Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Bruce Kelley, CTO of NETSCOUT, examines some best practice for implementing 5G networks.
Next-generation IoT and mobile-based technologies and services are ubiquitous, there is a service for virtually every need, and new ones are constantly developing and evolving. For communications service providers (CSPs) hoping to harness the possibilities of 5G, these present significant opportunities. However, in order to access the potential revenue opportunities, CSPs need to restructure their approach to 5G implementations.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine services have increased exponentially and are now a key target for CSPs looking to increase their revenue through 5G implementations. Enterprise, LAN/WAN, smart cities, smart cars, and everyday smart tech add to this wealth of opportunity. These services are required to be reliable, functional and profitable. Furthermore, each service has specific features that are key to the functionality of the service, and these must perform correctly. This is the challenge that CSPs are facing.
Replace the 4G core
In the current model of operations, most 5G implementations work by linking to a 4G core via a non-standalone architecture (NSA). This allows CSPs to use existing 4G investments, however
this means invariably that CSPs are in fact missing out on several of the benefits that 5G services can bring. Carriers should move towards deploying stand-alone 5G to ensure that the 5G services that require specific quality of service (in terms of latency and reliability), or which have specific infrastructure separation and security requirements are able to function at the highest level.
A crucial requirement for next generation 5G is a new 5G core, with a Service Based Architecture (SBA), virtualised/containerised infrastructure, orchestration and potentially multiple vendors. CSPs can no longer rely on the old 4G core.
The RAN, the edge of the 5G network, also needs to be upgraded. Traditionally, RANs were built by using separate components each provided by a small selection of network equipment vendors to make up the final product. The benefit of this is that it reduced the chances of inter-operability problems. However, each vendor delivering complete solutions for ‘their part’ of a network meant that these solutions were not only expensive, but also inflexible.
The industry’s preferred alternative is OpenRAN, which uses general purpose compute platforms and is a vendor-neutral disaggregation of RAN at both the hardware and software level. Using OpenRan will enable CSPs to move away from the vendor lock-in imposed in the RAN structure. In turn, this should encourage the innovation required for 5G services to deliver the ROI that CSPs need.
CSPs looking to make use of these new services now have multiple factors to take into consideration. These new services alone have promised high-value performance, reliability and security and so must be monitored closely to ensure that they are meeting these targets. Then there are the customers, for example application vendors and enterprises, who will be using these services. For assurance, security, and compliance reasons, it is important for these customers that they have visibility, from the network perspective, on the behaviour of their users and infrastructure. In order for all of the moving parts – the new infrastructure, protocols and vendors – to seamlessly work together, CPSs must ensure comprehensive end-2-end visibility. Only then will these new services be able to be used effectively.
So, how do can CSPs do this? The first step is to create on holistic view of performance, reliability, and security. Currently, each vendor supplies their own network infrastructure monitoring solution. These show each individual vendor’s view of what is happening in their specific section of the network. This is clearly problematic and overcomplicates matters for the consumer who is then faced with the challenge of trying to understand the disparate combination of RAN, backhaul, core and application capabilities. Instead, the CSPs need to reshape their offering so that they are delivering a single, service level view combining all of these parts into one.
Luckily for CSPs, the technology to enable this already exists and is incredibly reliable. It is possible to monitor and capture all traffic flows in a CSP’s network environment simply be enabling visibility into packet traffic and application workloads. This applies across all network environments – physical, cloud, 4G and 5G – and will provide the visibility that CSPs need for troubleshooting, business use-cases, security, and service assurance.
The deployment of 5G infrastructure is not going to happen overnight, 4G infrastructure still have a big role to play and will continue to do so for some time. Therefore, CSPs need to look for a solution that will be able to monitor wire data across this multi-generational network infrastructure. Packets are the solution, they will enable CSPs to monitor the health of all of their network components.
This in turn will enable CSPs to deploy new services for their customers, even as their 5G infrastructure is still under development, ensuring that they are able to take full advantage of 5G revenue streams. Using packets will enable CSPs to achieve the holistic, multi-generational and end-2-end visibility that they need to truly harness the possibilities of 5G.
Bruce Kelley is Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for NETSCOUT. Highly regarded in the technology space as a 5G, IoT, edge cloud and automation visionary and expert, Bruce regularly consults with service providers to identify challenges related to network monitoring in order to achieve service and security assurance. He is a staunch advocate of the importance of delivering end-to-end visibility across today’s increasingly complex data centre architectures. Bruce uses knowledge gleaned over decades to guide how current and next-generation technologies will impact operations and delivery of services across the service provider space. He is the holder of more than 40 patents for technology-related innovations.