On its Q1-2021 earnings call, Dish Network Chairman and Co-founder Charlie Ergen did not provide any specifics regarding Dish’s deal with Amazon/AWS or its overall plan to build a nationwide 5G Open RAN, “cloud native” core network. Are you a bit tired of cliché’s like this:
“We’re building a Netflix in a Blockbuster world.” All Netflix did was put video on the cloud. Instead of going to a physical store, you put it in the cloud. Right. All the business plans in the world, all the numbers, all the thought if they just did something simple they put it in the cloud and the technology was they were a little ahead of the technology but the technology got there. All we’re doing is taking all those towers that you see as you drive down the highway, we basically put them in the cloud. And so instead of driving to physical store and rent a movie, you’re going to get all your data and information and automation everything from the cloud. And so it’s a dramatic paradigm shift in the way network is built and it should and it’s an advantage over legacy carriers who have 30-year-old architecture.” Of course, that’s incorrect as almost all 5G carriers plan to build a 5G cloud native core network.
Dish is planning to build the world’s first standalone, cloud-based 5G Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN), starting with the launch of a 5G wireless network for enterprise customers in Las Vegas, NV later this year.
Dish says it will leverage AWS’s architecture and services to deploy a cloud-native 5G network that includes O-RAN—the antennas and base stations that link phones and other wireless devices to the network. Also existing in the cloud will be the 5G core, which includes all the computer and software that manages the network traffic. AWS will also power Dish’s operation and business support systems.
“Amazon has made massive investments over the years in compute storage transport and edge, [and] we’ll be sitting on top of that and as we tightly integrate telco into their infra, then we can expose APIs to their development community, which we think makes and enables third-party products and services to have network connectivity, as well as enterprise applications,” said Tom Cullen, executive VP of corporate development for Dish, explaining some of the technical details of the arrangement during Thursday’s earnings call.
Ergen reiterated Dish’s plan to spend up to $10 billion on its overall 5G network and provided milestone date for completion of the first phase of the 5G build-out.
“All of that $10 billion isn’t spent by June of 2023, which is our major milestone,” Ergen said, pointing to the company’s agreement with the U.S. government to cover at least 70% of the population with 5G no later than June 14, 2023. However, Ergen has an escape hatch:
“The agreement we have [with the FCC] recognizes that [there could be] supply chain issues outside of our control, and that the timelines could be adjusted. But we don’t look at it that way internally. There is always unforeseen circumstances, and this one might be particularly acute. But we’re not going to let anything stop us. We’re focused on meeting our timelines, and regardless of what the challenges are. And we’ll have to reevaluate that from time to time, but we’re focused right now on Las Vegas and we’re focused on the 20% build-out by June of next year.”
“We’re not going to let anything stop us, he added. The $10 billion “does take us through the complete (5G) buildout.”
On the 5G cloud native aspect, Ergen said:
“Yes, we anticipated a cloud native network from the beginning, he said. “So the $10 billion total build-out cost that we announced a couple of years ago–I think people are probably still skeptical … But you can see where we’re headed. Most of your models will probably take a lot of capex off the board when you understand the architecture, and we’re not going to go through all the architecture in this call, but it’s certainly has a material impact on capex.”
Dish said last week it plans to run all of its network computing functions inside the public AWS cloud – a plan that represents a dramatic break from the way most 5G networks around the world run today. Many analysts think that’s a huge cyber-security risk as the attack surface is much greater in a virtual, cloud based network.
Marc Rouanne — Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer:
“Yeah, the way to think of our cloud native network is a network of networks, that’s the way it’s architected. So when a customer comes to us, it’s easy for us to offer one sub network, which we can call it private network and there are techniques behind that like slicing, like automation, like software defined, so I’m not going to go into the techniques, but natively the way to think of it is really this network of networks. Right. And then, as Stephen, you’ve seen that you plan this to the postpaid customers and telling you how they would shake lose sub networks.”
“Absolutely, yeah. No, I think we’ve talked to a number of customers across multiple verticals in different industry segments and is an increasing appetite in demand for the kind of network that we’re building, which is really to enable them to have more security, more control and also more visibility into the data that’s coming off the devices, so that they can control their business more effectively. So we’re seeing a terrific demand. And the network architecture, we’re putting in place actually enables and unlocks that opportunity for those enterprise customers and it’s again not restricted to any specific vertical.
We’re touching a lot of different companies and a lot of different vertical segments across the country and the other aspect of the opportunity that we see for ourselves is that while we build out a nationwide network, we are in the process of working with customers and prospective customers on private networks that are not limited by the geography of our national footprint. So we can deploy those within their environments to support their business operations as well. So the demand we’re seeing is terrific and we’re already engaged with a number of customers today.”
Ergen chimed in again:
“The cloud infrastructure as it existed a couple of years ago, really didn’t handle telco very well, there has been a lot of R&D and investment that they’ve had to make to transform their network into something that where a telco can operate in the cloud, because it’s a little bit different than their traditional IT infrastructure. And then today they are, they were best in class room for what we needed and whether it be their APIs and the documentation and discipline and vendor at the — community that supports them and their — the developers and then of course obviously reach into the enterprise business. So it was — so that’s the first and foremost.
And then the second thing I think is, is the company committed? I’m not going to put words in Amazon’s mouth, I’ll let them talk to their commitment, but they’ve done a lot of work for us to help us without knowing where they have the deal or not and very appreciative that it. I think it’s helpful that Andy will become the CEO because he’s owned this project from the start and he can — he will be able to move all the pieces within Amazon to focus on this. And so I think at the end of the day, I think we’re going to be their largest customer in cloud and I think they’re going to — they may be the largest customer in our network. I mean, but we have to build a network and prove it, and they have to build and prove it. I think that all other carriers around the world will, including the United States will look at Amazon as a real leader here because we’re just doing something different.”
Stephen Bye — Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer
“Yeah. So just in terms of what the Las Vegas build looks like. I think there are several attributes that are really important to what we’re doing to build on Charlie’s comment. One is we are building a cloud native infrastructure. We are using an Open Radio Access architecture. But it’s also a 5G native network. We’re not trying to put 5G on top of 2G, 3G and 4G, the infrastructure that we’re deploying is optimized for 5G and the way we’ve designed the network from an RF perspective and a deployment perspective is to take advantage of the 5G architecture as well as the 5G platform. And so, what does that look like?
It’s basically a new network, it’s new infrastructure, it’s designed using all of the spectrum bands that we have and the RF is optimized to take advantage of that. So we’re on a path to launching that in the third quarter, but it’s one of a number of markets we have coming on. We just have announced those markets through the end of the year, but it’s the first, obviously a number that we have in flight today and we’ve got activity going on across the country to actually build out this network. So it will be the first one that people can touch and feel and get the experience, but it is really a 5G native network and we’ve proven that O-RAN from a technology perspective can work compared to that at the end of last year. Now we are in the execution phase, now we’re in the deployment phase and so you know Vegas will have to be the first one that it will be a fully deployed market that people will be able to touch and feel and experience.”
Bye added that the 5G build-out will be done in phases but the network is designed to support all customers across all segments.
5G Network End-to-End Architecture. Image courtesy of AWS.
In a note to clients, analyst Craig Moffett said that Dish was purchasing services from AWS rather than Amazon investing in Dish’s 5G network:
“It was a purchase agreement, albeit one freighted with lots of rather fuzzy jargon, and nothing more. Notably, Verizon already has its own relationship with AWS, and theirs does call for AWS to co-market Verizon services to AWS’s enterprise customers. By contrast, the Dish agreement calls only for Dish to market AWS services to Dish’s customers, not the other way around. Objectively, it is Verizon, not Dish, that has the more strategic relationship.
Amazon isn’t likely to market a service to its customers unless they are highly confident that its quality is first rate and that its staying power is assured. Perhaps Dish will get there. But it won’t be clear that they have arrived at that point until their network is successfully serving customers… without the safety net of the T-Mobile MVNO agreement. That’s not until 2027. That feels to us like a long time to wait.”
Regarding Dish Network’s new business model, Craig said “It is now fair to say that Dish’s core business is wireless rather than satellite TV. Not by revenues, of course; the wireless business is today but the modest reseller stub of what once was Boost (Mobile). But certainly by valuation….What does matter, however, is the extent to which the satellite TV business can serve as a source of funds for financing the wireless business.”
Telenor Group [1.] today said it has established a 5G standalone core network environment using a vendor-neutral platform, with network functions from Oracle, Casa Systems, Enea and Kaloom, all running on Red Hat Openshift. It has deployed Palo Alto Networks Prisma Cloud Compute protection and a 5G New Radio (NR) cellular transmission system from Huawei. Telenor said its 5G standalone (SA) trial using commercially available components proves that a multi-vendor environment is possible.
Note 1. Telenor Group is a Norwegian majority state-owned multinational telecommunications company headquartered at Fornebu in Bærum, close to Oslo, Norway.
The Palo Alto Networks Next Generation Firewall is being used to securing internet connectivity for mobile devices, said Telenor. Red Hat’s Ansible Platform is being used as a scalable automation system, and Emblasoft is providing automated network testing capabilities. The Norwegian Armed Forces have tested Security as a Service enabled by the multi-vendor set-up, it added.
Patrick Waldemar, vice president and head of technology at Telenor Research, said:
“The main component of 5G-SA is the 5G mobile core, the ‘brain’ of the 5G system. Unfortunately, most 5G core deployments are still single vendor dependent, with strong dependencies on that vendor’s underlying proprietary architecture. This single-vendor dependency can be a killer for innovation. It restricts open collaboration from the broader 5G ecosystem of companies developing new technology, use cases, and services that the market expects.”
“To protect the 5G infrastructure from cyber threats, we deployed Palo Alto Networks Prisma Cloud Compute, and their Next Generation Firewall is also securing Internet connectivity for mobile devices. Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform is being used as a scalable automation system, while Emblasoft is providing automated network testing capabilities. The 5G New Radio (NR) is from Huawei,” says Waldemar.
Telenor’s 5G-SA trial, with commercially available components, demonstrates that a truly multi-vendor environment is possible. However, this author has doubts that a multi-vendor 5G SA core network will go into production anytime soon.
“We believes that such a multi-vendor environment will stimulate innovation, reduce cost of the infrastructure, increase competition and accelerate the development of an open 5G-ecosystem which in turn will enable a range of new services for Telenor’s consumers, industry and government customers,” says Waldemar.
Heavy Reading Survey:
One of the key choices for a 5G cloud native core network is between infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
A Heavy Reading “Cloud-Native 5G Core Operator Survey” published in March 2021 identifies a preference for an IaaS model (45%) over PaaS (32%) and vendor-integrated full stack (23%). Larger operators, however, prefer PaaS.
Respondents working for operators with revenue of more than $5 billion annually are somewhat more likely to select PaaS, with a score of 44% versus 41% for IaaS and 16% for the vendor full stack. Conversely, respondents working for operators with revenue of less than $5 billion reported a score 23% for PaaS, 49% for IaaS and 28% for the vendor full stack. This difference reflects corporate cloud technology strategies and, to some extent, the internal capabilities of the operator’s technology team.
Source: Heavy Reading
The overall picture, according to the survey, is that both PaaS and IaaS models are likely to be used over the near and medium terms. This accords with Heavy Reading’s understanding that both models are already in use, in production, for 5G core. Nevertheless, Heavy Reading expect the PaaS model and the container as a service (CaaS) variant to prevail over the longer term, especially as 5G core workloads move closer to the edge.
For more information contact:
Stian Kristoffer Sande, Communication Manager, Telenor Group email@example.com
by Saad Sheikh, Vice President and Chief Architect, SouthTel, South Africa
Since the “freezing” of the much awaited 3GPP Release-16 in July 2020, many network equipment vendors have sought to develop 5G core/5G stand alone (5G SA) network capabilities. Those includee network slicing. massive IoT. uRLLC (ultra reliable, ultra low latency communications), edge network computing, NPN (non public network) and IAB (Integrated Access and Backhaul), etc.
It is just natural that all of the big telco’s in APAC and globally have started their journey towards 5G Standalone (5G SA) core network. However, most of the commercial deployments are based on vendor E2E stack which is a good way to start the journey and offer services quickly.
Yet there’s a big caveat: With the type of services and versatility of solution specially on the industry verticals required and expected from both 3GPP Release16 and 5G SA core network it is just a matter of time when network equipment vendors cannot fulfill all the solutions and that is when a dire need to build a Telco grade Cloud platform will become a necessity.
During the last two years we have done a lot of work and progress in both better understanding of what will be the Cloud Native platforms for the real 5G era. As of now, the 5G Core container platforms from an open cloud perspective are not fully ready but we are also not too far from making it happen.
2021 is the year that we expect a production ready open 5G native cloud platform avoiding all sorts of vendor lock ins.
Let’s try to understand top issues enlisted based on 5G SA deployments in Core and Edge network:
- Vendors are mostly leveraging existing NFVI to evolve to CaaS by using a middle layer shown Caas on Iaas. The biggest challenge is this interface is not open which means there are many out of box enhancements done by each vendor. This is one classic case of “When open became the new closed.”
The most enhancement done on the adaptors for container images are as follows:
- Provides container orchestration, deployment, and scheduling capabilities.
- Provides container Telco enhancement capabilities: Huge page memory, shared memory, DPDK, CPU core binding, and isolation
- Supports container network capabilities, SR-IOV+DPDK, and multiple network planes.
- Supports the IP SAN storage capability of the VM container.
- Migration path from Caas on IaaS towards BMCaaS is not smooth and it will involve complete service deployment, it is true with most operators investing heavily in last few years to productionize the NFVi no body is really considering to empty pockets again to build purely CaaS new and stand-alone platform however smooth migration must be considered.
- We are still in early phase of 5G SA core and eMBB is only use case so still we have not tested the scaling of 5G Core with NFVi based platforms.
- ETSI Specs for CISM are not as mature as expected and again there are a lot of out of the box. customizations done by each vendor VNFM to cater this.
Now let’s consider where the open platforms are lacking and how that might be fixed.
Experience #1: 5G Outgoing traffic from PoD:
The traditional Kubernetes and CaaS Platforms today handles and scales well with ingress controller however 5G PoD’s and containers outgoing traffic is not well addressed as both N-S and E-W traffic follows same path and it becomes an issue of scaling finally.
We know some vendors like Ericsson who already bring products like ECFE and LB in their architecture to address these requirements.
Experience#2: Support for non-IP protocols:
PoD is natively coming with IP and all external communication to be done by Cluster IP’s it means architecture is not designed for non-IP protocols like VLAN, L2TP, VLAN trunking
Experience#3: High performance workloads:
Today all high data throughputs are supported CNI plugin’s which natively are like SR-IOV means totally passthrough, an Operator framework to enhance real time processing is required something we have done with DPDK in the open stack world
Experience#4: Integration of 5G SBI interfaces:
The newly defined SBI interfaces became more like API compared to horizontal call flows, however today all http2/API integration is based on “Primary interfaces” .
It becomes a clear issue as secondary interfaces for inter functional module is not supported.
Experience#5: Multihoming for SCTP and SI is not supported:
For hybrid node connectivity at least towards egress and external networks still require a SCTP link and/or SIP endpoints which is not well supported
Experience#6: Secondary interfaces for CNF’s:
Secondary interfaces raise concerns for both inter-operability, monitoring and O&M, secondary interfaces is very important concept in K8S and 5G CNF’s as it is needed during
- For all Telecom protocols e.g BGP
- Support for Operator frameworks (CRD’s)
- Performance scenarios like CNI’s for SR-IOV
Today, only viable solution is by NSM i.e. a service mesh that solves both management and monitoring issues.
Experience#7: Platform Networking Issues in 5G:
Today in commercial networks for internal networking most products are using Multus+VLAN while for internal based on Multus+VxLAN it requires separate planning for both underlay and overlay and that becomes an issue for large scale 5G SA Core Network
Similarly, top requirements for service in 5G Networks are the following:
- Network separation on each logical interface e.g VRF and each physical sub interface
- Outgoing traffic from PoD
- NAT and reverse proxy
Experience#8: Service Networking Issues in 5G:
For primary networks we are relying on Calico +IPIP while for secondary network we are relying ion Multus
Experience#9: ETSI specs specially for BM CaaS:
Still I believe the ETSI specs for CNF’s are lacking compared to others like 3GPP and that is enough to make a open solution move to a closed through adaptors and plugin’s something we already experienced during SDN introduction in the cloud networks today a rigorous updates are expected on
- IFA038 which is container integration in MANO
- IFA011 which is VNFD with container support
- Sol-3 specs updated for the CIR (Container image registry) support
Experience#10: Duplication of features on NEF/NRM and Cloud platforms:
In the 5G new API ecosystem operators look at their network as a platform opening it to application developers. API exposure is fundamental to 5G as it is built into the architecture natively where applications can talk back to the network, command the network to provide better experience in applications however the NEF and similarly NRF service registry are also functions available on platforms. Today it looks a way is required to share responsibility for such integrations to avoid duplicates.
Reference Architectures for the Standard Platform:
Sol#1: Solving Data Integration issues
Real AI is the next most important thing for telco’s as they evolve in their automation journey from conditional #automation to partial autonomy . However to make any fully functional use case will require first to solve #Data integration architecture as any real product to be successful with #AI in Telco will require to use Graph Databases and Process mining and both of it will based on assumption that all and valid data is there .
Sol#2: AI profiles for processing in Cloud Infra Hardware profiles
With 5G networks relying more on robust mechanisms to ingest and use data of AI , it is very important to agree on hardware profiles that are powerful enough to deliver AI use cases to deliver complete AI pipe lines all the way from flash base to tensor flow along with analytics .
Sol#3: OSS evolution that support data integration pipeline
To evolve to future ENI architecture for use of AI in Telco and ZSM architecture for the closed loop to be based on standard data integration pipeline like proposed in ENI-0017 (Data Integration mechanisms).
Sol#4: Network characteristics
A mature way to handle outgoing traffic and LB need to be included in Telco PaaS.
Sol#5: Telco PaaS
Based on experience with NFV it is clear that IaaS is not the Telco service delivery model and hence use cases like NFVPaaS has been in consideration for the early time of NFV . With CNF introduction that will require a more robust release times it is imperative and not optional to build a stable Telco PaaS that meet Telco requirements. As of today, the direction is to divide platform between general PaaS that will be part of standard cloud platform over release iterations while for specific requirements will be part of Telco PaaS.
The beauty of this architecture is no ensure the multi-vendor component selection between them. The key characteristics to be addressed are discussed below.
Paas#1: Telco PaaS Tools
Paas#2: Telco PaaS Lawful interception
During recent integrations for NFV and CNF we still rely on Application layer LI characteristics as defined by ETSI and with open cloud layer ensuring the necessary LI requirements are available it is important that PaaS include this part through API’s.
Paas#3: Telco PaaS Charging Characteristics
The resource consumption and reporting of real time resources is very important as with 5G and Edge we will evolve towards the Hybrid cloud.
Paas#4: Telco PaaS Topology management and service discovery
A single API end point to expose both the topology and services towards Application is the key requirement of Telco PaaS
Paas#5: Telco PaaS Security Hardening
With 5G and critical services security hardening has become more and more important, use of tools like Falco and Service mesh is important in this platform
Paas#6: Telco PaaS Tracing and Logging
Although monitoring is quite mature in Kubernetes and its Distros the tracing and logging is still need to be addressed. Today with tools like Jaeger and Kafka /EFK needs to be include in the Telco PaaS
Paas#7: Telco PaaS E2E DevOps
For IT workloads already the DevOps capability is provided by PaaS in a mature manner through both cloud and application tools but with enhancements required by Telco workloads it is important the end-to-end capability of DevOps is ensured. Today tools like Argo need to be considered and it need to be integrated with both the general PaaS and Telco PaaS
Standard packages like VNFD which cover both Application and PaaS layer.
Paas#8: Standardization of API’s
API standardization in ETSI fashion is the key requirement of NFV and Telco journey and it needs to be ensured in PaaS layer as well. For Telco PaaS it should cover VES , TMForum,3GPP , ETSI MANO etc . Community has made following workings to standardize this
- TMF 641/640
- 3GPP TS28.532 /531/ 541
- IFA029 containers in NFV
- ETSI FEAT17 which is Telco DevOps
- ETSI TST10 /13 for API testing and verification
Based on these features there is an ongoing effort with in the LFN XGVELA community and I hope more and more users, partners and vendors can join to define the Future Open 5G Platform
Network Function Virtualization
Virtual Network Functions
Containerized Network Functions
User Plane Function
Access Management Function
Traffic Detection Function
Policy Charging Function
Network Slice Subnet Function
Unstructured Data Storage Function
A & AI
Active and Available Inventory
Control Loop Automation Management Function
Network Function Virtualized Infrastructure
Software Defined Networks
Layer2 Tunneling Protocol
Service Based Interface
Network Repository Function
Network Exposure Function
Network Address translation
Platform as a Service
Enhanced Network Intelligence
Zero touch Service Management
Elastic search, FLuentd and Kibana
Application Programming Interface
About Saad Sheikh:
Saad Sheikh is an experienced telecommunications professional with more than 18 years of experience for leading and delivering technology solutions . He is currently Vice President and Chief Architect with Southtel, which is the leading System integrator in South Africa. There he is leading 5G, Cloud, Edge Networking, Open RAN, Networking and Automation units. He is helping to bring the power of innovative solutions to Africa.
Prior to this he was Chief Architect with STC (Saudi Telecom Company) where he lead the company Cloud Infrastructure Planning and Architecture Design to deliver large scale 5G , NFV , SDN and Cloud projects in Middle East. Previously, he held senior positions with both vendors and operators in Asia, Africa and APAC driving large scale projects in IT and Telecom.
“Our goal is to continue to actively shape the future of mobile communications. 5G standalone is important to be able to use technologies such as network slicing or edge computing,” says Claudia Nemat, Board Member Technology and Innovation at Telekom. “We are very proud to have taken the next innovation step in 5G. With this test, we are once again demonstrating our innovation leadership.”
DT first announced tests of its 5G standalone network in February. At the time, Walter Goldenits said the Garching test represented the first step towards the 5G standalone live network, although he also noted that a rollout “will then also depend on the requirements of our customers. Technology and the market will play a joint role in further development.”
Goldenits said more than two thirds of people in Germany are now covered by the operator’s non-standalone 5G network (5G NSA), which is anchored to the existing 4G-LTE infrastructure.
5G NSA (EPC) vs 5G SA (5G Core):
Image Courtesy of GSMA
We wonder how DT is collaborating with T-Mobile US which has already deployed a 5G SA/5G Core network? DT owns 43% of T–Mobile, but the shareholder pact with Softbank assures it of strategic control and allows it to consolidate results of its largest subsidiary at group level. Cooperation is essential to ensure interoperability and 5G SA roaming, because there is no implementation standard or open specification for 5G SA/5G Core network (as we have written so many times).
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone also recently pledged their support for Open RAN technology in the hope a joint commitment will attract investment, speed up the development of products that can be used in mainstream networks and produce new European wireless network equipment suppliers.
Deutsche Telekom has started testing the “standalone” (SA) version of 5G, setting up its first 5G SA antenna site in the town of Garching, near Munich. The site will be the first in Germany with 5G core network technology, which has yet to be standardized.
The antenna site will soon be connected to a 5G Standalone core network. The core network will be implemented via a Telekom cloud infrastructure. The hallmark of 5G Standalone is that the infrastructure in the core network will also be fully upgraded to a new, cloud-based 5G architecture. This is the next evolution of 5G and also a prerequisite for new deployment options.
Deutsche Telekom has already achieved 68% coverage of the German population with non-standalone (NSA) version of 5G, which uses the existing 4G-LTE network as an anchor for all non radio aspects.
“It is important for us to be at the forefront of the further innovation steps of 5G,” says Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Technology and Innovation at Telekom. “To ensure that our customers can take advantage of technologies such as network slicing or edge computing in the future, we continue to actively drive the development of 5G and its features.”
With 5G Standalone, the network structure and architecture is changing. The 5G technology currently deployed in Germany is based on the 5G Non-Standalone (5G NSA) network architecture. This means that today’s 5G offerings are still technically dependent on a simultaneously available 4G network (LTE) and virtually “piggyback” on this network, i.e., they do not yet function completely independently.
“5G standalone is one of the goals for us with 5G,” said Walter Goldenits, head of technology at Telekom Deutschland. “The network innovation in Garching is initially the first step for us into the 5G SA live network. It helps us to gain necessary and important experience with 5G SA. A rollout in the area will then also depend on the requirements of our customers. Technology and the market will play a joint role in further development.”
There are currently no terminals for customers that support 5G standalone. Telekom is therefore conducting the first tests with special development software on commercially available devices. The goal is to test various connections and applications that function completely standalone and without the support of 4G in the coming weeks.
“The further roll-out of 5G is the preparation of our network for the next steps in 5G development. We will use every opportunity to make 5G even faster and develop it further,” says Walter Goldenits.
Image courtesy of Samsung
Last month, Samsung and Deutsche Telekom conducted their first 5G SA trial in Pilsen, the Czech Republic, verifying performance of 5G SA multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) technologies.
The trial used Samsung’s latest end-to-end 5G SA solutions. In the SA trial, the two companies achieved outstanding results with the MU-MIMO technology using Samsung’s 3.5GHz Massive MIMO radio. The spectrum efficiency was tripled in comparison to that of LTE under realistic conditions and the throughput was increased by about 2.5 times of SU-MIMO (Single-User MIMO).
“We are pleased to collaborate with Samsung to verify the performance of its 5G SA solution,” said Alex Choi, SVP Strategy & Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom. “Together with strong partners we are consistently introducing advanced technical capabilities into our network, and we are very excited about the potential of 5G SA networks to further accelerate the 5G evolution.”
Samsung also said: “5G SA architecture enables mobile operators to have more efficient and simple network operations, while empowering 5G networks to deliver immersive user experiences and new business models for enterprises.”
In Japanese, Rakuten stands for “optimism.” This philosophy lies at the core of the company’s brand. They may be the leader is selling 5G mobile core network specs and virtualization network software to global network operators in the absence of any ITU-T standards or 3GPP detailed implementation specs. [Please refer to References for more details, especially on the 3GPP Technical Specifications 23.501, 23.502, 23.503.]
Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) has been sold to a total of 15 customers so far, according to the company’s mobile networking CTO Tareq Amin.
“We have already 15 global customers. A lot of people don’t know that the sales already started. And these are not small customers. Some of them are very, very massive,” he said this week during a virtual roundtable with members of the media. “I’m really delighted to see that we finally are reaching a stage where possibly in the next quarter or so we have a very large contract about the entire RCP stack.”
Regarding network performance, Amin explained that success factors are based on virtualization, standardization, optimization and automatizing. Combined, they lead to more cost efficiency, innovation, affordability and growth.
Rakuten Mobile was the first to deploy a large-scale OpenRAN commercial network and the first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network. And Amin refutes the perceived limitations of open radio access networks, arguing that Rakuten Mobile’s only limitation today is spectrum assets.
“With less than 20% of spectrum assets compared to our competitors, we are doing great. OpenRAN does not mean we have an average network; the truth is that we have a world-class network,” he added, explaining that once Rakuten Mobile moves from five to 20MHz, there will be a significant improvement in performance, while 5G deployment is also accelerating.
Despite launching a commercial service during a global pandemic, Rakuten Mobile already has received more than 2 million applications, with the majority of applications made online rather than in stores.
Rakuten appears to have broadened its focus a few months later when it announced it acquired operational support system (OSS) provider Innoeye for the “Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP).”
Rakuten officially took the wraps off RCP in October 2020 with an announcement that it was “bringing 5G to the word.” The business is based in Singapore and headed by Rabih Dabboussi, who previously worked at networking giant Cisco and cybersecurity company DarkMatter, according to his LinkedIn profile, before joining Rakuten in May 2020.
RCP essentially is the platform on which Rakuten is building its 4G and 5G networks in Japan. Amin explained that the offering consists of a number of different, interchangeable pieces including network orchestration, cloud management and artificial intelligence provided by a range of participating suppliers. RCP customers can pick and choose which parts of the platform they wish to use.
From Amin’s email to this author: “NEC/Rakuten 5GC is 3GPP based standardized software for network service and a de facto standard container basis infrastructure (“infrastructure agnostic”). It is a forward looking approach, but not proprietary.”
“NEC/Rakuten 5GC openness are realized by implementation of “Open Interface” defined in 3GPP specifications (TS 23.501, 502, 503 and related stage 3 specifications). 3GPP 5GC specification requires cloud native architecture as the general concept (service based architecture). It should be distributed, stateless, and scalable. However, an explicit reference model is out of scope for the 3GPP specification. Therefore NEC 5GC cloud native architecture is based on above mentioned 3GPP concept as well as ETSI NFV treats “container” and “cloud native”, which NEC is also actively investigating to apply its product.”
RCP essentially positions Rakuten against cloud giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, companies that are also selling cloud-based network management and operational services to network operators globally. Indeed, Microsoft last year acquired Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks in pursuit of that goal.
Rakuten’s sales of RCP are directly linked to the success of the company’s ongoing 4G and 5G network buildouts in Japan. As a result, the company has been quick to address concerns over the performance of its mobile network in Japan which is both based on RCP.
“What we’ve done in 4G was enabling a world-first virtualized infrastructure. For 5G, we have a world-first containerized architecture, completely cloud-native radio access software that is (made up of) disaggregated micro services,” he explained.
“Between LTE, which is 40MHz and about 500MHz of spectrum assets, we think we have a very strong position to be able to increase capacity and demand.”
“We’re very confident about our business model and our business plan. And the idea to have zero churn in the network is also a unique value proposition that really emphasizes the critical role of the [Rakuten Mobile] ecosystem and the critical role of data for our long term viability,” said Amin.
According to filings by China’s state owned telcos, China now has more than 200 million “official 5G subscribers.” China Mobile and China Telecom tallied 147.4 million and 74.9 million “5G package subscribers” respectively as of November 30, 2020. China Mobile adding nearly 19 million subs last month.
“Package subscribers” is a unique category that includes subscribers that have migrated to 5G but are still using 4G phones, which greatly overstates the actual 5G user numbers.
- China Mobile is adding 5G subs at a fast pace, with 18.6 million adds last month and 15.2 million in October.
- China Telecom added more than 7 million every month since August.
- The third telco, China Unicom, has suffered a net loss of 11.4 million subs for the year to date. It had 307.1 million mobile customers at November 30, down 1.9 million on the previous month.
Some energetic price-cutting has helped. At launch time in November 2019 the lowest package price was 128 yuan ($19.57). Now many plans are being sold at 100 yuan ($15.29) or less.
Separately, the three state owned network operators are said to be close to deploying 5G standalone (SA) with a 5G core network. China Unicom and China Telecom are leading the move.
China Telecom says its 5G standalone network is commercially available in more than 300 cities, according to Sohu.
According to THEELEC, China Unicom will expand 5G network slicing technology to the whole country next year, the company said on December 7th at a press conference in Beijing. China’s third largest telco launched 5G SA network in over 300 cities this year, the company said. Last month, it added network slicing technology to its 5G network in Beijing and Guangdong Province.
Miao Shouye, the head of China Unicom’s 5G co-construction project with China Telecom, spoke at the “2020 Communication Industry Conference and the 15th Communication Technology Annual Conference” on December 17th. He said that “China has achieved full leadership in the 5G field.”
Also, that China Unicom launched the world’s first commercial network slicing service in Beijing and Guangdong in November. It will be commercially available nationwide next year, C114 reported.
Data shows that China has more than 700,000 5G base stations , accounting for 80% of the world’s total; 5G users exceed 160 million, accounting for 70% of the world’s total. The rapid development of networks and users has also driven the development of terminals. China’s 5G terminal shipments accounted for more than 60%, and 5G thousand yuan phones began to appear.
In Miao Shouye’s view, mobile internet is about to enter the 5G era. “It is estimated that by 2021, the penetration rate of 5G users in China will cross the 20% mark.”
In 2020, China Unicom has achieved good results in 5G co-construction and sharing. According to reports, as of the end of this year, the two parties have shared 5G base stations with a scale of 380,000 stations, realizing 5G coverage in cities and key counties at prefecture-level and above across the country, and completing the goal of jointly building “one network.” At the same time, co-construction and sharing also saves 5G expenses, CAPEX saves 40% and OPEX saves 35% annually. Based on such a co-built and shared network, the rate has been further improved, and the world’s highest 3.2Gbps peak experience rate of 200MHz full sharing is the first.
As the network is deployed, technology is constantly evolving. Miao Shouye pointed out that China Unicom is the first operator in the world to implement SA commercial networks . In June this year, China Unicom announced the commercialization of its 2B SA network; in September, the commercialization of 2C SA; in November, China Unicom achieved the world’s first commercial slicing in Beijing and Guangdong; it is expected that by 2021, 5G slicing will be commercialized nationwide.
In terms of security, China Unicom is actively building 5G security capabilities. The flexible combination of 5G network, MEC , and slice security capabilities provide multiple levels of protection capabilities to meet customized security requirements.
China Unicom continues to carry out technological innovation to enhance user experience. In October this year, China Unicom joined forces with Huawei to demonstrate the first 5G R17 FDD ultra-large bandwidth prototype device PoC field test. At the same time, China Unicom also cooperated with Huawei to carry out innovative experiments, and the throughput rate reached 4.7Gbps.
Miao Shouye believes that the 5G industry supply chain should work together from the terminal to the network to improve capabilities. At the terminal level, power consumption and heating issues need to be paid attention to; terminal network coordination still needs to be continuously strengthened; industry terminals/modules are lacking, shipments are small, and diversity is poor.
- At the network level, 5G standards (ITU) and specifications (3GPP) continue; 5G equipment has high energy consumption and pressure on network operating costs. Network empowerment needs to be improved, such as network slicing, 5G+TSN (Time Sensitive Networking), etc.
- At the business level, 2C killer applications still need to be explored; 5G products need to be continuously improved in practice; 2B business models need to be explored; business applications still need to be incubated.
Meanwhile, China Mobile hasn’t given a timetable for standalone deployment or services, although executives have promised they are building a “premium” SA network.
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 . 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].
- 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.
“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.”
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:
- Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which leads the de-facto standard for cloud technology, and
- Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a telco-oriented open source project
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’s “Will 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.