China leads the way as mobile network core market proves resilient

With the difficulties presented by COVID-19, the 5G roadmap might not have progressed as planned, but growth has remained steady for mobile core deployments.

There might be a few vendors nursing headaches as RAN deployments have not scaled as some would have expected, but some consolation can be found in the network core segment. Over the last twelve months, the segment grew 10% to nearly $8 billion with several high-profile deals inked, most notably in China.

“Our outlook has become more positive, especially since the Chinese service providers accelerated their plans for 5G Core deployments,” said David Bolan, Senior Analyst at Dell’Oro.

“China Mobile and China Unicom have completed their 5G Core tenders, and plan to launch 5G service early in 3Q20. We expect other Chinese service providers will follow very soon. This has raised our outlook to an anticipated growth of 14 percent year over year for the trailing four quarters ending in 1Q21.”

In April, China Mobile selected Ericsson, ZTE and Huawei to deploy 5G network cores across the country, while Nokia saw a minor victory by securing a contract for core deployments with China Unicom. With China Telecom and China Broadcast Network, the newly created fourth telco, undergoing their own tenders, there could be some PR wins on the horizon.

While China is surging forward with its network deployment strategy, it is not alone. In Germany, some activities might be inhibited by the on-going coronavirus pandemic, however Telefonica Deutschland has awarded the contract to deploy its own network core to Ericsson.

“As a network operator serving the most mobile customers in Germany, we have a special social responsibility to provide secure networks,” Telefonica Deutschland CEO Markus Haas said.

Work should be completed on the network core during 2021, with the team targeting network slicing and edge computing services.

“With our cloud compatible 5G core network, we are entering a new technology era,” said Mallik Rao, CTO of Telefónica Deutschland. “Gigabit data rates, real-time communication and massive IoT – these visions are now becoming reality.

“We have a clear plan for the further development of our network infrastructure towards a standalone 5G network that can handle the massive data streams of the future and open up new digital business models for all our customers. In doing so, we are relying on the latest network technologies that the market has to offer.”

Similar to other European nations, German telcos have made the decision to remove Huawei, and other vendors who would be deemed high risk, from network cores. Interestingly enough, this trend does not seem to have had too much of a material impact on Huawei’s business. Dell’Oro estimates Huawei and Ericsson combined for over half of the market, while Nokia, ZTE, and Cisco more than 25%.

Although the network core elements of 5G is not the most financially rewarding for the infrastructure vendors, it is a very good sign for the industry. Although widespread installation of 5G base stations are an easy boast, 5G services cannot be delivered in earnest without a 5G network core, enough fibre in the ground and a dispersed cloud network where enough attention has been given to the edge.

Progress in the core is progress for 5G as new services, such as network slicing and automation, can be more effectively delivered. It might not be the most profitable part of the industry, but perhaps a more material indicator of 5G progress. 5G RAN offers a speed upgrade, somewhat of an aesthetic benefit, but the core offers the opportunity to deliver services which were not realistic in the 4G era.

Ericsson does a little mission critical M&A

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has dug up enough loose change to buy Spanish firm Genaker, which does Mission Critical Push-to-talk (MC-PTT) stuff.

In its simplest form this is old-school ‘walkie-talkie’ technology, as has been used by emergency services, security workers, etc for decades. For ‘mission critical’ networks, in which the most important thing is to always be able to communicate with everyone else on that network immediately, there is still no better model, it seems, until we’re all assimilated into some kind of hive mind.

The reason Ericsson is keen on it is that the 5G era has made mission-critical communications, private networks and bespoke comms services in general all the fashion in the industrial world. Since B2B is where most of the new cash from 5G is expected to come, if kit vendors aren’t all over it then they risk being overtaken by specialists and new entrants to that market.

“We have worked with Genaker as a partner in Mission Critical Applications for many years and we are now taking this step to further strengthen our end-to-end offering,” said Monica Zethzon, Head of Solution Area Communication Services, Ericsson. “We’re really excited that the Genaker team is joining us and that we can bring the value of their expertise to our customers.“

“It is an honour that Genaker becomes the base of Ericsson’s global MC-PTT offering,” said Miquel Teixidor, Co-founder and CEO of Genaker. “Together we will leverage the best of the two companies, and we’re excited about this opportunity to offer customers around the world our next-generation MC-PTT solution.”

Genaker only has a head-count of 30, so this isn’t a major acquisition in terms of size. But it takes on additional significance as a strategic statement of intent. When network slicing properly kicks in there is expected to be a lot of demand for bespoke networks tailored to specific use-cases. Ericsson is wise to be trying to skate to where the puck will be with moves like this.

Nokia says it can do network slicing as soon as this summer

Ethical kit vendor Nokia has launched new tech that allows network slicing on 4G and non-standalone 5G networks.

Full network slicing is only expected when standalone 5G comes along, with a new, improved 5G core. Prior to that it has largely been a slide in the 5G PowerPoint presentation, alongside all the other utopian promises that have been attributed to it as the industry tries to persuade the world, and perhaps even itself, that 5G will change everything.

Now Nokia is claiming that, via a mere software update, its operator customers can dip their toes in the network slicing water today. The solution will support connectivity from 4G and 5G devices over the sliced network to applications running in private and public clouds and will be available this summer, we’re told.

“Working closely with our customers to develop new technologies and business opportunities is hugely important to Nokia,” said Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “4G/5G slicing enables multiple new use cases which operators can start building now to create new revenue streams.” The customers in question in this case were Telia Finland and A1 Telekom Austria.

“It has been really exciting to be the first operator to conduct a live test of Nokia’s new network slicing feature,” said Jari Collin, CTO of Telia Finland. “As a 5G frontrunner in business customer pilots and solutions, we know that this will be a key functionality that will deliver many of the promises our customers are waiting for. With slicing, we can efficiently use our spectrum to deliver seamless and reliable connectivity and also strengthen our leading IoT position with nationwide deployment of new technologies like  LTE-M and NB-IoT.”

“We are proud to be among the first operators worldwide who successfully demonstrated end-to-end network slicing, spanning the core, transport and radio over our 4G as well as 5G networks,” said Alexander Kuchar, Director Technology & Future Services at A1 Telekom Austria Group.

“For our business customers, it will be a huge advantage to be able to benefit from dedicated mobile communication services, exclusive capacities, strong data security and transmission with high reliability and low latency by integrating A1’s highly reliable and excellent infrastructure and services offering into their internal processes. Network slicing in 4G and extended in 5G will play a key role in allowing A1 to develop new market segments and revenue streams.”

While this feels like a stop-gap technology, designed to let operators have a network slicing dress rehearsal before the main event arrives with SA 5G, this is still a noteworthy achievement for Nokia. It has admitting to taking its eye off the 5G ball a bit and firsts like this will do a lot to restore its technological credibility. The 5G core seems to be a particular strength for Nokia at the moment, so it will be hoping to use that as a springboard to acquire more RAN and fixed business.

Network Slicing – Test Now, Succeed Later

Network slicing is fundamental to make 5G networks successful. This whitepaper introduces the concept of network slicing and provides an overview of three primary 5G service types and core network functions. It also highlights how operators and network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) can take a lead on the competition by adopting test and measurement solutions available on the market today.

Discover:
• How 5G is different from previous cellular connectivity generations
• 5G use cases and challenges
• How testing helps meet quality of service expectations

 

 

 

Network slicing is becoming the unescapable buzzword of the month

Every couple of months a new buzzword emerges, and it starts to emerge in pretty much every conversation. Now its network slicing staking a claim for the title.

Featuring in almost every presentation at the 5G Core conference in Madrid this week, the technology certainly has a lot to live up to. However, like the cloud, virtualisation or digital transformation, it is claiming its 15 minutes of fame, though the promise and potential is very grand.

Although it might not should like the most revolutionary aspect of the quickly evolving telco landscape, it offers so much opportunity to evolve the business and grow revenues. As Franz Seiser of Deutsche Telekom put it, the one-size-fits-all 4G network cannot deliver the fortunes investors have been promised so frequently as the industry wades through this tenuous period.

Network slicing is critical. The idea of creating customisable networks and specific products for enterprise is only achievable through the implementation of network slicing. Or, it can be achieved through more traditional means of network deployment, but this would not be commercially attractive. Soon enough, a slice could be designated for low-latency services in the energy industry, the high-speeds demanded by broadcasting or the resilience and reliability insisted upon in the manufacturing space.

It also adds into the drive towards network convergence.

As Maria Cuevas of BT pointed out during her presentation, network convergence has been attempted in the past, though it has failed. However, baby-steps are being made towards realising the convergence dream, as well as the operational and financial benefits, and network slicing will add further to the momentum.

This is not the only trend which Cuevas is keeping an eye-on, but the ability to designate traffic to specific slices adds notable momentum to the operational side of a converged network.

However, there are still challenges. The next 3GPP standards release in March 2020 should add some much-needed clarity, though many of the questions which telcos are facing today are operational not technical.

Technical challenges are not a problem realistically, according to Telecom Italia (TIM) SVP Lucy Lombardi; a solution will always emerge. The issues which are currently being dealt are much more business focused. Does TIM want slices to be fixed or dynamic? Who will control the functionality of the slice, TIM or the customer? Will roaming be a slice? What kind of industry collaboration does it need?

The technical challenges will gradually dissolve as vendors propose new ideas and telcos present success stories at conference, but the business questions which have been mentioned above are perhaps more challenging. This is where a telco can add value, create differentiation and attract customers.

The 5G networks which are currently being deployed are no-longer driven by the demands of the consumer. The consumer is of course still important, but the 5G network is being designed and deployed to realise the benefits of the enterprise connectivity world. And network slicing is a critical component of this dream.

We want to build a network where failure is impossible – Telefonica CTIO

If you consider 5G is not 5G without a 5G core, why have we not been talking about the 5G core more when 5G is being deployed and the 5G economy is just around the corner.

If you hadn’t figured it out, this article might be about completing the 5G puzzle.

In Madrid, telco executives are gathering to talk about a topic which has not grabbed many headlines to date. The evolution, or perhaps revolution, of the core. And whilst it might be a very complicated project, one thing is very clear; the 5G core will not look very similar to the 4G core.

“We are not building infrastructure for the customer,” Telefonica CTIO Enrique Blanco said at the 5G Core conference.

“We are building it for society. How can we build a network which will not fail? 5G Core is a key topic for us.”

There are two interesting elements to this statement from Blanco. Firstly, the network is fundamentally different in its application. And secondly, if connectivity is going to central to society moving forward, failures cannot be tolerated, irrelevant of severity, location or impact.

Starting with the application of the network, while 4G was built for the mass market and appeasement of the increasingly digitally-native consumers, 5G is much more than that. Increased download speeds are an added bonus, but the value of 5G is realised through the creation of new services and engagement with enterprise.

Walter Wang of Huawei illustrated this nuance very well. The 4G network has been built for a single purpose, however the 5G core needs to be built in a way which allows for the creation of customisable connectivity services for enterprise. For example, a customer in the energy sector will be demanding low-latency. In manufacturing, reliability and resilience are key. And for broadcasting, its speed and availability.

The ‘one-size-fits-all’ 4G network cannot deliver on these demands. If 5G is to offer an opportunity to engage enterprise customers, the 5G core needs to be created in a way which allows for the creation of these services. It’s multi-layered, regionalised and distributed and multi-vendor. Which leads us very nicely onto the next area.

The 5G network cannot fail. The same could be said of the 4G network, however the impact is very different. If 4G networks go down, the general public can’t watch cat videos on the bus. If a 5G network fails, enterprise customers are irked and SLAs (service level agreement) come back to haunt the telco. Critical services fail and there is a very real impact to society.

As Blanco highlighted, operating through multiple layers, distributing the core over several regions and engaging with multiple vendors adds resilience. If there is a failure at one point in the network or ecosystem, it is a case of damage limitation not everyone to panic stations.

This is a perfectly reasonable approach to business, though there are certainly some risks to bear in mind.

A multi-vendor environment is all well and good for resilience, reliability, competition and innovation, however as Veon CTO Yogesh points out, the more variables in the ecosystem, the points of failure. Franz Seiser of Deutsche Telekom also echoed this point; the future network is impossible without automation and automation is very difficult.

This is the challenge with the 5G network of tomorrow; if it is multi-vendor, with telcos selecting components which have been deemed best-in-breed, this is not necessarily a guarantee they will complement each other. The ingredients might be perfect, but if the recipe doesn’t work, neither will the network. In some case, it might be worth sacrificing some quality because the components complement each other.

What is worth noting is that all of these discussions are very much in the early days. The 3GPP Release 16, due in the early part of 2020, will pay more specific attention to the 5G core, and at this point we might see work accelerate.

That said, always bear in mind that 5G is not really 5G until the core is 5G. And the nuances of delivering a 5G core are a lot more complicated than 4G.

Why network slicing is the 5G differentiator telcos have been craving

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article, John Lenns, VP Product Management at Oracle Communications, explores why network slicing could be the differentiator UK telcos are searching for in the 5G arms race.

When it comes to 5G, most UK telcos are still aggressively jostling for pole position. But, with EE the first out of the starting blocks at the end of May – closely followed by Vodafone rolling out its network to seven UK cities a few days later – the marker has well and truly been laid down.

Around five million Brits switch mobile provider each year, so establishing themselves as an efficient and reliable provider of 5G will be critical for telcos looking to both retain existing and attract new customers over the coming years.

Cutting through the noise with network slicing

One way providers can steal a march on competitors is through the emergence of network slicing, a technology that allows telcos to offer differentiated services with tailored connectivity and potentially specific applications for a specific enterprise segment. Service providers need to play more of a central role in smart ecosystems and digital marketplaces to grow revenues and profitability and compete with digital innovators. To that end they should also consider non-traditional business models such as new SaaS and managed service models to reduce costs and share risks/rewards. Network slicing is a key enabler towards this goal.

With 5G unlocking the potential to launch services and products previously unimaginable on 4G, performance and functionality requirements are bound to differ enormously. Network slicing essentially subverts the one-size-fits all approach, providing the opportunity for carriers to tailor connectivity services to the precise requirements of particular applications, users, or devices.

The concept of a dedicated core network is not new, first introduced in 4G as a DECOR feature. 5G, however, bakes network slicing into its core service and extends it to be end to end.

For telcos, the opportunities are limitless. Want to stream virtual reality at a sports event, or 3D video at a music concert? Before 5G, these experiences were tantalisingly out of reach, limited to stadiums and arenas with only the strongest WiFi connection. But network slicing will make them a mainstay of how people experience brands and events.

This freedom to launch and evolve custom-fit network slices rapidly – with lower capital and operating costs – will provide huge opportunities for telcos as they create increasingly sophisticated and lucrative digital services.

Telcos in pole position to take advantage

While we’re still scratching the surface of what 5G can deliver, it’s safe to say that telcos occupy one of the strongest market positions when it comes to exploiting this new network’s vast potential. Nearly every vertical imaginable relies on communications services to not only operate on a daily basis, but also accelerate innovation.

One such example is in the highly-competitive live-game streaming world, where pioneering platform Twitch boasts 3.3 million unique broadcasters per month and a staggering 560 billion minutes watched in 2018. There’s real potential here for providers to adopt greater integration into an ecosystem, with specific slices and integration into customer experience (CX) and applications meaning a specialised version of a game streaming platform could be offered under a telco’s very own brand.

In this scenario, telcos would provide much of the experience, including the basic portals for users and game providers, as well as own-branded monetisation for the latter. The service would operate from multiple cloud environments, with third parties supplying various aspects of the streaming platform, back office, CX, slicing, and edge. The mobile network operator would provide the access and other technologies.

This is just one of the many exciting opportunities for telcos to personalise network ‘slices’ to match the specific requirements of industry-vertical applications with customer segments. All service environments worth their salt will, at the very least, provide the basic ‘5G building blocks’ to help service providers move forward with both traditional mobile and enterprise services.

But the ultimate goal for telcos should be to add value to core services with good margins and operational efficiencies—something that will come with more automation in Cloud native technology and business practices, and with a willingness to explore outside comfort zones to tap into and capitalise on the expertise of people outside the industry. In other words, telcos must focus on creating exceptional experiences for their customers. 5G – along with network slicing – has the potential to make this a reality.

John LennsJohn Lenns, VP Product Management, Oracle Communications As VP of Product Management at Oracle Communications, John is responsible for leading product management, product marketing, business development and strategy teams that help telecoms companies develop and manage all aspects of their 4G and 5G networks, business operations and customer relationships. John joined Oracle Communications as part of the acquisition of Tekelec in 2013, having spent 15 years leading product, technical and business development teams for the company. Today, John is focused on helping telecoms companies make the most of the cloud to deliver 5G networks successfully and securely.

Huawei powered Chinese operators trial 5G for industry verticals

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has just trialled 5G for business vertical use on a standalone (SA) architecture. Huawei and Baidu provided the technologies.

The trial was carried out in Beijing, China, and the use case was a corporate video conference. It used 8K cameras to capture live video, which was then sent to the 5G SA core network through China Mobile’s 5G gNodeBs base stations. The data was then processed (encoded and decoded) by Baidu servers on the same network, then sent to the conference room for the 8K live video broadcast.

The trial was using the technology called “5G Vertical LAN” defined in 3GPP R16, which in essence is an insulated “slice” of the mobile network dedicated to a single business user, i.e. becoming a private cloud for an enterprise. The enterprise cloud can be provided by the mobile operator, or the enterprise can choose to provide its own customized 5G vertical LAN. This cloudified enterprise environment “enables terminals to directly communicate with each other, and allows them to access enterprise clouds” without going through the public cloud, therefore increasing the communication security.

However, to realise such a virtual enterprise setup it needs the 5G network to be in SA mode, because insulating and managing the virtual network is all done with software and hard to implement on non-standalone (NSA) mode. This China Mobile trial was conducted on such an SA architecture.

Huawei did not disclose details of the distance between the two ends, or the latency. The company put up a live video demonstration in the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In that case the distance between the video capturing point and the broadcasting point was about 2km, and the latency was 11ms. But that trial was carried over Vodafone’s hybrid network.

This is not the only network slicing trial Huawei has carried out recently. The day before, the company worked with China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator, and China’s State Grid, to carry out a network slicing trial to manage a live power grid. China Telecom has been vocal in promoting 5G for other vertical industries.

The commercial 5G networks launched so far, in the US and in Korea, are all on NSA architecture, which limits the use cases to primarily enhanced mobile broadband access, therefore are mainly consumer focused. When Colin Wilcock, chairman of the European Union-backed 5G Industry Association (5G-IA), dismissed the 5G leadership of North America and Korea as not real 5G but beefed up LTE, though not entirely devoid of sourgraping, he got a point. Speaking at the Smart to Future Cities conference recently, he stressed that “the 5G we (Europe) need has to support the other vertical industries”, though also he conceded it is not going to happen now, but will be deployed in two to five years’ time, reported by Compelo.

Q&A with Sunil Lingayat, Chief of Cyber Strategy and Technology at T-Mobile

Sunil Lingayat leads the cybersecurity strategy architecture and cybersecurity technology functions for T-Mobile and is responsible for driving next generation cyber strategies and capabilities and positioning products and services into an effective cyber resilience posture. The Big 5G Event team interviewed Sunil ahead of the event to gain a sneak peek of what we can expect at our upcoming conference.

What are the unique security requirements for 5G networks?

At a high level there are two primary reasons that are driving unique security requirements for 5G networks.  First is the use of COTS technologies and open architectures, distributed architectures, disaggregation at various layers of the stack, open service-based architecture (HTTP2/JSON), etc.  Second the exponential growth in number of devices (e.g. IoT), higher business value use cases, need for privacy-by-design, need for Safety, Low latency, order of magnitude higher throughout, etc.  Both of these aspects lead to (a) increased attack surface, (2) susceptible to a broader and established attacks and exploits, and higher tier threat actors, and more importantly (3) traditional security architectures and controls will not work, etc ….all contributing to unique security requirements for 5G in comparison to earlier networks – such as requirement for use case driven security, layered security, security automation, and cyber resilience.

What will be the unique security considerations for specialized 5G use cases?

As per ITU, 5G is expected to support three different families of use cases with somewhat conflicting requirements on a couple of dimensions such as latency, integrity, etc.  These are driving the need for slicing or network of networks architecture.  Within each use case type, there is also the dimension of privacy.  Some use cases requiring very stringent privacy e.g., HIPPA.  Whereas some use cases integrity and latency are critical.  It is important that security controls are geared towards each use case.  One size fits all will not work as it will make services very expensive, fragile, and in effect non-operational.

How can a dynamic security architecture be ensured for each network slice?

Software-defined security (SDS) becomes very important for achieving dynamic security. Security orchestration integrated with service orchestration is essential. Security function virtualization is another approach aligned with the VNF and NFVi architectures. All of this need automation at scale from the very beginning in the architecture.  Machine Learning and AI have to be incorporated and fine-tuned for “whitelist” security model and behaviour monitoring.

How can service providers adequately support NFV/SDN security requirements

Virtualization is not new as a technology.  Much innovation and lessons learned in the cloud industry.  Cyber 2.0 cyber resilience design principles like Autonomic security, least privilege, privilege escalation, dynamic alignment, dynamic positioning, etc have to be designed in. Adoption of de-perimeterized security strategy and architecture is crucial so security is not tied to the perimeter or zone.  Security has to be dynamic.  In fact, SDN/NFV can be effectively used to enhance traditional static (host and network-based) security positively and make 5G services cyber-resilient.

 

You can come face to face with Sunil Lingayat, Chief of Cyber Strategy and Technology at T-Mobile this year at the Big 5G Event this May 6-8 2019 in Denver, CO.