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Discover the real 5G

December 22, 2021

With 5G, 3GPP has introduced a radical change in the design of next generation cellular networks. It is not just another telecom generation, it is rather, a complete transformation on how people and devices interact with the world and each other. 5G promises to deliver a completely new set of connectivity experiences.

One of the main promises of 5G is the capacity to create different connectivity services for different devices, people, geographies, industries… Until now, the networks were essentially delivering the same connectivity to everyone, at the same speed, on a best-effort basis. With 5G, networks will be able to create slices. They are specific connectivity products which have deterministic capabilities in terms of speed, latency, coverage, etc. This will enable tomorrow’s networks to facilitate services as diverse as augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, robotics and new media wherever you are, at home, at work, at school, indoors or outside.

This progress necessitates a change in the packet core’s design which is the brain and foundation of the telecom network. 3GPP has defined a service-based architecture for 5G core that will redefine business models and drive new revenue streams with reduced operational costs through simplification and automation of network functions.

The new 5G core helps CSPs to unleash the benefits of increased agility, flexibility and rapidly scalable wireless networks adapted to specific use cases. Additionally, a cloud-native containerized implementation of 5G core Network Functions (NFs) make the 5G core more resilient and ensure unprecedented efficiency and assurance of any NF’s performance.

As announced, NEC’s advanced open core is already in commercial operation at NTT DOCOMO for its 5G standalone (SA) services. Let us examine how this disruptive product ushers a paradigm change for mobile networks:

1. Cloud-native

Our 5G core architecture is represented as a service-based architecture (SBA) which is a common compute platform. Network functions like NEF, NRF, PCF, UDM, AF, AUSF, AMF, SMF are designed as containerized cloud-native microservices thereby enabling quick creation of scalable and resilient networks. All these NFs communicate with each other using Service Based Interfaces (SBI).

In 4G, the communication between network elements was based on a Binary-based protocols where bandwidth usage was a major concern. With the cloud-native approach of hosting core network functions, the focus is to leverage the huge ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and developers. In 5G, a majority of those earlier generation protocols are replaced with standard web protocols so that 5G Core network can be easily integrated with cloud networks.

Another important differentiator is that the 5G architecture allows a complete Control and User-plane separation (CUPS) which have, until now, been bound together. With CUPS, C-Plane nodes can be virtualized and placed in a centralized location and U-Plane node (UPF) can be deployed closer to the edge, hence reducing the latency and providing increased capacity. 5G CUPS implementation enable the independent and optimal deployment of control and user planes fit for specific use cases, allowing the deterministic and controlled implementation of slicing.

To achieve the 5G’s full potential to support higher peak throughputs and ultra-reliable low latency (URLLC) applications, UPF plays a key role.

NEC has extensive experience and achievements with C-Plane and U-Plane separation along with a high performance UPF which we recently announced in an industry-leading performance test. Fully cloud-native and containerized, it provides complete deployment flexibility on COTS servers, either in private clouds, on premise and/or public cloud infrastructure centralized or at the edge.

2. Stateless Network Functions

Our 5G core is designed with stateless NFs where we decouple the computing from the storage functions which makes for much more efficient communications between nodes. This design allows control to run on a compute resource and an external database is used to store stateful persistent data. It ensures enhanced reliability and fast failure recovery by maintaining redundancy of storage nodes and independent scalability of NFs.

3. Open Networks

So far telecom networks have been closed systems providing a very limited 3rd party access. In 5GC, the SCEF part of 4G has been taken to a whole new level with Network Exposure Function (NEF).

With a move to complete cloud-native environment and breaking vendors lock-in, the large traditional packet core monolithic applications are now broken down into independent microservices and open APIs are used to access these services. Open APIs drive CSPs to explore new business opportunities since the NEF exposes the network capabilities over APIs to external network entities and execute or influence operations, in the network domain in a secure and controlled way.

4. Slicing

The cloud-native core network architecture allows the network to be partitioned in such a way that the same telecommunications cloud infrastructure can implement multiple customized logical networks (slices). This can support the functionalities optimized for specific use cases like “enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB),” “ultra-reliable and low latency communication (URLLC)” and “massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)”. And it meets the diverse industry requirements through SLAs defined for a particular industry, be it a consumer market or an enterprise.

The CSPs can benefit from quick monetization since diversified services can run on the same infrastructure.

5. Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)

Multi access Edge Computing (MEC) is yet another distinguishing feature of 5G core that enables the deployment of low latency applications. The latency reduction is made possible with CUPS architecture which supports the distributed deployment of UPF.  It is possible to install applications on edge data centers that are closer to users and hence, supporting innovative use cases like AR/VR, control of automated driving, smart factories etc.

6. 4G/5G Converged

NEC’s core is 4G/5G converged, under which 4G + 5G NSA + 5G SA technologies are supported. This is enabled by redesigning the once monolithic EPC (4G core) into a fully cloud-native architecture and converging it with 5GC (5G core) to accommodate both 4G and 5G users under a single core. This unique architecture drastically helps MNOs with a smooth and seamless migration from its exiting 4G to 5G networks, accelerating the digital transformation for MNOs offering both services.

As an example of a MNO’s migration process from 4G to 5G, MNOs can start introducing 5G NSA along with 5G New Radio and by installing NEC 4G/5G Converged Core, they can manage 5G users on our core also while at the same time migrating their existing 4G users to the same core. The MNO can then gradually phase out their former EPC and manage all 4G/5G users and traffic using NEC Converged Core.

7. PaaS/CaaS

5GC enables quick development and deployment of new services using the cloud native platform, thereby, utilizing PaaS (Platform as a Service). Additionally, containerized applications can be rapidly deployed using CaaS (Container as a Service).

NEC provides a PaaS/CaaS common platform for the 5G Core network. This common platform is capable of centralized and integrated management of multivendor VNFs, CNFs, UPFs and vRANs with a single PaaS/CaaS, and can also deploy a dedicated PaaS/CaaS for each function.

Summary

NEC’s 5G core is a completely new network architecture that really brings the telco and cloud networks together. For this reason, it should not be evaluated as an evolution to its predecessors, but rather as a disruption and a technology transition. Each network function can have multiple services running independently and this will lay the foundation of successful future services.

NEC has more than 25 years of experience in mobile packet core and our performance is proven in tier-1 carriers’ commercial networks.

NEC 5G cloud native core has a containerized microservice architecture, which allows fully automated scalability and faster innovation. It is platform agnostic and supports multitude of use cases enabling CSPs to create an extensive range of advanced innovative services, from B2C to B2X with optimal deployment scenarios.