3GPP Release 16 provides new 5G opportunities

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece, Oliver Korfmacher, Vice President of Product Management at Enea, reviews the new capabilities that come with the latest iteration of the 5G standard.

It is finally happening – well almost. 5G Standalone (SA) is slowly but surely coming to fruition. According to a recent study, in the next 12 – 18 months, 27% of operators will deploy 5G SA and a further 10% will deploy it within 24 months. Better late than never. This makes the impending Release 16 rather timely. Announced by 3GPP – the international group that governs cellular standards – the release is scheduled for completion later this year and operators around the world are trying to get their ducks in a row.

Release 16 is significant. For the first time a stipulation clearly demarcates a split between 5G data and 5G functions. It also requires that different network functions on the 5G Core should no longer have their own database, but instead share one single database that links to a Network Data Layer (NDL), which comprises of a repository for structured and unstructured data.

This, combined with specific rules and guidelines outlined in the release will allow operators to utilize ‘best of breed’ solutions, affording them true flexibility and freedom as their dependence on big vendors starts to ease. Network providers will be able to mix and match vendors on a domain level or even as single network functions, allowing operators to optimise costs and functionality like never before.

What can operators do to prepare for Release 16?

In a major change from Release 15, non-functional elements such as alarming configuration, fault management and KPIs are now all standardised. Thanks to this dynamic and open approach, operators have more control and can flex their muscles to strengthen their networks and their market position. By leveraging Release 16’s cloud-native data-centric architecture, operators can for instance build their own alarming mechanism or are able to pick their vendor of choice to integrate one.

Therefore, to truly take advantage of the new release, operators around the world will need to start adopting new strategies to introduce the underlying infrastructure for a cloud that is not vendor-dependent. Combined with network slicing operators will be able to deliver tailored services for different vertical segments to monetize different enterprise use cases.

Notably Release 16 places greater emphasis on the interoperability between 4G and 5G, and is very much being positioned as the bridge between network generations. This will allow operators to take a phased approach to rollouts as not every consumer will immediately adopt new SIM cards and subscriptions. This interoperability is crucial, not only for consumer continuity, but for the management of data and a database itself.

The handling of data

The Unified Data Management (UDM) system – the 5G successor of Home Subscriber Server (HSS) and the Home Location Register (HLR) – manages subscriptions, and subscribers may be able to switch between 4G and the new 5G system. This will make it simpler for operators to migrate subscribers and is the same for IP mobility between 4G and 5G.

Figure 1. 5G Core architecture allows vendors with choice and interoperability, thereby, allowing extreme scalability and improved service availability.

To effectively manage data on all levels, operators will need to be cloud-native and have containerized micro services architecture that can deal with the new traffic models. Not only that, but this architecture should be scalable and open to automation to meet future needs.

Being able to launch new features on networks quickly is going to require continuous integration and deployment models on the 5G Core. The 5G core is also the main facilitator of multi-access edge computing (MEC). For many operators this is going to take some adjustment, and many will need to adopt a new mind set – simply upgrading old products will not work at this stage.

Ready, set, monetize 5G!

Operators will welcome the fact that Release 16 makes monetizing 5G easier. Being able to unify operations significantly reduces operational costs for network providers, while simultaneously providing a faster time to market for new features operators want to innovate and launch.

Savings can be made in other places too. In the past, it was common for operators to have multiple alarming systems to contend with from different vendors. While that is still very much an option, it’s now also possible to use one single overlaying system resulting in vastly simplified architecture. The initial outlay might cost more in the short term, but the savings in the long term are undeniable.

With 5G SA and Release 16, operators can offer high bandwidth, low latency use cases for IoT by leveraging the 5G core and the Network Data Layer. Network slicing allows operators to monetize these new services as 5G SA regional data centres will offer 10-20 millisecond latency. Edge and deep edge data centres will offer latencies of around 1 to 10 milliseconds.

Potential issues

Release 16 is an excellent start, but there is room for improvement. For one, more standardisation. Some large incumbent vendors have actively been trying to block greater standardisation to protect their own interests. Well, that is to be expected. After all Release 16 is a real game changer – it empowers operators to offer a wider range of use cases for new and existing devices. It also gives operators more choice – an à la carte approach to selecting what vendors they can use.

Another issue is the interface specification for unstructured data. While it’s good enough for subscriber and device data at the moment, it’s not yet mature enough to handle more dynamic data like binding data and sessions. I am confident that 3GPP will address these soon.

To 5G and beyond!

Release 16 bridges the gap between two significant mobile generations – 4G and 5G – seamlessly while laying the foundation for something truly future-proof as the 5G architecture can become the overall architecture for all data networks, embracing legacy, non 3GPP wireless and wireline. Therefore, it impacts operators and vendors alike, levelling the playfield for vendors and makes the market truly competitive for operators. It will be interesting to see how the vendor market evolves over the coming months and years and how operators unleash 5G’s true potential. Not too long to wait.


Oliver Korfmacher is responsible for portfolio and product management of Enea’s Telco Solutions for Core Subscriber, Policy, Authentication network functions. He is defining and developing solutions scope in the telecommunications space as well as the company’s strategic position in this challenging market. His current focus is to pave the way to cloud native architectures and align the standardization definitions (for instance from the emerging 5G concepts) with the market realities for user and machine communications networks. Prior to this position, he served as stream lead for Policy solutions in various large telco vendors and system integrators, and as principal consultant for an international mobile messaging and identity management company for many years.

Ericsson gets to the core of BT’s 5G network

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson is celebrating a deal win with UK telco BT, which will be deploying Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core on its Network Cloud.

The dual-mode bit refers to a combination of Evolved Packet Core and 5G Core, which means the Ericsson package supports 4G, 5G NSA and 5G SA. It’s fully container-based, which makes it cloud-friendly and will allow BT to deliver it on its new Network Cloud. It will apparently form a key component in BT’s move to a single converged IP network.

“Having evaluated different 5G Core vendors, we have selected Ericsson as the best option on the basis of both lab performance and future roadmap,” said Howard Watson, CTIO of BT. “We are looking forward to working together as we build out our converged 4G and 5G core network across the UK. An agile, cloud-native core infrastructure is at the heart of our ambition to enable the next generation of exciting 5G services for our customers and give the UK the world-class digital infrastructure it needs to win in the future global economy.”

Marielle Lindgren, Head of Ericsson UK and Ireland, kept things contrastingly short and sweet. “Ericsson and BT have a long history of working together and we are delighted to continue that relationship with this new dual-mode 5G Core deal,” she said.

It’s not clear from any of the supplied information how big a chunk of BT’s 5G core business Ericsson has grabbed, but this is a handy win for Ericsson regardless. The absence of an offsetting deal win press release from Nokia implies Ericsson is the dominant 5G core supplier for BT as Huawei, of course, is out of the question.

What does the journey to standalone 5G look like?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Francesca Greane, Marketing, Content and Community Lead for The 5G Series, discusses the journey to standalone 5G.

In 2019, 5G came into the world. Now, 5G is now a mainstream topic of conversation, not just within the telecom industry but in wider consumer and enterprise communities as well. With 5G speeds and connectivity, consumers can download feature-length movies in seconds, and stream 8K video in a flash. They can stream crystal-clear video calls and play graphics-rich mobile games without lag. And the best part—this is just the beginning. As 5G technologies continue to evolve, our connections will be stronger, our communications will be faster, and our lives will be more convenient.

Standalone (SA) 5G networks are considered the turning point for demonstrating the potential benefits of 5G, the next generation wireless communications. But, whilst the rollout of 5G RAN is taking place at an impressive rate, there is still a long way to go until carriers will be positioned to announce the launch of fully standalone 5G, along with the promises of high speeds, low latency and the introduction of next gen applications.

Indeed, it has been reported in an Enea report that more than one-third (37%) of mobile operators will start deploying 5G standalone (SA) within the next two years. Another 27% of operators said they will deploy 5G SA within 12 to 18 months, and 10% said they would in the next 24 months, and nearly half (49%) confirmed they’d have 5G SA in the next four years.

But, what are the steps that need to be taken to reach standalone 5G?

“The survey indicates that several operators have figured out how to deploy SA in the next couple of years. This could be as `islands’ of 5G radio access with a 5G SA core for special services, starting late 2021,” Sue Rudd, director of networks and service platforms at Strategy Analytics, said in a press release.

As operators look to secure ROI on their 5G investments, join the 5G Series on April 16th for our upcoming webinar as we take a look at the key steps that carriers must take to make standalone 5G a reality, including:

  • What will be the defining industry requirements for 5G core?
  • With the release of 3GPP Release 16 scheduled for mid-way through 2020, how are standards helping to enable standalone 5G?
  • Assessing the role of public cloud as an integrated component on 5G networks
  • Considering the deployment of microservices, containers & APIs: Are carriers ready to adopt new, software first outlooks for their 5G networks?
  • What more need to be done to facilitate open source networking?
  • How might carriers’ best architect their networks to efficiently deliver new monetizable services to customers?
  • How will standalone 5G change the game?

You can register for the webinar for free by clicking here.

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.

Ericsson soups up its 5G software

Kit vendor Ericsson has released some new software designed to help operators with their move so standalone 5G NR when they eventually get around to it.

The early 5G we’re getting now still relies on a 4G core and hence is known as ‘non-standalone (NSA)’. It’s largely a way for the industry to start banging on about 5G a year or two earlier than it would otherwise have been able to. Proper 5G, known as ‘standalone (SA)’, will come with release 16 of the 5G standard, which won’t even be finalised until March next year.

Ericsson’s latest announcement is designed to equip its customers to jump on the SA bandwagon and also to augment its narrative about Existing Ericsson gear being software upgradable to 5G. The latest software not only supports what is expected to be SA architecture but also enables inter-band carrier aggregation, which will be handy for combining the coverage characteristics of low-frequency spectrum with the capacity potential of high-frequency beams.

“We continue to focus our efforts on helping our customers succeed with 5G,” said Ericsson Networks boss Fredrik Jejdling. “These new solutions will allow them to follow the 5G evolution path that fits their ambitions in the simplest and most efficient way.”

Not Fred’s most comprehensive canned quote, but it seems to cover the essence of the announcement. Ericsson also launched a couple of new radios to support mid-band 5G and refreshed its NFV infrastructure offering in ways the video below attempts to illustrate. Lastly it got some analysts to say how great all this is, which is nice.