touch” benefit and the “TCO benefits.”
Operations and Management
By this point you’ve grasped the enormity of this transformation and you’re contemplating the internal changes required to culture, structure and operations. You’re correct – it’s massive. Fortunately, this is a collaborative effort and thousands of hours have already gone in to documenting best practices for making the transition.
Ericsson’s guide to “Transformation operations on the way to 5G” highlights why CSPs should define their strategies; what are the challenges they will face on a cloud native network; what should they consider when defining their strategies in the operations and management areas and which solutions are available to support them.
The journey is not linear. Each telco arrives with different strategic advantages and business opportunities. Exploit that knowledge up front by purposefully staggering the journey and prioritising the capabilities required to support the most important use cases. And at the risk of repeating myself, join the partner ecosystem. This is not a single-vendor or single-provider environment. Lean on infrastructure providers to accelerate your transformation, support the standards organisations and collaborate with the larger telco industry.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post (see Further Reading links below), 5G creates an entirely new cybersecurity minefield that must be addressed as part of the digital network design and creation process. Billions of new devices (remember, Industry 4.0 will far surpass consumer applications in terms of 5G usage models) and new deployment scenarios will come face to face with rising security threats and increasing regulatory requirements.
The level of risk will be both ever-changing and ever-increasing. “Building secure and trustworthy networks and services depends on all layers, says Ericsson: “mobile network standardisation, implementation of secure products, network deployment and operation are all essential.”
As with automated orchestration, security will also require automation to support compliance, threat detection and response. I strongly recommend reading Ericsson’s guide “Mastering complete 5G network security” as well as reviewing their integrated packet core firewall solution. In fact, you may also enjoy watching the Spotlight video series on 5G Core where I interview Anders Lundstrom, Victor Ferraro Esparza, Folke Anger and Yasir Liaqatullah from A10 Networks about security and other essential 5G Core topics.