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Another course correction for 5G: network operators want closer NFV collaboration

9 Mar
  • Last week 22 operators and vendors (the G22) pushed for a 3GPP speed-up
  • This week an NFV White Paper: this time urging closer 5G & NFV interworking 
  • 5G should support ‘cloud native’ functions to optimise reuse

Just over four years ago, in late 2012, the industry was buzzing with talk of network functions virtualization (NFV). With the publication of the NFV White Paper and the establishment of the ETSI ISG, what had been a somewhat academic topic was suddenly on a timeline. And it had a heavyweight set of carrier backers and pushers who were making it clear to the vendor community that they expected it to “play nice” and to design, test and produce NFV solutions in a spirit of coopetition.

By most accounts the ETSI NFV effort has lived up to and beyond expectations. NFV is here and either in production or scheduled for deployment by most of the world’s telcos.

Four years later, with 5G now just around the corner, another White Paper has been launched. This time its objective is to urge both NFV and 5G standards-setters to properly consider operator requirements and priorities for the interworking of NFV and 5G, something they maintain is critical for network operators who are basing their futures on the successful convergence of the two sets of technologies.

NFV_White_Paper_5G is, the authors say, completely independent of the NFV ISG, is not an NFV ISG document and is not endorsed by it. The 23 listed network operators who have put their names to the document include Cablelabs, Bell Canada, DT, Chinas Mobile and Unicom, BT, Orange, Sprint, Telefonica and Vodafone.

Many of the telco champions of the NFV ISG are authors; in particular Don Clarke, Diego López and Francisco Javier Ramón Salguero, Bruno Chatras and Markus Brunner.

The paper points out that if NFV was a solution looking for a problem, then 5G is just the sort of complex problem it requires. Taken together, 5G’s use cases imply a need for high scalability, ultra-low latency, an ability to support multiple concurrent sessions; ultra-high reliability and high security. It points out that each 5G use case has significantly different characteristics and demands specific combinations of these requirements to make it work. NFV has the functions which can satisfy the use cases: things like Network Slicing, Edge Computing, Security, Reliability, and Scalability are all there and ready to be put to work.

As NFV is explicitly about separating data and control planes to provide a flexible, future-proofed platform for whatever you want to run over it, then 5G and NFV would seem, by definition, to be perfect partners already.

Where’s the issue?

What seems to be worrying the NFV advocates is that an NFV-based infrastructure designed for 5G needs to go further if it’s to meet carriers’ broader network goals. That means it will be tasked to not only enable 5G, but also support other applications –  many spawned by 5G but others simply ‘fixed’ network applications evolving from the existing network.

Then there’s a problem of reciprocity. Again, if the NFV ISG is to support that broader set of purposes and possible developments, not only should it work with other bodies to identify and address gaps for it to support; the process should be two-way.

One of the things the operators behind the paper seem most anxious to avoid is wasteful duplication of effort. So they want to encourage identity and reuse of “common technical NFV features”  to avoid that happening.

“Given that the goal of NFV is to decouple network functions from hardware, and virtualized    network functions are designed to run in a generic IT cloud    environment, cloud-native design principles and cloud-friendly licensing models are critical matters,” says the paper.

The NFV ISG has very much developed its thinking around those so-called ‘Cloud-native’ functions instead of big fat monolithic ones (which are often just re-applications of proprietary ‘non virtual’ functions). By contrast ‘cloud native’ is where functions are decomposed into reusable components which gives the approach all sorts of advantages.  Obviously a smooth interworking of NFV and 5G won’t be possible if 5G doesn’t follow this approach too.

As you would expect there has been outreach between the standards groups already, but clearly a few specialist chats at industry body meetings are not seen, by these operator representatives at least, as enough to ensure proper convergence of NFV and 5G. Real compromises will have to sought and made.

Watch Preparing for 5G: what should go on the CSP ‘to do’ list?

Source: http://www.telecomtv.com/articles/5g/another-course-correction-for-5g-network-operators-want-closer-nfv-collaboration-14447/
Picture: via Flickr © Malmaison Hotels & Brasseries (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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Why Network Visibility is Crucial to 5G Success

9 Mar

In a recent Heavy Reading survey of more than 90 mobile network operators, network performance was cited as a key factor for ensuring a positive customer experience, on a relatively equal footing with network coverage and pricing. By a wide margin, these three outstripped other aspects that might drive a positive customer experience, such as service bundles or digital services.

Decent coverage, of course, is the bare minimum that operators need to run a network, and there isn’t a single subscriber who is not price-sensitive. As pricing and coverage become comparable between operators, though, performance stands out as the primary tool at the operator’s disposal to win market share. It is also the only way to grow subscribers while increasing ARPU: people will pay more for a better experience.

With 5G around the corner, it is clear that consumer expectations are going to put some serious demands on network capability, whether in the form of latency, capacity, availability, or throughput. And with many ways to implement 5G — different degrees of virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN) control, and instrumentation, to name a few — network performance will differ greatly from operator to operator.

So it makes sense that network quality will be the single biggest factor affecting customer quality of experience (QoE), ahead of price competition and coverage. But there will be some breathing room as 5G begins large scale rollout. Users won’t compare 5G networks based on performance to begin with, since any 5G will be astounding compared to what they had before. Initially, early adopters will use coverage and price to select their operator. Comparing options based on performance will kick in a bit later, as pricing settles and coverage becomes ubiquitous.

So how then, to deliver a “quality” customer experience?

5G, highly virtualized networks, need to be continuously fine-tuned to reach their full potential — and to avoid sudden outages. SDN permits this degree of dynamic control.

But with many moving parts and functions — physical and virtual, centralized and distributed — a new level of visibility into network behavior and performance is a necessary first step. This “nervous system” of sorts ubiquitously sees precisely what is happening, as it happens.

Solutions delivering that level of insight are now in use by leading providers, using the latest advances in virtualized instrumentation that can easily be deployed into existing infrastructure. Operators like Telefonica, Reliance Jio, and Softbank collect trillions of measurements each day to gain a complete picture of their network.

Of course, this scale of information is beyond human interpretation, nevermind deciding how to optimize control of the network (slicing, traffic routes, prioritization, etc.) in response to events. This is where big data analytics and machine learning enter the picture. With a highly granular, precise view of the network state, each user’s quality of experience can be determined, and the network adjusted to better it.

The formula is straightforward, once known: (1) deploy a big data lake, (2) fill it with real-time, granular, precise measurements from all areas in the network, (3) use fast analytics and machine learning to determine the optimal configuration of the network to deliver the best user experience, then (4) implement this state, dynamically, using SDN.

In many failed experiments, mobile network operators (MNOs) underestimated step 2—the need for precise, granular, real time visibility. Yet, many service providers have still to take notice. HR’s report also alarmingly finds that most MNOs invest just 30 cents per subscriber each year on systems and tools to monitor network quality of service (QoS), QoE, and end-to-end performance.

If this is difficult to understand in the pre-5G world — where a Strategy Analytics’ white paper estimated that poor network performance is responsible for up to 40 percent of customer churn — it’s incomprehensible as we move towards 5G, where information is literally the power to differentiate.

The aforementioned Heavy Reading survey points out that the gap between operators widens, with 28 percent having no plans to use machine learning, while 14 percent of MNOs are already using it, and the rest still on the fence. Being left behind is a real possibility. Are we looking at another wave of operator consolidation?

A successful transition to 5G is not just new antennas that pump out more data. This detail is important: 5G represents the first major architectural shift since the move from 2G to 3G ten years ago, and the consumer experience expectation that operators have bred needs some serious network surgery to make it happen.

The survey highlights a profound schism between operators’ understanding of what will help them compete and succeed, and a willingness to embrace and adopt the technology that will enable it. With all the cards on the table, we’ll see a different competitive landscape emerge as leaders move ahead with intelligent networks.

Source: https://www.wirelessweek.com/article/2017/03/why-network-visibility-crucial-5g-success

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