Talking About a 5G Revolution – Sounds like a Whisper
We have entered a new decade that will bring us many advancements – from NASA returning to human lunar exploration, to the early stages of human exploration of Mars, to advances in communications from global satellite coverage; to optical innovations pushing up against established laws of physics like the Shannon Limit.
Enhanced connectivity and greater network capacity will usher in an era of 5G with far-reaching implications – in 2021 we will do more working from home, streaming entertainment, connect more devices and take important steps to building out the mission critical infrastructure to support next generation communications that once sounded like science fiction. Nowhere is this more important than the health care sector where advances in telemedicine, privacy, vaccine development and contact tracing are being employed to combat COVID-19 to support an overburdened system.
To support a suite of emerging applications which are latency-sensitive, one absolute necessity in the era of 5G is the need to shift computing and communications from the core network and centralized cloud architecture; to distributed capability across the edge. This work has begun, but we expect to see more rapid industry uptake this year. With the densification resulting from billions of connected devices, a key focus is on deploying the necessary infrastructure, architecture, industry standards and interoperability between the devices, edge, core, and the cloud.
From a networking perspective, true 5G will change how we authenticate, monitor, sense, evaluate and control our environment. It will affect the connected fabric that our society has grown dependent upon, creating dramatic user benefits.
But while the debut of ultra-high-speed 5G networks has commanded a great deal of attention with consumer handheld devices and some expected marketing fluff around 5G, a quieter but even more-powerful revolution is taking place. The next generation of applications and services will be edge-native and focused on delivering higher value out of smaller infrastructure.
Authentication, automation, encryption over air, virtualized network nodes and network slicing will have a much more profound impact than just faster download speeds. Simplifying our network and our lives is an important lesson learned from 2020. As we enter the year of the Ox in the Chinese Zodiac, characterized by hard work, low-key, intelligent and reliable characteristics, here are our hopes and wishes for the New Year:
5G infrastructure – more investment in radio, transport and core
Today, 5G is mainly targeting single 5G New Radio (NR) access. The result is fuzziness over what 5G performance should be like in the real world. 5G infrastructure remains in its infancy. Currently, when a high-speed 5G tower goes up and gets saturated with users, service providers who need to add 5G capacity — resort to possibly sharing or switching over to less-used 4G radio towers — to keep data speeds up. This is fundamentally wrong. We must rethink how mobile networks are built at all three key layers - radio, transport and core.
5G networks will be powered by cloud-based cores that allow physical functions to be virtualized and moved around the network. Software upgrades will make it easier to roll out new features, while edge computing will enable ultra-low latency. To deliver, new technology must be installed on more 5G towers, and more investment is needed in infrastructure – not just “software migration” using 4G equipment.
New 5G-enabled applications and use cases such as autonomous vehicles, AR/VR, and IoT/IIoT demand extremely low latency, below 10ms, which requires a distributed edge architecture that moves access termination and compute capabilities closer to the end user. We have discussed pain points in previous posts, and the need to increase the number of distributed edge data centers or virtual central offices by an order of magnitude. It is an intensive process; a slow and silent revolution, and it is one where operators need solutions that are much more cost efficient.
Cloud-native container-based architecture is more cost effective and efficient for 5G
Coming out of a pandemic year where COVID-19’s shadow still lingers, the industry must push forward with new resolve to build a better, not only more reliable, but a simpler network. As we have outlined in the past, one weakness inherited from SDN was the proliferation of virtual machines (VMs) creating even more code, file and server bloat – increasing overall system latency. In addition to the serpentine network pathway, each VM has its own data plane coding – many redundant to one another – propagating a meandering packet journey. Our CTO discusses the benefits of container versus virtual machine in a recent VMBlog. The cloud is becoming more and more distributed, while compute and storage capabilities are becoming increasingly diverse or heterogeneous.
In Europe, an Analysys Mason study revealed that the bigger hindrances to 5G are the high cost and complexity associated with its infrastructure; yet the benefits outweigh the costs by up to four times. Reducing complexity must be a key focus in 2021. This will fuel automation and architecture strategies that are beneficial for remote work, more automation and orchestration with tools like Kubernetes and enterprise Kubernetes platforms such as OpenShift that will help IT better manage complex tasks and workflows in a heterogeneous and distributed cloud environment.
Behind the scenes network slicing will enable new revenue models in private networks
True 5G will not be as visible to traditional smartphone users or public networks as previous generations were -- private networks deployed in robotics, IIoT, 3-D printing, AR and cloud will see the real capability of 5G unleashed. These silent masses will enable next level machine-to-machine communication.
For example, imagine the possibility of authentication from a building structure. Using a private encryption key on the soft SIM of a device, so that when a subscriber turns on their device laptop or phone – they will automatically be connected to the corporate network – this would be much simpler for the end user and bring in an additional layer of security into the picture. In large commercial buildings or enterprises – private 5G networks could be deployed, and large tenants in the building could be allocated their own network slice or virtual packet core infrastructure.
Network slicing will be a key benefit for service providers – whereby an edge data center can be partitioned into multiple independent virtual data centers, with each virtual data center being provided its own virtual fabric. Allowing multiple operators and large enterprises to share a common distributed cloud infrastructure will open new revenue streams and enable more efficient network management – all with full isolation down to the hardware level for better security and better quality of experience for each individual subscriber.
We need more automation at the edge
The incoming economic model of 5G will imply tremendous amounts of data and smaller amounts of revenue per device. As service providers capitalize on 5G, they must optimize the economics of the investment to ensure shareholder returns are maximized. Automation will prove critical to this effort improving service availability and reducing operational costs. For example, zero-touch provisioning of the virtual network and virtual components enables minimal to no human intervention, reducing manpower costs and human errors. This can translate to less truck rolls, or field technician site visits and reduce the risk of service downtime.
The future is open and interoperable
Service providers are looking to edge computing to eliminate latency and congestion problems, and to improve overall application performance running on those devices. But installing next-generation wireless networks comes at an enormous cost.
There is a shift away from monolithic architectures or ‘walled garden’ solutions that offer end-to-end functionality, to best-of-breed open systems that can deliver significant cost savings to the overall cost of a 5G network. Collaboration with larger and smaller players will give customers more choice, and solutions from trusted providers like the IBM Telecommunications Cloud, Red Hat Unified Edge, Azure for Operators, or cloud providers like Google Cloud and Nokia who are working together to accelerate cloud-native 5G core, cloud and edge readiness. There is much work to be done to ensure interoperability of diverse 5G network implementations, and close collaboration between a prospective customer and vendor is key. IPLook, is an example of an innovative provider of core networks enabling Private 5G and integration solutions for 4G & 5G networks. They recently performed interoperability testing with Kaloom’s UPF to ensure end-to-end 5G service. Rigorous interoperability testing will ultimately benefit future deployments and deliver operational peace of mind for successful 5G rollouts.
Looking ahead, startups need to drive and push for innovation
We still have many hurdles to overcome, with infrastructure costs, fragmentation in our industry, standards, and regional policies will affect the pace of 5G rollouts. This will require collaboration across multiple sectors from service providers, government, connectivity providers, tech giants, industry coalitions and more — to make room for more cross-sector partnerships, ecosystems and working together as a village.
At Kaloom we have been working with partners to identify pain points that the broader industry or larger incumbents have failed to address. Being a startup puts us in the position to drive innovation among key players. We know we cannot do it alone, but we continue to have big dreams. Our mission is to reduce costs per connected device, per gigabit of traffic, and labor costs to run and manage Distributed Cloud Edge networks while reducing complexity. To do so, we have built a fully programmable and automated cloud-native networking solution for edge data centers. We invite you to join us, reach out, meet us, talk to us this year about how we can work together to build a better, more open, interoperable network.