It’s challenging to reach universal consensus on any subject, yet most of the communication industry has agreed that 5G-ready networks will be built on cloud-like, intelligent, programmable and agile architecture. The mobile core network is the foundation for the rollout of 5G services.
I recently read the Light Reading article titled, “Why Do You Need a 5G Cloud-Native Core?” that states “…to achieve the necessary scalability, flexibility and performance in networks, we require a cloud-native, 5G service-based core architecture that includes separate user and control planes (CUPS) and high-bit rate provisioning. With 4G, a cloud-native core architecture is preferred, but with 5G, cloud-native design is essential.” I absolutely agree with this premise.
Most CommSPs are modernizing non-standalone (NSA) 5G mobile core networks to support early use cases, such as Fixed Wireless Access. These organizations are balancing financial realities by leveraging LTE, 4G networks and will move towards a standalone core in order to deliver advanced 5G capabilities, such as network slicing. Rakuten is a company worth watching as they build an entirely new type of mobile network that is completely based on a cloud native architecture across the data center, LTE, 5G mobile core and radio access network. Rakuten, along with many CommSPs, are working with Intel and its ecosystem partners to execute their own network modernization plans.
We believe the combination of a common processing architecture and industry-standards innovation is key to unlocking the transformation of the mobile core network. CommSPs need a solid foundation in place whether they evolve the LTE network with a NSA 5G mobile core or jump straight to a standalone (SA) 5G core.
Accelerating the path to 5G
The 3GPP outlines multiple paths for CommSPs to upgrade to a 5G network. Software-defined networks offer the flexibility required for each CommSP to follow the most logical path for their situation, and the Intel architecture fully supports all of these options. A growing number of CommSPs have standardized their virtual evolved packet core (vEPC) on the Intel architecture, which provides them with an ideal starting point by supporting the ability to move directly to a SA 5G core or migrate over time with software upgrades.
As a result of this standardization, CommSPs can accelerate the progression to a SA 5G core network while reaping operational benefits in their NSA 5G core, including greater scalability, portability and flexibility. A consistent architecture and software-defined infrastructure support the ability to deploy and scale 5G functions from large core installations to small, physically- and compute-constrained locations. Functions and capabilities in a 5G-ready network need to be consistent no matter where the virtual network function (VNF) is located.
It’s reasonable to expect the nature of 5G services to change rapidly. A software-defined network infrastructure is flexible enough for CommSPs to speed the roll out of customizable applications and service models, ease customer provisioning and improve network operation and management efficiency. Staying in lock-step with evolving 3GPP specifications and 5G services implementation will require flexibility that only software-based infrastructure can provide. For example, one major US CommSP shared early plans for tiered 5G pricing based on data speeds, similar to broadband Internet pricing plans. The ability to support custom charging and new mobility service scenarios will be key to establishing, testing and evolving pricing structures and business models.
Investing in Infrastructure for Cloud-Native Applications
Earlier this year, Intel and its partners demonstrated 200 Gbps speeds for the 5G User Plane Function (UPF) on a common off the shelf (COTS) server blade, using Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Network engineers and architects can deploy these servers in the core or network edge, which makes it possible to scale to multi-terabit configurations in the core network and share consistent infrastructure and software with distributed locations. CommSPs can use this network infrastructure to apply a cloud native architecture that drive efficiencies, speed deployments and meet SLA requirements that have very different requirement from the cloud computing industry.
Intel is collaborating with CommSPs, open source and cloud native communities to augment Kubernetes and container environments that support industry data plane network functions on cloud infrastructure. We already see the emergence of cloud-friendly network functions and expect to see the adoption of cloud native network functions in the long term. Intel will continue to actively work with the industry to drive both short and long term cloudification efforts.
Our team at Intel is proud of our strong partnerships across the communications industry ecosystem. Every day these organizations place their trust in Intel, in our broad portfolio of technology solutions and with our dedicated professionals to modernize and transform the networks that are the foundation of their businesses. We are fortunate to work with these companies, collaborators and partners through a common approach that will enable each customer’s unique vision and strategy.