5G | SERVICE PROVIDER

5G Technology Transformation Explained

Executive Summary

With the 5G era commencing, each service provider must ensure that its infrastructure has the cloud-native, containerized, service-based architecture necessary to capitalize on the opportunities 5G presents. To outperform competitors, a service provider will need the right security, visibility, and control to protect its 5G network and customers, and to enable the adaptive applications that will underly the future of 5G. 

5G Explained

By now you’ve heard the hype about 5G, the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks. After years of planning, determining standards, and developing the necessary hardware and software, the fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G, has finally begun to gain traction. Service providers are starting to turn up networks around the world, and consumers such as enterprise verticals are starting to reap some of the long-touted benefits.

According to the GSMA, “The 5G era will commence in full from 2020, creating huge opportunities for consumers, enterprises, operators, vendors, and all stakeholders.” Their report, The Mobile Economy 2020, showed that by the start of 2020, 46 operators in 24 markets had commercially available 5G. It also noted that operators are expected to spend $1.1 trillion worldwide in mobile CapEx over the next five years, roughly 80 percent of that on 5G networks.1

5G offers the potential for 10 to 100 times higher data rates, possibly as high as 10 Gbps.

This investment is justified because the advantages of 5G over existing technology are significant. 5G promises to reduce latency by a factor of 10 compared to 4G LTE networks, from around 20 milliseconds to as little as 1 millisecond, with ultra reliability: 99.999 percent. It also offers the potential for 10 to 100 times higher data rates, possibly as high as 10 Gbps.

With 5G, service providers can expect up to 100 times more network efficiency, which will significantly reduce network energy consumption. 5G will also deliver three times greater signaling efficiency and 10 times the connection density, making it easier to connect more devices with less network equipment.

Figure 1: The advantages of 5G over 4G LTE networks include massive increases in speed, connection density, and efficiency.

This increased speed and reduced latency, combined with the ability to connect with billions of devices, is opening a whole new world of applications that are available to more users and that benefit from faster download speeds. These new capabilities will also generate roughly 1,000 times greater data volumes than are present on today’s mobile networks. For service providers to remain competitive, they must be able to quickly conceive, develop, deploy, and scale new applications and services for their subscribers that take advantage of these new opportunities while maintaining the flexibility to respond to trends.

Adding Value with Adaptive Application Services

This new 5G world will require adaptive applications—which, much like living organisms, must grow, shrink, defend themselves, and heal any damage based on the environment they’re in and how they’re being used. As service providers enable adaptive applications, they will be better able to deliver value to customers and partners.

Adaptive applications grow, shrink, defend themselves, and heal any damage based on the environment they’re in and how they’re being used.

Adaptive applications help reduce TCO because they allow the automation of the routine tasks and actions that make up a large proportion of data flow through the network—which is important when you’re dealing with such high data volumes. Adaptive applications can also scale both predictively (for example, in response to expected increases in demand like the ones retailers see for Black Friday/Cyber Monday), as well as on demand. This ability to scale helps keep CapEx and OpEx under control. Additionally, the same data that enables adaptive applications to be responsive to demands can be used to develop AI and machine learning solutions that further optimize performance.

Like any applications, adaptive applications require app services. The telecom chapter of the F5 2020 State of Application Services Report Telecom Edition revealed that, on average, service providers each have more than 1,000 applications to support, and that 90 percent of those apps have multi-cloud deployments. As a result, service providers are prioritizing application services that provide application and network security as well as access control. They are also looking for app services that easily integrate with their existing and future architectures.

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Capturing the potential of 5G will require applications that continually adapt to their use,
their environment, and CI/CD improvements.

APPLICATION SERVICE
AVAILABILITY

Application-centric
service availability

APPLICATION
PERFORMANCE

A network optimized for
apps running on top

APPLICATION
SERVICE QUALITY

Application-centric 
quality treatment

APPLICATION
INSIGHT

Application-centric 
visibility and analytics

Making 5G Work: Infrastructure

Based on the need for speed and agility, service providers must build adaptive applications and support the app services that enable them, while maintaining high performance, flexibility, and security. From an infrastructure perspective, service providers will be offering most of these new services on a new standalone (SA) 5G Core. This new infrastructure will deliver greatly enhanced and flexible service creation, automation, scalability, and resilience.

In practice that means the 5G Core must share all the major characteristics of adaptive applications. It should be:

    •  Cloud-native
    •  Microservices-based
    •  Built on a service-based architecture
    •  Containerized (in Kubernetes)
    •  Designed to incorporate a service mesh

A 5G cloud-native infrastructure is the catalyst that merges traditional service provider IT and network groups, creating an enterprise-centric 5G network.

 

Implementing a service-based architecture (SBA) on a cloud-native infrastructure is a prerequisite to deploying an SA 5G Core network. A critical inflection point is occurring; when service providers implement SBA, they enable dynamic workload scaling in real time, making it possible to meet ever-changing consumer demands. 5G makes it possible to deploy and manage the distributed networks needed to satisfy the demands of individual consumers, as well as to satisfy the growing number of enterprise-scale customers who are working to complete their own digital transformation initiatives. Service providers also need to build a multi-cloud network to respond to increasing demand for instantaneous access to cloud services from the core, edge, and far edge of the network. A 5G cloud-native infrastructure is the catalyst that merges traditional service provider IT and network groups, creating an enterprise-centric 5G network.  

Figure 2: Cloud-native containerization promotes agility, speed, and efficiency.

BENEFITS OF A SERVICE-BASED ARCHITECTURE

1   |   Modularity and reusability
The network is composed of modularized services (microservices) which split monolithic services into discrete functions that can be upgraded or scaled independently and can also be reused in different network functions. 
 

2   |   Cloud-native 
Cloud-native computing allows for continuous delivery, which reduces the time to test and integrate applications and, in turn, reduces the time to market to deliver new features or bug fixes. Cloud-native microservices are almost always containerized using Kubernetes, which allows them to be centrally orchestrated and moved between locations regardless of the underlying infrastructure. 
 

3   |   Extensibility 
Service-based interfaces can easily be scaled without introducing new reference points, and traffic can be readily balanced or offloaded by deploying a new instance of the network function service. 
 

4  |   Openness 
A service-based interface (as well as some control functions, such as authentication) can easily be exposed to external users, such as third-party application developers. Service providers can also build their networks with best-of-breed solutions rather than being locked into a single vendor.

Making 5G Work: Management

In addition to the baseline infrastructure needed for a successful SA 5G Core implementation, service providers must ensure that their networks meet key requirements that allow them to maintain Quality of Experience (QoE), as well as protecting their networks from an evolving threat landscape that takes advantage of 5G’s increased attack surface. This early in the 5G transformation journey, service providers who implement a cloud-native infrastructure are pioneers. What is already clear is that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply to 5G networks; multiple cloud deployments are merely a starting point.

As detailed above, we know that 5G infrastructure is built on a cloud-native containerized architecture with container workloads managed using Kubernetes, which orchestrates applications based on network requirements. However, Kubernetes was not specifically designed for carrier grade deployments; service providers need to minimize complexity and cost, and Kubernetes doesn’t have native tools to make this possible. To address those concerns, service providers must prioritize the following requirements when designing and deploying a 5G cloud-native infrastructure:

Visibility: Network traffic visibility is vital in any mobile network and even more so in a 5G network. Kubernetes does not inherently provide ingress or egress traffic visibility into the Kubernetes nodes and clusters.

Security: Security controls need to be applied at multiple points in the network and across multiple layers. Packet capture and other security measures at container ingress are critical for keeping bad traffic out of the network. Encryption is also fundamental in a 5G network security offering.

Control: Policy management and analytics enable network control and are essential in automating an already complex 5G network.

A containerized, cloud-native 5G architecture is critical to meeting diverse service requirements. Container workloads managed with Kubernetes are particularly important. Their dynamic nature easily adapts to the needs of the network, promoting agility, speed, and efficiency by allowing for the proper placement of an application and its workloads within the network.

Figure 3: A 5G cloud-native infrastructure can help deliver instantaneous access to cloud services in a platform-agnostic way, from the core, edge, and far edge of the network.

Conclusion

Service providers are stepping into new territory as they build 5G standalone networks that run on a cloud-native infrastructure, using service-based architectures, and including hundreds if not thousands of edge compute facilities. The work is challenging but the outcome—a digital transformation of the telecom network—positions service providers to deliver a better customer experience, support 5G’s compelling use cases, and adopt innovative business models that can increase revenues and profitability.

The need to offer adaptive services on a new SA 5G Core puts service providers at the intersection of the telecom and IT worlds. It also puts F5 in a unique position to help service providers in their transition to 5G. 5G network functions need to dynamically scale, heal, and secure themselves, just like adaptive applications do. F5 has solutions and extensive experience servicing adaptive applications and can help service providers apply the same concepts to the 5G Core and 5G signaling.

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