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Optimizing 5G with modernized platforms and improved cloud management

Optimizing 5G with modernized platforms and improved cloud management
October 12, 2021

Every time one thinks that an industry has reached its pinnacle, something new comes up and sends the disruption right down the entire value chain triggering change. Though change brings initial discomfort, it leads to new learning and adaptability, yields growth, and the growth fosters success. The ability and desire to do more with an interconnected ecosystem has continuously pushed the telecommunication industry to keep innovating and make the ‘Internet of Everything’ a reality.

The journey from 1G to 5G

From the invention of the first phone (the 1870s) to an era of interconnected communities and things – this industry has greatly progressed since its inception. The speed, reliability, and bandwidth have multiplied many times in the last two decades, thanks to the collaboration of telecommunications standard development organizations, such as ARIB, ETSI, CCSA, TTC, and TSDSI to form partnerships and drive standardization for protocol development and enhancement, architecture, and best practice implementations.

The journey from 1G to 5G

Figure 1 – The journey from 1G to 5G

In the teleco network world, the speed and coverage are directly connected to the frequency on which the network operates. Mobile networks use radio waves of different frequencies to communicate. Likewise, 5G until now has three different ranges of frequencies – low, mid, and high. While the radio frequencies used by 5G are not new, what makes it noteworthy is how cleverly 5G uses them to enable better communication and enhance connected lives. 5G is more than a vanilla network and is designed to be used to connect many types of devices rather than only smartphones.

G-Family

Speed Mb/s*

Coverage

Frequency

Latency (ms)

5G – Mid band

500 Mb/s

5 KM

2 – 6 GHz

10

5G – Low band

250 Mb/s

25 KM

0.6 - 0.7 GHz

15

5G – High band

2000 Mb/s

Short

28 – 38 GHz

5

4G LTE Pro +

250 Mb/s

50 KM

Many

30

4G LTE

125 Mb/s

75 KM

0.85 & 1.9 GHz

50

3G HSPA

75 Mb/s

75 KM

Many

60

*Different CSPs have achieved different network speeds in commercial and lab networks by using a mix of spectrum/frequencies

Figure 2 - Currency comparison of xGs

Despite the speed and bandwidth improvement due to modern technologies, architecture standardization, and spectrum availability, the telecom industry is still considered slow compared to other industries. The main reason is the locked ecosystem and interoperability challenges followed by an extremely slow pace of change in the running telco networks.

Changing lives with 5G

5G investments in many ways are critical for the telco modernization and network function virtualization journey. At the core of 5G, the driving force is open standards and architecture, giving CSPs the required agility to come out of the lock-in architecture of the Network Equipment Provider (NEP) and make platforms through which new and improved B2B2‘x’ services can be launched instantly. While earlier Gs were more focused on delivering B2C services, in the case of 5G, ‘x’ can be a consumer or a business (direct or partner/channel). This is because 5G is beyond the voice or data. 5G investments can be viewed as the underlying facilitator that will bring the industrial internet of things (everything) to reality.

The crucial question then is if all CSPs are ready to embark on this journey of change? The answer to this question is manifold and there is no one off-the-shelf, turnkey technology solution that can enable the entire journey. This journey requires modernization at various layers – people, process, technology.

Greenfield players, such as Dish and Rakuten have shown the world that businesses of today should not be done with processes and technology of the past. The past was defined by a sluggish pace, whereas the present and the future are driven by speed, agility, and continuous innovation. Their stacks are entirely built on virtual and open-first architecture and principles. This is the biggest differentiator of this model and the CAPEX to turn on the engine is significantly lower than the traditional CSP setup. They have taken a platform-first mindset to enable industry, empower society, and enrich user experience; this approach enables them to launch new services and improve the speed rather than playing only in the area of voice and data. They can do this at scale because they have virtualized everything right from radio to network, core to IP, and transportation to DCs.

For Brownfield transformation, it is more complex because you have to run the legacy, build modern platforms and networks, integrate them, and manage the interoperability challenges. Many of the CSPs are still operating with traditional, monolithic architecture wherein the new technology release is limited as the design and ecosystem are controlled and driven by a handful of suppliers. They are still very much using physical network functions to run core telco networks and services, and have a slew of vertical telco cloud stacks from different NEPs, limiting the flexibility and increasing the run spend.

Modernizing for 5G and staying future-proof

Since the core of 5G (other than improved spectrums) is open, the virtual architecture makes it scalable, agile, flexible, resilient, and sustainable. CSPs that are still choosing the right modernization path and do not want to do this in a lock-stock-and-barrel fashion (high CAPEX investments) can start their telco underlay network functions (NFs) infrastructure modernization journey with a staggered approach.

The areas that can be prioritized for accelerated outcomes can be categorized under:

  • Virtualization platform for VNFs and future CNFs
  • Unified telco cloud management

In the past, those areas were controlled by a handful of NEPs. With telco becoming more IT aware, these platform modernization and transformation programs can be driven from the lens of IT for improved economies of scale:

Increased and improved virtualization: NEPs and underlying compute ecosystem interoperability have evolved significantly over the last decade and embraced virtualization to a great extent. Many CSPs have taken the first steps in the journey towards modernization by giving away the PNF (physical network function) setup for the VNF (virtual network function) architecture. The network function virtualization platform and the x86 commodity compute ecosystem provide a great range of options and certified reference architectures to build a robust and flexible cloud OS engine layer. RedHat and VMware have advanced in the space with their interoperable and API-first approaches. The certified VNF NEPs and other cloud ecosystemsfor their platforms are only getting bigger and better.

Unified (heterogeneous) telco cloud management: One big roadblock that CSPs are trying to mitigate is technology and platform standardization and simplification in their run factories. Unfortunately, even with the advent of virtualization and its acceptance in the telco world, the xNF management and orchestration have all been very tightly coupled with xNF providers, such as Nokia IMS, Cisco EPC, Mavenir RCS, Netcracker, BSS, and more. This has led to a slew of telco cloud management platforms in the environment, resulting in OPEX over-run and operational complexities. Though the moving parts are interoperable, the respective xNF orchestration, EMS/NMS, support, and lifecycle management are still very much controlled by the NEPs. While the industry is maturing, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s (ETSI) Network Function Virtualization (NFV) standard is turning into the bible for new platform development and integrations. Single Management and Orchestration (MANO) platform is a great step in the direction of operational modernization and standardization, which aims to provide virtual infrastructure management, VNF management, and network function orchestration, all in one platform vs xNFM/xNFO from respective NEPs. Platforms from ISVs such as Cloudify, HPE, IBM RedHat, and VMware have matured significantly and strengthened their interoperable ecosystem. This will reduce the operations overheads and improve service velocity. These platforms are evolving fast and adding capabilities to orchestrate VMs, containers, and bare-metal in private cloud and across hyperscalers. These platforms are a step in the direction to throttle the OPEX and imbibe the DevOps style of operations in telcos.

The HCL advantage

HCL is strongly positioned to deliver integrated business technology solutions and information management services in the telco space. Our investments in technologies, platforms, innovation labs, and frameworks such as HCL SmartNIC, Cisco SON, BluGenie, HCL DRYiCE, software-defined data centers, data analytics, and HCL Cloud Smart are a testament of our unwavering focus on 5G innovations aimed at helping our SP customers optimize their 5G investments.