Challenges & Key Issues of Constructing ‘MEC-Ready’ 5G Bearer Networks for Carriers

5G applications are widely used across various industries. A newly developed mode “5G+edge computing+AI” enables carriers to help vertical industries realize digital and intelligent transformation. This brings four new challenges for operators’ bearer networks. To build an MEC-ready 5G bearer network, carriers need to fix six key issues.

MEC Is Key in the 5G Age to Digitally Transform Thousands of Industries

Application localization, where data is not transmitted out of the campus, high-bandwidth content distribution, and low-latency computing localization all boost the migration of service contents, applications, and computing to the edge, propelling the development of multi-access edge computing (MEC) and moving the core network of 5G downwards.

Figure 1-1: Migrating services to the edge advances MEC development and moves the 5G core network downwards

The 5G core network uses a flexible architecture where the user plane function (UPF) and session management function (SMF) are separate. This way, UPFs can be utilized as needed. One SMF can manage multiple UPFs simultaneously while maintaining the high performance of the 5G core network. 5G brings a number of new advantages to MEC, including:

  • The core network’s UPF is moved downward to the enterprise campus, ensuring that key service data does not leave the campus and providing a low-latency bearer solution. Carriers can configure a UPF independently for each enterprise, customizing wireless services for enterprise users.
  • Carriers can provide 5G communication service capabilities such as positioning and wireless communication capabilities that are open and programmable, and can be utilized by enterprise users and integrated into enterprises’ service systems. Therefore, enterprises can create their own 5G innovative applications.
  • The 5G MEC system that is moved downwards is directly interconnected with the enterprise network, enabling applications distributed on the two network systems to be integrated and streamlined in real time, and facilitating the development of customized innovative applications.

Four Challenges Facing Carriers’ 5G MEC Bearer Network

Traditional 4G bearer networks mainly carry north-south traffic. Numerous carriers adopt the Layer 2+Layer 3 mode, which is no longer suitable for transmitting 5G MEC traffic locally. 5G MEC brings four new challenges to carriers’ bearer networks:

Figure 1-2: New challenges for carriers in deploying their 5G MEC bearer networks

  1. MEC deployed locally in enterprise campuses is a brand new application scenario. Vital enterprise service data must not be transmitted out of the campus, which poses new challenges to the carrier’s access network.
  2. The UPF of the MEC is moved downwards. Consequently, UPF’s interfaces such as N4, N6, N9, and 5GC OAM interfaces on the 5G core network are also moved downwards, and the L3VPNs on the IP backbone network for 4G core networks are moved down to the UPF’s access point. The new challenges have arisen from the large-scale deployment of 5G MEC deployment.
  3. The UPF of the MEC needs to communicate with its control plane (SMF) and the management & control system of the 5G core network in the central cloud, with the high-performance communication requirements of the telco cloud. MEC applications may be a part of cloud computing in a data center (DC) and are deployed at the edge. They need to interconnect and collaborate with this cloud computing applications. This poses a new challenge to edge-cloud synergy on carriers’ bearer networks.
  4. MEC supports integrated access on fixed and mobile networks and provides a seamless fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) service. The bearer network needs to provide MEC with connections across the mobile and fixed bearer networks, to provide the interworking of services between the MEC and central cloud, as well as between MECs. This poses new challenges in the network architecture, especially to the carriers who have both the mobile bearer and fixed bearer metropolitan area networks (MANs).

Six Key Issues of Carriers’ 5G MEC Network Architecture Model and Network Construction

Figure 1-3: Carrier bearer network architecture model from MEC’s viewpoint

The bearer network architectures of different carriers are varied. The following sections introduce a bearer network architecture model from MEC’s viewpoint in Figure 1-3.The aforementioned 5G MEC network communication model requires carriers to fix the following six key issues when constructing MEC-ready bearer networks:

  1. The shortest MEC access network: Carriers need to provide the shortest path for the service flows of N3 interfaces from the gNB to MEC UPFs. In the onsite MEC mode, N3 interface service flows need to be forwarded to MEC through mobile bearer routers in the campus directly. In addition to ensuring low latency and saving bandwidth on the carriers’ network, this also ensures that enterprise’s key service data does not leave the campus area, as shown in Figure 4. This requires the MEC access router to forward data packets through the shortest path. To do this, the MEC access router is required to provide the necessary routing capability (Layer 3 forwarding to edge).

Figure 1-4: MEC needs a low-latency access network without a detour

  1. Low-latency slicing: To meet the requirements of MEC applications for low latency, high security, and high reliability, carriers’ bearer networks need to provide low-latency slicing network services for enterprise users. The MEC sliced network includes the gNBs, the mobile bearer network (between the gNBs and MEC), and UPF. That is, all the network elements (NEs) that service flows from enterprises pass through to reach MEC. The fewer the NEs that the packet passes through, the simpler the slicing and the shorter the transmission latency are.
  2. Multi-point communication from MEC: Service flows among the MEC and the 5G core network (N4 and OAM interfaces), MEP management platform, the other MECs are in multipoint-to-multipoint communication mode and need to be supported by L3VPN. The MEC bearer network needs to provide L3VPN capabilities on the entire network, including the access network; that is, L3 VPN to the network edge. In addition, the L3VPN needs to span multiple network segments such as the MAN and backbone network. The MEC bearer network has increased in complexity compared with the 4G bearer network in terms of the number of NEs, as a large number of UPFs have moved downwards, and the network coverage, which covers from the access network to the backbone network. Therefore, a flexible and powerful L3VPN is required to support multi-point communication, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 1-5: Management and control service interfaces across multiple networks

  1. Communication capabilities integrated in the routers of the MEC system: Small- and micro-MECs are conventional in 5G MEC. Due to the cost and communication requirements, the MEC typically uses a one-layer integrated network model (as shown in Figure 6), while a data center often uses a complex multi-layer network architecture. The routers of MEC need to provide all the required communication functions, such as interworking between the devices in MEC, reliable Layer 2 & Layer 3 connections between VMs, interworking and reliable communication with an external IP network (IP RAN), and edge-cloud synergy. UPF as Network Function Virtualization (NFV) can run on multiple VMs, to improve performance and reliability. The MEC routers need to provide equal-cost multi-path routing (ECMP) for 16-path load balancing currently for high-performance UPF.

Figure 1-6: MEC network model

  1. Edge-cloud synergy: MEC UPF used as the data plane of 5GC is moved to the edge, and applications function as real-time processing units of cloud services and are moved to the MEC. All these require the carrier’s bearer network to provide reliable cloud-edge communication capabilities and support edge-cloud synergy in automatic deployment and operations and maintenance (O&M). For details about UPFs’ edge-cloud synergy, refer to the telco cloud bearer solution.
  2. Secure interworking between two networks: A carrier’s MEC network needs to interwork with an enterprise network to enable the enterprise to integrate 5G communication capabilities and MEC applications into enterprise service systems. Currently, MEC routers are used to communicate with enterprise networks. As network security is a major concern for both enterprise networks and carrier networks alike, a firewall-based network security solution is required to ensure high security.

Conclusion

5G mobile communications systems have made many improvements in supporting vertical industries, such as realizing low-latency wireless communication, a flexible core network architecture, and super uplink. These new features of 5G are what sets it apart from 4G. MEC is a new model for carriers to help vertical industries become digital and intelligent. It is also the beginning of widespread distribution of intelligence on the network. In the future fully connected intelligent world, edge computing-based intelligence will become prominent on the network. Without considering the MEC’s network requirements for vertical industries, the 4G bearer network is constructed for the typical mobile phone users, whose traffic model is in the north-south direction with centralized model of the 4G core network. Therefore, 5G MEC bearer network construction is so much more than a simple bandwidth upgrade of the 4G network.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Song Jun: Senior Solution Architect of Huawei Datacom Product Line, Co-Chair of the ECNI (Edge Computing network Infrastructure) Work Group of the Edge Computing Consortium. Since 1991, he has been engaged in research on data communications technology. He has worked on network planning in a tier-one multinational carrier in the United States and was a member of the expert working group of Chinese Next Generation Internet project. (song.jun@huawei.com).

A bunch of operators get together to push 5G and MEC interoperability

América Móvil, KT Corp., Rogers, Telstra, Verizon and Vodafone have formed a new gang called the 5G Future Forum.

The stated aim of the gang is to ‘accelerate the delivery of 5G and mobile-edge computing-enabled solutions around the world.’ It apparently thinks that there are issues around the interoperability of 5G specifications that need sorting out. This doesn’t seem to refer to the 5G standard itself, but rather 5G-enabled solutions like autonomous vehicles, smart factories and so on.

“This forum of global leaders in 5G marks an important step in ensuring edge computing works seamlessly for our customers,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business. “These new specifications will allow us to offer services that work consistently across the globe and support devices moving between countries. 5G opens up a wealth of opportunities for new solutions and business models and we’re excited to play a role in bringing them to life.”

“5G is a key enabler of the next global industrial revolution, where technology will transform how we live and work. It’s critical that technology partners around the world unite to create the most seamless global experience for our customers,” said Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon. “We are proud to join with our fellow 5G leaders to unlock the full potential of applications and solutions that will transform with 5G’s fast speeds, high reliability, improved security and single-digit latency.”

All the other founding members got a canned quote too but you get the gist. Other than a press release there doesn’t seem to be much else to the forum yes, not even a website. Presumably other operators will be brought into the fold in due course, but the absence of any telecoms or technology specification organisations looks like a potential issue.

AWS helps Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, and SK Telecom with their edge computing

Amazon Web Services has launched AWS Wavelength, which is designed to bring operators and app developers together at the edge of the network.

As the biggest public cloud provider it was only a matter of time before AWS made its edge move and this seems to be a big part of it. A major feature of 5G is low-latency communication, which dramatically reduces the lag between sending and receiving signals. However physical distance still introduces lag, which is where mobile edge computing comes in, but bringing services closer to the end user.

Part of the point of AWS Wavelength is so make it easier for developers to make apps that can exist on the edge of mobile networks, and thus make full use of the low-latency capabilities of 5G. It seems to have got off to a flying start, with Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, and SK Telecom all having signed up on launch day.

“With Wavelength, we bring 5G and cloud together to give our customers the powerful new capability to run cloud services consistently within a few milliseconds of mobile end-users,” said Matt Garman, VP of Compute Services at AWS. “This is a game changer for developers that is going to unlock a whole new generation of applications and services. We are really excited to see our customers innovate with these unique new capabilities that they did not have access to before.”

“We are first in the world to launch Mobile Edge Compute — deeply integrating Verizon’s 5G Edge platform with Wavelength to allow developers to build new categories of applications and network cloud experiences built in ways we can’t even imagine yet,” said Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon. “Bringing together the full capabilities of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband and AWS, the world’s leading cloud with the broadest and deepest services portfolio, we unlock the full potential of our 5G services for customers to create applications and solutions with the fastest speeds, improved security, and ultra-low latency.”

“With Europe’s largest 5G network across 58 cities and as a global leader in the Internet of Things with over 90 million connections, Vodafone is pleased to be the first telco to introduce AWS Wavelength in Europe,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business. “Faster speeds and lower latencies have the potential to revolutionize how our customers do business, and they can rely on Vodafone’s existing capabilities and security layers within our own network.”

“Having the power of the AWS cloud processing and storage services available at the edge of the KDDI 5G network enables us to accelerate IoT innovation for applications like high-definition VR video streaming, visual positioning service, smart factories, autonomous vehicles, and more,” said Makoto Takahashi, President of KDDI. “AWS Wavelength provides Japanese businesses and consumers immediate access to these services over the KDDI 5G network.”

“By combining the strengths of SK Telecom’s 5G network and AWS cloud, we are set to bring innovative changes to all individuals, businesses and industries,” said Ryu Young-sang, Head of the MNO Business at SK Telecom. “This collaboration enables exciting use cases like game streaming, headless robotics, Ultra High Definition interactive media, autonomous driving, and smart factories.”

Developments like this indicate the edge is rapidly becoming a mainstream commercial consideration as the telecoms and IT worlds try to work out whether 5G is worth the hassle. Verizon already has games developer Bethesda and the NFL on board to try out cool new low-latency use-cases and rival AT&T has already announced a similar initiative in partnership with Microsoft. Now let’s see if anyone makes any extra money out of it.

Amdocs launches ‘future ready’ RevenueONE billing system

Telecoms software vendor Amdocs has unveiled its bid to bring billing into the 5G and cloud era, in the form of RevenueONE.

The Amdocs marketing team saw fit to describe it as ‘game-changing’ in the headline of the press release. What game that is, whether it needs changing and whether or not this launch does so, we’ll leave to others to establish. The top line is that this is a billing system designed to help operators exploit all the new revenue opportunities we’re constantly being told have been generated by 5G and the move to the cloud.

To flesh out the press release we spoke to Ron Porter, Product Marketing Manager at Amdocs. He explained that 5G, IoT, connected environments, etc create all sorts of new billing opportunities for operators, but legacy billing systems aren’t geared to exploit them. A lot of this comes down to the kind of speed and flexibility that comes with having virtualized functions in the cloud, especially the edge. He concluded that the ultimate aim was to offer a billing system that is ‘future ready’.

“Amdocs RevenueONE brings together proven scalability and cloud-native architecture to accelerate the launch of new 5G services, while supporting existing products and offers, said Anthony Goonetilleke, Amdocs President of Media, Network and Technology. “At its core, the RevenueONE blueprint was built to scale, and was proven to support 200 million subscribers on a single platform.  This robust architecture allows CSPs to handle the velocity of new service launches, and the variety of new business models, that will come with 5G, while cutting time to market from days to minutes.

“Our goal was to continue to significantly reduce our hardware footprint while scaling to support the influx of new connected devices and services. Utilizing edge-based architecture to reduce network traffic, we believe RevenueONE will grow with our customers as consumers embrace new business models and services.”

The BSS/billion/digital transformation space is pretty competitive at the moment, with various vendors queueing up to giver operators the tools to capitalize on their 5G investments. If products like RevenueONE enable even half of what they promise the onus, as ever, is on operators to adapt the way they do business. 5G is still at an early stage, but the winners of it will surely be those operators that use it as a platform for genuine innovation.

Nvidia takes 5G to the edge with help from Ericsson and Red Hat

Graphics chip maker Nvidia has unveiled its EGX Edge Supercomputing Platform that is designed to boost 5G, IoT and AI processing at the edge of the network

Nvidia has long been the market leader in GPUs (graphics processing units), which has enabled it to get a strong position in supercomputing, where the parallel processing qualities of GPUs come in especially handy. This EGX initiative seems to be Nvidia’s attempt to translate that position from datacentres to the edge computing.

“We’ve entered a new era, where billions of always-on IoT sensors will be connected by 5G and processed by AI,” said Jensen Huang, Nvidia CEO. “Its foundation requires a new class of highly secure, networked computers operated with ease from far away. We’ve created the Nvidia EGX Edge Supercomputing Platform for this world, where computing moves beyond personal and beyond the cloud to operate at planetary scale.”

There seems to be a fair bit of support for this new platform, with a bunch of companies and even a couple of US cities saying they’re already involved. “Samsung has been an early adopter of both GPU computing and AI from the beginning,” said Charlie Bae, EVP of foundry sales and marketing at Samsung Electronics. “NVIDIA’s EGX platform helps us to extend these manufacturing and design applications smoothly onto our factory floors.”

“At Walmart, we’re using AI to define the future of retail and re-think how technology can further enhance how we operate our stores,” said Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart Intelligent Retail Lab. “With NVIDIA’s EGX edge computing platform, Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab is able to bring real-time AI compute to our store, automate processes and free up our associates to create a better and more convenient shopping experience for our customers.”

On the mobile side Ericsson is getting involved to build virtualized 5G RANs on EGX. As you would expect the reason is all about being able to introduce new functions and services more easily and flexibly. More specifically Ericsson hopes the platform will make virtualizing the complete RAN solution cheaper and easier.

“5G is set to turbocharge the intelligent edge revolution,” said Huang. “Fusing 5G, supercomputing, and AI has enabled us to create a revolutionary communications platform supporting, someday, trillions of always-on, AI-enabled smart devices. Combining our world-leading capabilities, Nvidia and Ericsson are helping to invent this exciting future.”

On the software side a key partner for all this virtualized 5G fun will be Red Hat, which is getting its OpenShift Kubernetes container platform involved. It will combine with Nvidia’s own Aerial software developer kit to help operators to make the kind of software-defined RAN tech that can run on EGX.

“The industry is ramping 5G and the ‘smart everything’ revolution is beginning,” said Huang. “Billions of sensors and devices will be sprinkled all over the world enabling new applications and services. We’re working with Red Hat to build a cloud-native, massively scalable, high-performance GPU computing infrastructure for this new 5G world. Powered by the Nvidia EGX Edge Supercomputing Platform, a new wave of applications will emerge, just as with the smartphone revolution.”

Things seemed to have gone a bit quiet on the virtualization front, with NFV, SDN, etc having apparently entered the trough of disillusionment. Nvidia is a substantial cloud player these days, however, and judging by the level of support this new initiative has, EGX could a key factor in moving the telecoms cloud onto the slope of enlightenment.

Should operators try to own the edge?

At the Edge Computing Congress 2019 in London, the keynotes and panel discussions focused on the unique opportunity for operators to own the edge if they want to.

Edge computing refers to distributed datacenters that place reduce the physical distance between the cloud and the edge of the network – i.e. the RAN. The main point of this is to reduce the lag from interacting with the cloud in real time and to allow the kind of low-latency communication services that promise to be the most novel new feature of 5G. Edge computing is also expected to help with things like bandwidth flexibility for IoT, cloud security and data localisation.

The presentations were opened by Julian Bright of analyst firm Ovum, who warned that 5G probably needs the edge more than the edge needs 5G and set the tone for the rest of the morning by asking who will own it. Bright also raised the issue of interoperability and noted that the definition of a common framework for edge computing is some way from being determined.

As is often the way, most of the talking points came from a panel (pictured) that aimed to explore definitions of edge computing, what the point of it is, and the business cases for investing in it. It was agreed that the edge is not a discrete, standalone thing, but rather an extension of the cloud. That said, by definition it requires its own separate physical infrastructure, which has to be built and owned by someone.

This is presents a unique opportunity for operators, for whom distributed infrastructure is a core competence. They also own, or at least have access to, a lot of remote locations, so they have a head start over cloud specialists and IT companies. Edge computing was said to be the perfect example of the convergence of networks and IT, which raises the question of which of those worlds will define and own it.

A key issue for edge computing concerns interoperability. As an extension of the public cloud it needs to be usable by all stakeholders. One way to ensure this is standardisation, something the telecoms world is very familiar with. Standardisation typically takes a long time, however, and the panel warned that operators are likely to lose their advantages in this space if they allow themselves to be bogged down by it.

There are also cultural dynamics involved. The IT world typically moves faster and is less risk-averse than the networking world. While telcos are used to significant infrastructure capex, this is typically in areas where there is proven demand and ROI. Heavy investment in edge computing will require more of a ‘build it and they will come’ strategic philosophy.

This observation led to a discussion of the chicken-and-egg dilemma that comes with the prospect of investing in a new technological platform without a mature business case to go with it. As we saw with historical attempts to break the duopoly in smartphone operating systems, it’s hard to get customers for your platform without a strong app ecosystem, but developers are reluctant to embrace any platform that doesn’t have a large and enduring user base.

There was unanimity among the panel that ownership of the edge is there for operators to take if they want it, but they need to move fast. If they do they will need to accept risk in the form of capex without the guaranteed ROI they’re used to and they will also need to seed the app ecosystem in ways they have historically avoided. For operators the edge is about new revenue opportunities rather than efficiencies and their approach to it needs to reflect that.

After the panel there was a keynote from Mahadev Satyanarayanan, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, who further explored the value propositions of edge computing. He stressed that the deeper the use of the edge, the more of a premium can be charged for the resulting service. A real-world example of such a service can be seen in the video below of a project Satyanarayanan oversaw, using vehicle cameras to enable crowdsourced traffic information without the driver needing to be actively involved.

75% of enterprise data expected to be processed on the edge by 2020

Industry experts participating in the Edge Computing Congress shared their views on how and when enterprises can benefit from edge computing.

Vodafone believes the market is quickly evolving from a centralised cloud to distributed cloud, expecting 75% of enterprise generated data will be processed outside of a centralised data centre by 2020.

This year’s Edge Computing Congress is being held in west London, where stakeholders on the value-chain are bouncing ideas off each other on how edge computing will impact the industry and how to capture opportunities brought about by the evolution of computing from the centre to the edge.

In a recent Telecoms.com Intelligence report, we predicted that 5G will help push edge computing from a small group of early adopters to be embraced by a much larger number of companies. This prediction is largely confirmed on Day 1 of the conference.

According to Vodafone’s data, shared by Simon Withers (pictured), the company’s Head of Digital Solutions Design, 27% of businesses are already implementing edge, and a further 18% plan to do so in the next year. The operator also predicted that, as a result of the trend towards edge cloud, 90% of customer deployments will be critically dependant on latency and bandwidth, the key technology properties 5G will offer.

To serve the fast-moving market, Vodafone is pursuing a multi-cloud strategy and is offering enterprise customers with two different solutions: dedicated and distributed. Withers also shared a few use cases the operators is working on with its partners, including supporting connected factory with dedicated edge, next generation retail with augmented reality on the edge, and worker insights through augmented operation.

Edge computing does not have to wait for 5G to happen. One of the most broadly adopted edge computing cases is private LTE for campus, for enterprise, etc. Yet this is an area that has become controversial to telecom operators. A representative from another big European operator believed private LTE, and in the future private 5G, may prove a new business opportunity for mobile operators if it is a network slice bought from the generic mobile network.

It would be a challenger if it was operated independently—for example the discussion in Germany that 5G frequencies could be awarded locally to private networks. However what worries the operator the most, according to the representative, is the webscale companies (AWS, Google, Microsoft) getting frequencies and offering services on the edge. This is already happening. Amazon has filed to FCC to expand its test on 3.5GHz band and, as Light Reading reports, this could be related to Amazon’s plan to “offer cloud-native, private mobile networks in the CBRS band to developers, telecom operators, public sector operators, enterprises and others.”

Another sign that there still lacks consensus on edge computing presented itself when a straw poll was conducted on the conference participants by the speaker from STL Partners, a consulting firm. When asked to choose the leading benefit of edge computing, two came on top, both at 25%, which are “enabling low-latency applications” and “data localisation, security and sovereignty”. Reducing connection cost to the central cloud, which the presenter expected to be high on the list, and we highlighted in our recent report, came joint last, selected by only 5% of the conference attendees.