Get to Know Eight 5G Enablers of Good —
As 5G evolves toward a highly agile and efficient Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), it pushes the performance envelope, including throughput and latency, to enable value in a cloud native architecture. Furthermore, the 5G core is expected to be access-neutral, integrating fixed and/or mobile, terrestrial and/or non-terrestrial, unicast, broadcast and/or multicast, and local- or wide-area access networks.
This article describes 8 prominent emerging enablers that will help 5G leverage different and flexible business and operational models for the many vertical industries it aims to serve.
Enabler #1: Network Telco Cloud
MNOs have continued to evolve and expand telecommunication operations towards a diverse assortment of services, beyond mobile connectivity, voice, and messaging services. This direction has continued with an adoption of virtualization, which serves as a foundation for flexible and rapid time-to-market services, while simultaneously optimizing the utilization of network resources. Virtualization is fundamental for satisfying the demands of flexibility and adaptability for MNOs and is being adopted to meet the emerging demands of the service paradigm. The introduction of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) within the Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) framework provides separation between the functions rendered in software and the generalized hardware platforms over which the VNFs are executable. This introduces an integration challenge, hence support for interoperability and onboarding of VNFs in a multi-vendor environment is a critical benefit for MNOs. This is being addressed in the Cloud iNfrastructure Telco Task Force (CNTT)1, whose objective is to ensure that the required VNFs are supported, in an interoperable manner, with consistent behaviors in an emerging multi-vendor environment.
Adoption of virtualization in the telecommunications industry is evolving towards a cloud-native paradigm, where network functions are realized as cloud-native VNFs hosted by cloud infrastructures, which are amenable to distribution, decentralization, and localization, in terms of edge computing arrangements. Cloud native evolution is expected to provide several benefits such as a reduction in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), further reduced time-to-market, business agility, faster innovation and flexibility to enable services more dynamically and on demand.
This approach of PaaS is being built on top of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) environments already deployed in MNO data centers. The telco cloud spans all the layers of MNO networks, from central data centers to the edge of the network in order to support edge computing services. An autonomic framework cooperates with the telco cloud from a system wide perspective to facilitate optimized system performance and end-user experience.
The telco cloud may involve hybrid clouds, with public clouds offered by the Hyperscale Cloud Providers (HCPs), equipped with the capabilities of seamlessly realizing compute, storage, and network resources required to scale effectively to meet the diversity, dynamism, and volume of services, in a distributed and multi-access technology environment.
Furthermore, MNOs will define a common platform architecture to aggregate individual platforms, allowing edge computing to be used on a global scale and inspiring a global community of developers. A common platform architecture guarantees replication of business models, uniformity in the deployment of applications, uniformity of available APIs, and service continuity models between different platforms. The global community of developers will benefit from a common operator platform architecture which complements the current HCP offerings of capabilities. GSMA2 and NGMN3 have announced initiatives to deliver this platform, and GSMA has published a White Paper on the concept of an operator platform.4
Enabler #2: Edge Computing
The diversity and number of end-user services and equipment that characterize the nature of a forward-looking 5G ecosystem demand location of resources at the network edge, through decentralized and distributed network architectures. Localized processing at the network edge, in coordination with the user-equipment, facilitates new service-enabling capabilities that delivers a customized, contextual, and performance optimized service experience for the end user.
Edge computing and telco cloud also enable hosting of MNO and 3rd party applications at the MNOs’ network edge nodes. Applications can be hosted on dedicated platforms (owned by the MNO or by a 3rd party), and benefit from local breakout of traffic and from network APIs exposed by the MNO.5 This allows applications to run closer to the customer, with benefits such as ultra-low latency, high reliability and off-loading processing from end-user equipment, and provides opportunities for new partnerships and associated business models.
Cryptographically strong encryption and privacy controls, provide the tools to mitigate and minimize the risk for information compromise, which is complemented by decentralized and distributed architectural arrangements that are aligned with the concept of edge computing, where a compromised segment of the system can be isolated without affecting the system as a whole.
Precise positioning techniques6 are indispensable at the network edge for providing location and context aware capabilities for a variety of use cases such as for Industrial IoT (IIoT). The most challenging IIoT uses cases require accuracy of the order of centimeters, with very-low latency and a position fix which is of a continuous nature. Several other verticals’ use cases require precise positioning, for example autonomous vehicles and relative positioning between nearby user equipment, etc.
The network edge with flexible levels of distribution requires an enabler for automating the service experience, such that the time-to-market is reduced; and the overhead of intermediaries or brokers is reduced; while trust, security, and privacy, are preserved.
Enabler #3: Open and Disaggregated Radio Access Network
Conventionally, networks, in particular the radio access network, have been realized mostly by single-vendor solutions, where equipment and software were provided by and restricted to a single vendor on an area-by-area basis. This imposes limitations for MNOs in constructing their network, especially as deployment scenarios (e.g., macro cells, outdoor small cells, indoor solutions, etc.) and frequency bands diversify. Furthermore, disaggregated radio access networks are complementary for multi-access edge computing.
To improve the situation, MNOs are demanding disaggregation of network platforms through open interfaces and promoting multi-vendor interoperability efforts. Disaggregation and openness, together with virtualization, provide flexibility, efficiency, agility, scalability, a broad ecosystem, and choice. Open, interoperable interfaces and multi-vendor RAN allow innovative, best-of-breed solutions from different vendors to be utilized. Furthermore, individual vendors will not have to deliver all solutions required by MNOs, leading to a competitive and vibrant vendor ecosystem, and more cost-effective network construction. This is ever more important for the 5G era with further diversifying scenarios and requirements.
Enabler #4: Autonomic Management and Control
Realization of the full benefits of virtualization, cloud and edge computing requires the adoption of an autonomic management and control framework. 5G networks can support more diverse service scenarios and applications while also creating the challenge of increasing complexity in network management, which requires the adoption of autonomic management functions, encompassing both autonomous and automatic behaviors. An autonomic management framework is an important enabler for innovative business models. It represents not only a benefit for MNOs but also enables customers to dynamically request and negotiate services and preferences for service customization and personalization.
The telco cloud is expected to be programmable end-to-end, where the customer service requirements are supported by an appropriate underlying network slice with the necessary and sufficient allocation of compute, storage, and network resources. Cognitive and programmable capabilities enable zero-touch operation and maintenance of the network through automation for network and service planning, deployment, maintenance, and optimization phases, delivering self-Configuration, Healing, Optimization, and Protection (CHOP) qualities in a forward-looking system. The network and user equipment operate cooperatively within the autonomic management and control framework for closed-loop automation and optimization of system performance and behaviors, while allowing in-deployment flexibility. Isolation, facilitated by underlying automated network slicing procedures, provides for improvements in security, privacy and fault tolerance, which are aligned with the self-CHOP characteristics of an end-to-end autonomic management and control framework.
The characteristics of a self-CHOP-enabled system reflect a fundamental shift from the relatively cumbersome silos of manual operational and configuration procedures, to agile, programmable, and autonomic capabilities for automating system operation for performance and service optimization, in real time or near real time.
To gradually achieve the goal of an autonomic management framework, a hierarchical architecture for the self-CHOP-enabled system needs to be ensured. A more upper-layer and centralized deployment location indicates a larger data volume, raises computing power requirements, and is more suitable to perform cross-domain self-CHOP capability which does not have real-time requirements, while at a lower-layer and closer to the network edge, the domain-specific or entity-specific self-CHOP capability is suitable for meeting real-time performance requirements. To ensure optimal performance and minimize the complexity of integration between layers, there must be a clear definition of the layered self-CHOP framework, with standardized, open interfaces between layers.
Enabler #5: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
Cognitive capabilities embedded within an autonomic management and control subsystem are realized in terms of the various modes of AI. AI and ML offer a variety of extensible methods to meet the connectivity, coverage, capacity, spectrum efficiency, energy efficiency, and service demands, of a virtualized, decentralized, distributed 5G system.
Deep Learning (DL) is an augmentation of ML rendered through the use of multilayer neural network algorithms to flexibly handle a diverse array of complex use cases, associated with structured or unstructured data.
Enabler #6: Access Network Convergence
The expectation for ubiquitous service availability from any geographic location is fundamental and underscores the support for convergence across multiple access technologies. Examples of such scenarios include mobile broadband, fixed broadband, non-terrestrial access, and proximity access. The adoption of various methods of connectivity in the 5G ecosystem promises a convergence of different methods of connectivity through convergent and access neutral architectural models. These complementary methods of connectivity consist of a variety of access technologies that include terrestrial network and Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) access for supporting a diverse variety of 5G services3. Initially, convergence will focus on re-using the 5G Core Network for “trusted non-3GPP access network”, and “wireline 5G Access Network”, facilitating synergies with 3GPP access.
Typically, for example, a customer wireless LAN may re-use the same core infrastructure as the operator’s 5G radio network. Beyond this, connectivity provided by NTN access as part of the multi-access technology landscape is a valuable mode of connectivity in 5G, where multiple types of access could be leveraged for higher system availability, as well as for coverage in remote underserved areas and in emergency or disaster recovery situations.
Beyond the initial phase of 5G specifications in 3GPP, it is anticipated that future specifications will harness NTN access to enrich and enhance the service experience, and enable optimizations, across different categories of the 5G service paradigm. The integration of non-terrestrial networks in 5G will provide enhanced opportunities for network slice management, inter-technology access hand-over, and dual connectivity across all access technologies as well as connections to fixed or moving cells using NTN-based integrated access and backhaul capabilities.
A major advantage of NTN integration into the 5G ecosystem is to broaden service delivery choices, especially to unserved or underserved areas. Direct access to handheld devices is expected to complement and extend cellular networks for 5G eMBB and mMTC services with direct or indirect satellites line of sight use cases, where indirect would imply the use of relays in the cases where it can further improve service to users. (Note that direct NTN access is likely to be unavailable for dense urban coverage, in the absence of an unimpeded line of sight access.)
NTN access encompasses radio access provided by different spaceborne and airborne vehicles such as low earth orbiting satellites, high altitude platform systems (HAPS), drones etc. Spaceborne and airborne access networks in 5G are vital for reliably serving passengers on board moving platforms and serving populations in rural areas; supporting flexible and fast network restoration, e.g., in the context of public protection, disaster relief or other emergency situations; and in sustaining audience access to content via efficient broadcast/multicast capabilities, combined with edge-caching techniques thereby optimizing core server and network loads.
These and other technological advances in spaceborne and airborne vehicles are likely to provide significant yet cost effective performance enhancements, in addition to improved capacity/coverage flexibility. A complete convergence of terrestrial and NTN access within the 5G standards suite is expected to enable MNO service provisioning and delivery to meet the customer requirements for experientially attractive services with high availability, reliability, and system resiliency.
Enabler #7: Harmonization
The harmonization of capabilities associated with technology enablement is vital for managing complexity, scalability, performance optimization, and deployment flexibility. In particular, the commercial availability of emerging 5G devices on a global scale, hinging on technology advancements and standardization, requires the support for multi-mode (multiple access technologies) and multi-band (multiple frequency bands) 5G devices for enabling the global roaming of these devices.
With the growing global demand for spectrum and higher bandwidths to meet demands of future services, there is a corresponding increase in the number of standardized radio frequency bands and their combinations. The support for a large number of radio frequency bands and their correspondingly large number of combinations translate into increasing levels of device implementation complexity.
Enabler #8: Sustainable Trust
Trust represents a belief in the ability of a system to act reliably and dependably with respect to interactions among two or more entities and the system in a mutually congruent manner. In the emerging virtualized, decentralized, and distributed ecosystem of networks, user equipment, and machine-type devices, the establishment of trust is foundational. The flexible and customizable service paradigm of 5G demands adaptive models for trust that are secure-by-design and adopt security best-practice. The types of relationships between interacting entities provide the context for configuring an appropriate trust model for a given use case scenario. The notion of sustainable trust includes both security and privacy to adaptively and dynamically maintain the system performance and the user experience.
While earlier generations of trust models in telecommunication systems were generally based on centralized methods of authentication, authorization, and accounting, the inclusion of decentralized trust models is pivotal for supporting a widespread adoption of 5G systems. For example, in the case of a centralized trust model, the security credentials are typically already known, and verification established accordingly. On the other hand, in the case of a decentralized trust model a dynamic verification scheme is suitable for trust establishment. A decentralized trust model is expected to support and enable the virtualized, distributed, dynamic, and cloud-native nature of a 5G service-based architecture.
Beyond these enablers, further focus needs to be given to significantly improving resource and energy efficiency and sustainability. Some of the aforementioned enablers, such as telco cloud, help optimize energy consumption, and can, together with increased use of renewable energy and a reduction in the environmental impact of building networks, improve the environmental sustainability of networks.
On top of this, it is important to acknowledge that the mobile community will need to access new spectrum bands to fulfill the 5G promise. MNOs have extensive experience in deployment, operation, and maintenance, of networks and services. The 5G system capabilities such as network slicing and PaaS will assist MNOs using their public networks to provide dynamically customized (and private/isolated) services for vertical markets in a cost-efficient way and by efficiently using spectrum. Spectrum regulators should continue to give priority for public networks when allocating spectrum to minimize spectrum fragmentation and associated complexity, and optimize its use over wide areas.
The NGMN 5G White Paper 2 describes the 5G objective of enabling and contributing to prosperity and productivity with significant energy and resource efficiency, sustainability, social well-being, trust, and inclusion, and promotes the engagement with the wider ecosystem to fully address the 5G outreach. It provides a guideline for the 5G evolution with new visions, new use cases, and new challenges. It is worthy of being the reference for producing 5G specifications and promoting the 5G ecosystem.
Resources and Notes
This article was excerpted and created from 5G White Paper 2 by The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance, July 2020. https://www.ngmn.org/wp-content/uploads/NGMN-5G-White-Paper-2.pdf
2. GSMA, “Telecom Operators Collaborate to Build the Telco Edge Cloud Platform with GSMA Support”. https://www.gsma.com/newsroom/press-release/telecom-operators-collaborate-to-build-the-telco-edge-cloud-platform-with-gsma-support/.
3. NGMN, “NGMN Alliance Launches Initiative to Advance Cloud, Automation & Edge Computing”. https://www.ngmn.org/ngmn-news/press-release/ngmn-alliance-launches-initiative-to-advance-cloud-automation-edge-computing.html
4. GSMA, “Operator Platform Concept Whitepaper”, January 2020. https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/resources/operator-platform-concept-whitepaper/.
5. Taleb, T., Samdanis, K., Mada, B., Flinck, H., Dutta, S., Sabella, D., “On Multi-Access Edge Computing: A Survey of the Emerging 5G Network Edge Cloud Architecture and Orchestration”. IEEE Communications, 3Q2017.
6. Razavi, S.M, Gunnarsson, F., Ryden, H., Busin, A., Lin, X., Zhang, X., Dwivedi, S., Siomina, I., Shreevastav, R. “Positioning in Cellular Networks: Past, Present, Future”. Ericsson Research, Sweden, 2018.
Co-Authored by Nick Sampson, Javan Erfanian, and Nan Hu
Nick Sampson is Director, Wireless Access and Core Network Standardisation, Orange. Javan Erfanian is Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, Bell Canada. Nan Hu is Lead Researcher and Manager of 5G Standardisation, China Mobile Research Institute. The vision of the NGMN Alliance is to expand the communications experience by providing a truly integrated and cohesively managed delivery platform that brings affordable mobile broadband services to the end user with a particular focus on 5G while accelerating the development of LTE-Advanced and its ecosystem. For more information about NGMN Alliance, please email email@example.com or visit https://www.ngmn.org.