KT and Nokia will join hands to launch first ‘true’ 5G this month

Korea’s mobile operator KT is going to launch nationwide 5G service this month and will collaborate with Nokia to provide services and tools for the business and the public sectors.

Hwang Chang-Gyu, KT’s Chairman and CEO, recently announced that KT’s nationwide 5G network will be switched in March to cover 24 major cities, key transport routes such as expressways, subways, high-speed railways, large universities, and neighbourhood shopping areas. This will be an upgrade from the synchronised launch of 5G services with limited scale on 1 December 2018 by all the three national mobile operators.

“In March, KT will be the first in the world to introduce ‘True’ 5G mobile services,” said Hwang. “In the 5G era, neckband cameras, AR glasses and all kinds of devices will be connected to 5G, contributing to a better life for mankind.” That this was a personal historic moment should not to be lost. Exactly four years ago at MWC 2015, Hwang predicted a commercial 5G network by 2019. “Today, I would like to announce that the promise I made four years ago has finally been fulfilled,” Hwang added in his MWC speech.

The current 5G service that KT, SKT, and LG Plus are offering is fixed-wireless access targeted at business users. During the recent MWC, KT demonstrated plenty of 5G gimmicks for the consumer market, from a 5G connected robot butler bringing a bottle of water to the doorstep to a 5G and AI powered robot barista fixing cocktails.

KT is clearly banking big hope on 5G. Its Economic and Management Research Institute predicted that the socioeconomic value created by 5G will contribute to 1.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025. To realise such potential and to achieve serious monetisation of 5G, KT is looking towards the enterprise market and the public sector. The company announced that it plans to focus on five key areas with its 5G offers: smart cities, smart factories, connected cars, 5G media, and the 5G cloud. It says it is collaborating with various businesses as well as the Korean government to develop 5G services for both Business to Business (B2B) industries and Business to Government (B2G) sectors.

This is an echo to what Marcus Weldon, Nokia’s CTO and the President of Bell Labs, called for during his own speech at MWC. Weldon suggested the telecom industry should focus more on serving other verticals instead of on consumer markets, to deliver the true value of 5G. He did concede that it would need three to five years before telcos can see meaningful revenues from enterprise 5G. But when they do, Weldon predicted the business will soon equal that being made in the consumer 5G segment.

It just happened that KT and Nokia are going to collaborate closely in 5G. During MWC the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on various 5G technologies. “We are excited to partner with Nokia to conduct these path-breaking trials,” said Jeon Hong-Beom, KT’s CTO. “This collaboration will ensure that we are able to leverage Nokia’s proven solutions and best-in-class professional services to provide a superior and differentiated experience to our subscribers.”

“With Korea, one of the lead countries in the early deployment of 5G, we are delighted to be working with KT to help them build a future-ready network,” added Bhaskar Gorti, President of Nokia Software. “Nokia’s end-to-end portfolio will empower KT to improve its customer experience and network efficiency.”

The key areas of the collaboration will include Service Orchestration and Assurance for the 5G era, with the aim of delivering end-to-end automation and new revenue opportunities for KT’s enterprise customers. This will be supported by the enabling technologies like NFC and network slicing. The joint work will start in Seoul later this year.

ETSI publishes new spec and reports on 5G tech

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI, has released new specifications on packet formatting and forwarding, as well as two reports on transport and network slicing respectively.

The new specification, called Flexilink, focusing on packet formats and forwarding mechanisms to allow core and access networks to support the new services proposed for 5G. The objective of the new specification is to achieve efficient deterministic packet forwarding in user plane for next generation protocols (NGP). In the conventional IP networks, built on the Internet Protocols defined in the 1980s, every packet carries all the information needed to route it to its destination. This is undergoing fundamental changes with new technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), where most packets are part of a “flow” such as a TCP session or a video stream. As a result, there is increasingly a separation between the processes of deciding the route packets will follow and of forwarding the packets.

“Current IP protocols for core and access networks need to evolve and offer a much better service to mobile traffic than the current TCP/IP-based technology,” said John Grant, chairman of the ETSI Next Generation Protocol Industry Specification Group (ISG). “Our specifications offer solutions that are compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, providing an upgrade path to the more efficient and responsive system that is needed to support 5G.”

The new specification defines two separate services, a “basic” service suitable for traditional statistically multiplexed packet data, and a “guaranteed” service providing the lowest possible latency for continuous media, such as audio, video, tactile internet, or vehicle position. It is worth noting that Flexilink only specifies user plane packet formats and routing mechanisms. Specifications for the control plane to manage flows have already been defined in an earlier NGP document “Packet Routing Technologies” published in 2017.

The report “Recommendation for New Transport Technologies” analyses the current transport technologies such as TCP and their limitations, whilst also providing high-level guidance on architectural features required in a transport technology to support the new applications proposed for 5G. The report also includes a framework where there is a clear separation between control and data planes. A proof-of-concept implementation was conducted to experiment the recommended technologies, and to demonstrate that each TCP session can obtain bandwidth guaranteed service or minimum latency guaranteed service. The report states:

“With traditional transport technology, for all TCP traffic passes through DIP router, each TCP session can only obtain a fraction of bandwidth. It is related to the total number of TCP sessions and the egress bandwidth (100 M).

“With new transport technology, new TCP session (DIP flows) could obtain its expected bandwidth or the minimum latency. And most [sic.] important thing is that the new service is not impacted by the state that router is congested, and this can prove that new service by new transport technology is guaranteed.”

Importantly, the PoC experiment showed that the current hardware technology is able to support the proposed new transport technology and provide satisfactory scalability and performance.

The report “E2E Network Slicing Reference Framework and Information Model” looks into the design principles behind network slicing. The topic of network slices encompasses the combination of virtualisation, cloud centric, and SDN technologies. But there is gap in normalized resource information flow over a plurality of provider administration planes (or domains). The report aims to “provide a simple manageable and operable network through a common interface while hiding infrastructure complexities. The present document defines how several of those technologies may be used in coordination to offer description and monitoring of services in a network slice.” It describes the high level functions and mechanisms for implementing network slicing, as well as addresses security considerations.

Nokia plugs openness ahead of Broadband World Forum

Open is one of 2018’s buzzwords and Nokia is cashing in on the bonanza ahead of Broadband World Forum in a couple of weeks.

This is only the first of several announcements from the Finns, but it builds on the fibre connectivity and virtualisation foundations set last year. The first installment is focused on fixed access network slicing and multi-vendor optical network units (ONU).

Starting with the network slicing piece, the team plan to launch a fully open and programmable network slicing solution for fixed access networks. While the buzz for network slicing has been primarily focused on the mobile side of telecommunications, Nokia’s Head of Fixed Networks Marketing Stefaan Vanhastel told Telecoms.com the solution can be just as effective in fixed access.

“Yes network slicing is a hot topic for 5G, but we are now starting to see the benefit for slicing in a fixed network,” said Vanhastel. “Operators can use residential network for 5G transport – why not, you already have a network and can save up to 50% of deployment costs. Why not use the same infrastructure for residential broadband, enterprise customers and 5G transport.”

In the same way network slicing can be used to create several virtual networks in the wireless business, why not do it in fixed access? Not only does it allow telcos to more efficiently plan for the world of 5G transport, while simultaneously serving a variety of customers, it opens up a host of new deployment models.

Vanhastel highlighted there are several non-traditional players building their own networks, individual cities or national governments for example, though these are not the people you would want running telco services. Local authorities have plenty of experience from a civil engineering perspective, digging the trenches and deploying the networks, but with network slicing capabilities several virtual networks can be created to bring-in the right expertise to deliver the services.

This is one idea which will aid the deployment of future proof networks, though network slicing could also help co-operative efforts and co-investment from competitors. The physical deployment of the network can be shared between any number of telcos, with each then claiming their own ‘slice’ which can be managed and configured independently. Openness and collaboration seems like a nice idea, though few competitors can play nice unfailingly, but with network slicing they only have to for a set period of time (in theory) before turning their attention to their own business.

Secondly, Nokia has launched Multivendor ONU connect, which it claims is the first fully open, virtualised solution that allows telcos to connect any optical network unit (ONU). The solution takes a ‘driver’ approach to how telcos deploy and manage ONUs, allowing for ‘plug and play’ functionality. As part of Nokia’s Altiplano open programmable framework, software is decoupled to allow the ONU management to be virtualised. An open-API framework allows third-party stacks to be on-boarded in a more time-efficient manner.

The approach will offer telcos the opportunity to realise the benefits of interoperability, connecting any modem to an access platform and potentially removing the painstaking task of integration. Vanhastel said that once the whole management infrastructure is virtualized, it would be possible to connect any fibre modem to access networks without the hassle, while updates or new ONUs can be quickly introduced through software upgrades.

Broadband World Forum might still be a couple of weeks away, but the Nokia marketing message is clear; simplicity and openness.

End-to-end network slicing will be important for 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mr. Sun Dong, Marketing Director, ZTE Asia & CIS Region, looks at the significance of network slicing in the 5G era.

As the key infrastructure of the digital society, 5G will not only serve individuals but also accelerate digital transformation in many aspects of business and life. 5G can become a ubiquitous platform to satisfy diverse requirements for man-to-man, man-to-machine, and machine-to-machine communications.

While 4G provides broadband service to individual users, 5G needs to serve more diverse application scenarios and raise challenges on network capability and reliability. In a smart factory, serious damage could happen if service interruption occurs. With automated driving, human life is at stake and the network needs to provide an ultralow latency with 99.999% reliability. For VR/AR applications, the network needs to provide more than 1 Gbps bandwidth. The IoT has low requirements on network bandwidth and latency, but the network needs to provide up to 1 million connections per square kilometre. These scenarios place crucial and diverse requirements on 5G networks.

It is not feasible economically to build a new network for each type of service. But a single network could not simultaneously fulfil all the requirements of ultra-high bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and ultra-high reliability at the same time. It also introduces potential risks without service isolation.

Network slicing becomes an inevitable choice to solve the dilemma. Network slicing enables flexible slicing of 5G network resources into multiple virtual networks to meet specific customers’ requirements. In addition, network resources can be fully shared and dynamically balanced among services and therefore the network becomes scalable. Network slicing offers operators the capability and flexibility to develop new business models, and thus becomes a basic 5G network requirement.

An end-to-end 5G network slice consists of RAN, core network, bearer sub-slices and the management system to support its lifecycle management. Slicing and flexible deployment of AAUs, CUs, and DUs help to adapt to different scenarios.

The cloud-based deployment of CUs facilitates centralized management of radio resources. The co-location of DUs and CUs and the deployment of service anchors close to users improve the transmission latency.

The NFV-based 5G core network further introduces service-based architecture, which decouples network functions from hardware. The architecture implements components-based functions and adopts a stateless design with lightweight and open interfaces. It becomes more agile, scalable, flexible, and open.

The network slices are created by physical network virtualization. SDN architecture with unified management and control can achieve IP and optical layer synergy. This allows an open and programmable physical network to support innovation in network architecture and future services. The degree of intra-slice isolation depends on the slicing technology used. For example, FlexE and FlexO technologies could build rigid pipes that ensure strict isolation between slices with rapid forwarding implemented at the underlying layer. The technologies give flexibility to address different service requirements on bearer networks.

 

At 5G Asia 2018 in Singapore, 18 – 20 September, ZTE will demonstrate their cutting-edge 5G solutions. Meet them at 5G Asia.

Network slicing can unlock $66 billion of industry opportunities – ABI

Analyst firm ABI research has had a bit of a spreadsheet frenzy and come to the conclusion that network slicing can create $66 billion of fresh commercial opportunities for telcos.

Just to remind you, network slicing involves prioritising portions of the network to more specific applications, such as high bandwidth, low latency or massive, low-power IoT. Ideally this can be done dynamically via all the virtualised cleverness we’ve been banging on about for so long and will enable MNOs to offer more bespoke services to various industries.

Unlocking all these new ‘verticals’ has the potential to massively increase the total available market to telcos, so long as they can both utilise network slicing to create useful communications services and work out out to both tailor them for and sell into these lovely new markets.

“Telcos (aka Mobile Service Providers or MSPs) are increasingly seeking to create services that are more differentiated and tap into the growth engine of the future, intrinsically linked to a superior experience for end consumers, and operational simplicity for enterprises and end verticals,” said Don Alusha of ABI Research.

“Network slicing revenues will eventually be on an upward trajectory, driven by digital, cloud, and security requirements of multiple industry verticals, particularly for the trio of manufacturing, logistics, and automotive. Realizing the full revenue potential is dependent on essential slicing infrastructure from vendors, and pertinent applications delivered by MSPs.”

Alush thinks BT and Swisscom are ahead of the game when it comes to this sort of thing and are showing the way for others. “This is encouraging and lays the foundation for widespread commercial deployments even before 5G diffusion. There are specific vendors in the market who are addressing end-to-end slicing scenarios that pull together a number of technologies, Nokia and Ericsson chief among them.”

“MSPs and vendors are pursuing different models of collaboration with vertical markets and growth for each market will be driven by premium services, revenue potential and ability to address existing challenges in the short and medium term. Vendors should aim to eliminate complexity through automation and ‘deep’ orchestration, a feat that calls for close collaboration with standard bodies to standardize and achieve alignment apt for commercial deployments and ecosystem integration.”

All good advice, but easier said than done.

GSMA advises operators to keep it simple on network slicing

On the final day of 5G World 2018, GSMA Technical Director Michele Zarri gave operators some advice on deploying network slicing on 5G: “keep it simple”.

Zarri advised operators to work together with their competitors to create a set of standard slices. “Only a handful of slices maybe 10 or 15 can serve the vast majority of the use cases,” he said. “You can have a safety net of 10 slices that every operator creates as this makes it easier for manufacturers. It does not block innovation, it is complementary and allows for roaming.”

This all sounds good in theory and would greatly benefit those producing IoT devices in the future. However, we’ve been talking about network slicing for a while now, and it’s hard to imagine any such plan being all that simple to execute.

As with many of the network developments discussed at this year’s event, it all comes down to money. With European operators struggling to justify their investments in 5G, business cases seem to be at the top of everyone’s agenda.

But to Zarri, the business cases for network slicing are obvious. By allocating a network across virtualised network slices, each for different use cases and services, reliability is massively improved. For many of the use cases proposed for 5G such as autonomous vehicles, this reliability will be essential. Such a wide range of use cases have been put forward for 5G in everything from entertainment to agriculture that this could open up major new revenue streams. “When you look at vertical industries that did not benefit from 4G, they are all targets now,” he said.

There are fears that network slicing and the creation of private networks might start to push operators out from major revenue streams that will be created. Zarri tried to set everyone’s mind at ease, by addressing this concern. On the issue of private networks, he insisted that operators would still be the key players and weren’t at risk of being pushed out. “Private networks will exist, they exist today, but operators have the know how – you need someone who knows how it works,” he said.

It remains to be seen how fast European operators will move in network slicing and whether it really is possible to find a simple solution. But with demand for reliable, low latency networks increasing and operators so focussed on finding that all-important business case, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about network slicing over the coming year.

The BariMatera5G project seeks to exemplify the potential of 5G

A collaboration between TIM, Huawei and Fastweb to create one of the first 5G antennas is designed to show why it’s worth the effort.

The BariMatera5G project is a high-profile piece of 5G virtue-signaling by these three tech players. It has left the lab and officially hit the airwaves today with some kind of symbolic switch having been flicked, no doubt. As a result the Italian cities of Bari and Matera will be among the first in Europe to live the 5G dream, or at least be ready for it once devices turn up.

The precise aim of the project is to use the 3.7-3.8 GHz band to achieve 75% coverage of the two cities’ testing area by 2018. The testing has already hit 3 Gbps in the field, we’re told, but it’s about a lot more than just enhanced mobile broadband, which is just as well as merely a step up in speeds-and-feeds is unlikely to be enough to make 5G a success.

The slide below from the latest presentation about the project is a good summary of the various moving parts that full-fat 5G will consist of. The afore-mentioned tests also achieved 2 ms latency, which corresponds with the low-latency network slice (uRLLC) and the third cardinal slice is massive machine-type communication (mMTC), which is geek-talk for IoT and  will be represented at a technological level primarily by NB-IoT.

This project seems to have established itself sufficiently that is reasonable to expect it to be an exemplar for early 5G and what it promises for a while yet. It’s also good to see at least some parts of Europe having a good go at keeping up with China and the US in the 5G race.

BariMatera5G network slide

ZTE claims its slicing 5G up faster than everyone else

ZTE has stepped up to claim it has released the world’s first 5G E2E network slicing solution across 5G RAN, core network and bearer network.

Should the claim prove to be accurate it would certainly put ZTE into a strong position as the major vendors jostle for position ahead of the upcoming 5G windfall. Enabling a physical network to be allocated across several virtualised network slices for different usecases and services would certainly be an attractive proposition for customers.

“The release of the 5G E2E network slicing solution is a key milestone towards the 5G commercialization,” said You Yan, Vice President at ZTE. “It not only provides an industrial leading implementation method of network slice, but also turns the network slice into an operational and valuable product for the vertical industry, inaugurating a new mode of the 5G network slice operation.

“ZTE vigorously attempts to promote the cross-border integration of the 5G and the vertical industry, stimulates massive application innovations, realizes a perfect combination of 5G’s social and commercial values and builds up a digital economy ecosystem.”

The team has stated the new solution will also support life-cycle management of end-to-end network slices through its intelligent operation and orchestration system, as well as on-demand customization of network slices and the real-time provisioning. With a gluttony of usecases being discussed by the 5G blue-sky thinkers, such as industrial control, automatic driving, intelligent power grid and remote medical treatment, network slicing has become an important talking point in the industry.

The product release is just one of numerous positive announcements which have come out of the ZTE press office in recent months. Whether it is sourcing cash to invest further in R&D or growing revenues against the backdrop of a sluggish landscape, ZTE is certainly making positive moves as the 5G promise starts to mature.

What should be worth noting is that while ZTE is shouting the loudest for the moment, it isn’t the only one playing in this field. Back in September, Huawei successfully demonstrated a 5G network slicing application for smart grids, while Ericsson has also been exploring the possibilities with BT.

Telefónica and Netsia slice and dice RAN

Telefónica and Netsia have announced the successful integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs.

As part of Telefónica’s virtualization project UNICA, the pair have been working towards reproducing a Private LTE network with the ability to be sub-divided into multiple slices in Telefónica’s Madrid Labs. At RAN level, such a proposition can offer different performances, latencies, and radio resources to different sets of customers. As a result of this integration, it is believed SDN/NFV techniques can be applied to the RAN.

The product in question from Netsia is ProgRAN, which is described as a a programmable Software Defined Network (SDN)-based Radio Access Network framework. ProgRAN virtualizes the wireless channel resources allowing a remote controller to ‘slice the network’ into multiple virtual sub-networks.

“The integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into a commercial LTE core in our Labs is an important step forward to demonstrate that an end-to-end network slicing for 5G networks is possible, from the core to the RAN, and how it can be applied to specific service environments, like that of a virtual Private LTE network,” said Juan Carlos García, Telefónica’s Technology and Architecture Global Director.

“ProgRAN’s dynamic RAN slicing capability carries the potential to link network services to new commercial opportunities for operators”. Oguz Oktay, Netsia’s VP of Wireless Solutions. “ProgRAN allows RAN to programmatically adapt itself to different service requirements and customer experience needs.

“This means that an operator will be able to offer network functions to many different industries, such as IoT, healthcare or automotive, using a RAN-As-A-Service business model. Netsia’s virtual Private LTE platform integrated into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs using a commercial LTE core successfully demonstrates an example for how RAN slicing may be leveraged for new, revenue generating service opportunities.”

While it might sound very technical, and thusly relegated to the basement dwellers in the IT department, this is a useful step forward for network slicing advocates. A good usecase example is a hospital, where wireless resources are shared among doctors, patients, visitors, objects and other people. Should robotic surgery or AI applications for diagnosis be a realistic ambition, such separation of the airwaves would be seen as a critical step. After all, you wouldn’t want a cat video causing buffering in triple-bypass surgery.