AT&T plans to deploy 5G SA this year; “cloud native” 5G core benefits, assessment and status

Status of AT&T 5G SA:

Speaking Tuesday at the Big 5G Event hosted by Light Reading, Yigal Elbaz, SVP of wireless and access technology at AT&T said that its 5G+ mmWave network has been deployed in 35 cities (densely populated, campuses, etc) and AT&T will continue to expand beyond those cities.

‘The new (transformational) 5G architecture being introduced is a cloud native architecture and software for the 5G core and RAN.  We’re moving to a disaggregated and open architecture which will allow AT&T to introduce additional players in the ecosystem and drive further innovations. These capabilities manifest themselves in 5G Stand Alone (SA) core.”

5G SA core brings many benefits, through a true end to end 5G network.  This is achieved via a virtualized “cloud native 5G core network,” the implementation of which has not been standardized .[1] or even completely specified in 3GPP Release 16.

Yigal said one important benefit of 5G SA core is network slicing, which supports different use cases and quality of experiences.  A better way to optimize spectrum and increase 5G coverage [2.] are other important benefits. Most importantly, is the ability to introduce agility and capabilities of iterating development and pushing software, in the same way it was introduced in IP based network systems.

Note 1. Because there is no standard for implementing a 5G SAcore, every 5G SA network operator works with its 5G core vendors to agree on a detailed implementation specification which is then created as software, mostly running on “cloud native” compute servers.

Note 2.  By decoupling 5G spectrum from the LTE network used in 5G NSA, 5G coverage area can be increased.  Please see Note 3. for further drill down details.

Elbaz described AT&T’s move toward standalone 5G as an important evolutionary step. “Like anything else in 5G, this is a journey,” he explained. He said standalone 5G can support network slicing, improved latency (?) and improved coverage (by decoupling 5G spectrum from the LTE network used in 5G NSA as per the Note 3. below).

Yigal said that with 5G SA extended architecture, AT&T could now more easily extend the 5G network into the enterprise premises.  AT&T has more than 3M enterprise customers of different sizes.  With multi-access edge compute on prem, those enterprise customers could then have a cost effective 5G network that could keep sensitive data in house, yet still realize 5G benefits, like “low latency.”  Vertical industry types for this hybrid inside/outside 5G network include: manufacturing, health care, robotics, military, education, and others.

Regarding the 5G SA core timeline, Elbaz said AT&T is currently developing and testing 5G Stand Alone (SA) operation now and will deploy it by the end of the year.  He added that AT&T would work on “scaling” the technology throughout 2021.

Light Reading’s Phil Harvey tried to get Yigal to be more specific.  He asked, “When will 5G SA from AT&T be deployed nationwide?”

Yigal replied, “You need to think about the complete capabilities of the ecosystem that needs to evolve.  It’s not just the core….Everything needs to be in place to support the scale of 5G SA and supports the use cases that come with it.”

After repeating his remarks about the 5G SA timeline noted above, Yigal said they don’t have specific dates for 5G SA deployment as it is a “journey.”

AT&T did not disclose its standalone 5G core network vendors. Neither has Verizon (see below), which has hinted it would also deploy 5G SA by the end of 2020.  [T-Mobile’s 5G core vendors are Cisco and Nokia; Dish Network recently said Nokia would supply its forthcoming 5G core; Rakuten is working with NEC for their 5G core; Reliance Jio says it’s doing its own 5G core].

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From Ericsson – Standalone 5G facts:

  • Target 5G network architecture option
  • Simplified RAN and device architecture
  • New cloud-native 5G Core
  • Brings ultra-low latency (not true until 3GPP Release 16 URLLC for the core network and RAN are completed and tested)
  • The only option to provide same 5G coverage for low band as legacy system
  • Supports advanced network-slicing functions (and others like virtualization, orchestration, and automation)

Note 3.: Another benefit of 5G SA, noted by AT&T above is improved coverage. That is because the 5G spectrum used is decoupled from the LTE network that is required for 5G NSA.  Thereby, that 5G spectrum may be used to reach areas outside of the LTE coverage area.  T-Mobile plans to use their 5G SA 600MHz spectrum to achieve wider coverage than would be possible with 5G NSA.  The catch is for the 5G only coverage areas there is no fallback to 4G LTE if something goes wrong.

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In an August 25th press release, Verizon said:

“Instead of adding or upgrading single-purpose hardware, the move to a cloud-native, container-based virtualized architecture with standardized interfaces leads to greater flexibility, faster delivery of services, greater scalability, and improved cost efficiency in networks.”

“Virtualizing the entire network from the core to the edge has been a massive, multi-year redesign effort of our network architecture that simplifies and modernizes our entire network,” said Adam Koeppe, Senior Vice President of Technology and Planning for Verizon. “Verizon has been on the leading edge of virtualizing the core over the past few years and has been bullish in the design and development of open RAN technology, as well as in the testing of that technology with great success.”

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Samsung says the 5G core network is further leveraging the cloud concept by migrating to a cloud native core, in which network functions are modularized and containerized to enable highly flexible scaling and function lifecycle management. The cloud native core provides capabilities that allow the network to adapt to changing demands and support new services with minimal interactions required by operational teams.  Samsung’s cloud native 5G core implementation includes the following types of software: microservices, containers and a container engine, stateless operation, intelligent orchestration, and efficient NFVi (NFV Infrastructure).

With its 5G core, network operators will be able to rapidly develop services, launch them on time, and adapt the network frequently according to market demands. Open source can accelerate this innovation by providing platform services with features commonly used by 5G core functions such as monitoring, database activities, and high availability related features.

Samsung collaborates with many operators and partners in efforts to create 5G core solutions and to expand the 5G ecosystems through active participation in the following organizations:

  1. Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which leads the de-facto standard for cloud technology, and
  2. Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a telco-oriented open source project

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Other Voices on 5G SA:

Ericsson’s Peter Linder, head of 5G marketing in North America told RCR Wireless:

“When we accelerated the standard and said we can do 5G at the end of 2018 rather than the end of 2020, we did not have the ability then to do both core and radio at the same time. We said, ‘Let’s focus on doing all the radio stuff first in way that it’s as easy as we can possibly make it to connect into an existing EPC that’s upgraded with 5G capabilities.”

“The difference between EPC and 5G core is essentially an architectural difference and how you operate and execute around that,” Linder said. “When we looked at all the different migration options…we came to the conclusion that the only way you could secure a smooth evolution for service providers is to combine EPC and 5G core. The dual mode is essentially about giving the option of doing either EPC or 5G core or EPC and 5G core combined.” In that combined scenario, “You can cut and freeze the investment in the current physical and virtualized platforms. Over time you can start phasing out both physical and virtualized EPC and have everything supported by the 5G core.”

“The move from virtualized to cloud-native eliminates integration steps. People went through so much pain depending on which virtualization [solutions]they used on which hardware. Right now, moving toward cloud-native, that takes away a lot of that cost.” Another key factor Linder identified was OPE.   With standalone, “The biggest thing that will have an impact on the total costs is the automation. You have to automate as much as you possibly can.”

Speaking on Arden Media’sWill 5G Change the World?” podcast, Oracle’s John Lenns, vice president of product management, sized up the  transition to 5G SA based on three types of network operators: early adopters, fast followers and the mass market. With early adopters (like T-Mobile US, AT&T, Verizon), “You’ll see some standalone architecture networks going live this calendar year.” The fast followers are “putting out requests for information to prepare themselves for issuing RFPs, and the mass market is still further out into the future.”

Lenns highlighted security and rapid security responsiveness and cost efficiencies both capital and operating. “From a capex perspective, they are looking for an efficient transition through virtualization to cloud-native. They don’t want to pay twice. From an opex perspective, they are recognizing that assembling this 5G solution…is a challenge. It’s not easy…The CSPs are looking for solutions that make that opex journey less expensive. How that manifests itself is they are looking for a solution that offer them efficiencies of deployment, more automation, more embedded test tools, more self-healing behavior.”

HPE’s VP and GM of Communications and Media Solutions Phil Mottram tied 5G core adoption to new service-based revenue opportunities. “Investing in a new 5G network before the revenue streams are there is a financial and technical challenge for many carriers, but… telcos can start deployments today and pay for the infrastructure as their revenue grows.”

Omdia (market research firm owned by Informa) expects that few commercial 5G SA core deployments of scale will take place this year.  They expect COVID-19 to have delayed deployment timelines by as much as six months as most converged operators prioritized 4G capacity upgrades and fixed broadband investments given the unprecedented rise in home working during the pandemic, and some mobile carriers lowered or deferred capex to prepare for the potential financial shock of fewer net adds and much reduced roaming revenue.

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References:

https://www.lightreading.com/5g/atandt-to-launch-standalone-5g-later-this-year/d/d-id/764109?

https://www.ericsson.com/en/blog/2019/7/standalone-and-non-standalone-5g-nr-two-5g-tracks

https://img.en25.com/Web/ArdenMediaCompanyLLC/%7B2794ed62-1335-4f90-832d-dd5eb2d63d9b%7D_Aug2020_Getting_to_Standalone_5G_(2).pdf

https://images.samsung.com/is/content/samsung/p5/global/business/networks/insights/white-paper/cloud-native-5g-core/Samsung-5G-Core-Vol-2-Cloud-Native-5G-Core.pdf

https://www.globenewswire.com/fr/news-release/2020/08/25/2083452/0/en/Verizon-paves-way-for-wide-scale-5G-mobile-edge-compute-with-first-successful-end-to-end-fully-virtualized-5G-data-session-in-the-world.html

https://www.omdia.com/resources/product-content/t-mobiles-claim-to-first-5g-sa-network-at-national-scale-ushers-in-the-next-age-of-telco-corekind-of-spt002-000361

T-Mobile Announces “World’s 1st Nationwide Standalone 5G Network” (without a standard)

 

T-Mobile US: 5G SA Core network to be deployed 3Q-2020; cites 5G coverage advantage

Why It’s IMPORTANT: Telefonica, Rakuten MOU on Open RAN, 5G Core Network and OSS

 

4 thoughts on “AT&T plans to deploy 5G SA this year; “cloud native” 5G core benefits, assessment and status

  1. Good summary of the current state of the stand-alone 5G core.

    This quote is particularly insightful:

    “T-Mobile plans to use their 5G SA 600MHz spectrum to achieve wider coverage than would be possible with 5G NSA. The catch is for the 5G only coverage areas there is no fallback to 4G LTE if something goes wrong.”

    And, this lack of fallback would seem to blow a big hole in the Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Use-case, which of course still doesn’t have a complete specification as you point out.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ken. The references cited at the end of the article provide further insight into the 5G SA/5G core network.

      Assuming URLLC will be implemented in a carrier’s 5G RAN (it is not now and won’t be any time soon), when a subscriber falls back to 4G for ANY reason (e.g. too far from a mmWave cell tower), all features of 5G RAN and core network are lost. That includes URLLC as well as network slicing to support different use cases and different quality of experiences, automation, etc.

  2. I think the current major reason to deploy 5G SA it to deploy 5G fast e.g deploy a platform that can scale infinitely over time rather than getting lock where X platform reach capacity and can not be expand or upgrade .

    Similarly increased Coverage by avoiding co-deployment with 4G and increased capacity using DSS and CA are biggest reasons SA should be deployed fast .

    Although Network slicing is a big reason in some proponents mind but I am sure with out clear collaboration model with industry and how these services will be offered , who will manage them etc E2E Slicing is not going to make big impact .

    1. Thanks for your comment Saad. How is life in Saudi Arabia these days?
      To add to your skepticism about network slicing, I’ll add that because there is no implementation standard for it, there will be different methods and procedures used by each 5G network operator to assign and manage slices within its own network. That won’t work if the 5G endpoint roams to another 5G network which will have a different 5G SA core and network slicing implementation. Hence, network slicing will be restricted to the network you are subscribed to with no roaming or portability.

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