Welcome to the New Cloud Native World of 5G Success

By Gaurav Vaid, Director of Product Management, Mobile Packet Core for Cisco Systems

Welcome to the world where the only constant is change. For example, a new application takes the world by storm and becomes the next big thing with millions of subscribers eagerly using and consuming the service offering. Or, an unforeseen global crisis hits forcing us to pivot on the head of a pin and work, learn, and play in new ways. Yes, life happens, and our networks must be agile enough to support these changes and new demands gracefully in minutes not weeks or months. Additionally, profitability is a challenge when traffic demands grow faster than revenues and customers want more but have their own budget constraints. Now couple that with the need to integrate 5G into your existing network service offerings and you have a genuine challenge on your hands. Many of these challenges can be met with new software solutions because they are more flexible and often more efficient than the hardware appliances deployed. That said, like anything else, you should carefully investigate your choices of products and solutions to ensure you are getting what you really want and need. In this article, we will touch on a few key points to consider as the industry move to a software-defined architecture and what we should all be looking for as we make decisions about vendors and products in our 5G world. The industry has been developing and maturing software-defined products and solutions for service provider and enterprise networks. We have seen these networks evolve from hardware-based appliances to virtualized products and then to cloud native products with promises even greater openness, granularity, flexibility, and agility than either virtualized or appliance - and of course, with promises of greater cost savings. Indeed, virtualized network products (like packet core and RAN) have tangible benefits over their hardware/appliance brethren. As good as the virtualized products are, improvements can be found. Enter cloud-native functions, with even greater granularity potential than virtualized products. A pool of cloud native functions running on containers is also a good basis for scalability. For example, well-designed cloud native RAN implementation can scale-up support 100s of cell-sectors or scale down as few as required. This sort of granularity can result in significant cost savings. As the service provider evolves to a software-defined architecture they gain greater efficiencies by standardizing on the hardware they use to drive the software functions, hence reducing SKUs and simplifying inventory, replacement stock, and training. One carrier who has built their entire network on software-based products was able to reduce their SKUs from hundreds down to six (yes, you read that correctly). In fact, it has been commercially proven that a software-defined mobile network architecture can reduce the total cost of ownership on average by an impressive 35%. As with so many things in life, one does need to look closer than the brochure to determine the best product and solution fit for your needs. Indeed, not all cloud native products are equal and here are few characteristics that provide tangible value that you may wish to look for when you select a cloud native product.

  • Layer Cloud Stack (technologies and standards) to provide top to bottom deployments and accommodate existing customer cloud infrastructures.
  • Common Execution Environment shared by all applications for non-application functions (deploy, configure, telemetry, alarming). This provides consistent interaction and experience for all customer touchpoints and integration points.
  • Applications and Common Execution Environment are deployed in microservice containers and connected with an Intelligent Service Mesh.
  • Exposed APIs for deployment, configuration, and management, to enable automation.

Let’s look at some more integrated functions and capabilities for cloud native products that can make a big impact on your 5G success. A well-designed and well-crafted cloud native 5G core product will include a core network “sandbox” to introduce upgrades and new services more quickly and safely. In short, this sandbox-feature creates a safe environment within the network to load, test and introduce those upgrades and new services gracefully and safely. Our own testing and work with our customers have shown that with this capability upgrades and new services can be successfully introduced in a few days verses months as is typical in today’s network environments. This accelerated time-to-market results in cost savings (less resources and less time) and in greater revenue (faster time to revenue and more successful introduction of services without technical issues that can “turn off” customers). Another feature you want in your 5G cloud native environment is to ensure these new products are designed to naturally support connected services. Cisco software products are designed to support service models. Common services across products are abstracted for efficiency and consistency across different cloud native network functions. Additionally, the service delivery architecture enhances service exposure capabilities and individualized service experience for enterprises leveraging cloud model. This means that the service provider is now able to offer their business customers unique customer experiences and services as they need. This ability provides great value to the service provider to deliver a premium suite of services. The common services design enables that following functionalities:

  • API exposure using Network Exposure Function (NEF), Unified Domain Center (UDC), and Policy
  • Application Function (AF) influences traffic steering
  • Cloud principles in as 3GPP defined 5G Goals
  • Service based architecture with discovery
  • Programmable control and user plane

You also need to consider the Day N requirements like Enhanced Life Cycle Automation of Network Functions, Slices and Services utilizing Automated Upgrades and improve Go-To-Market time, reliability, expand visibility across domain boundaries for on-going operations with Business Process Automation. In conclusion, 5G and the next generation of network services will be delivered through cloud-based applications. To get there, an operator’s network architecture needs to evolve and become a more open and software defined platform; a platform that will agilely grow revenue through new services while scaling operations through automation. Operators will experience their network’s evolution through the convergence of their IT and Telco environments, ultimately changing how their networks are deployed and operated today. Network solutions will be developed and deployed faster than ever before, yet they will look different, delivered in software containers and not just physical boxes. Cisco has the products, innovations and expertise needed to successfully make the transition to a 5G software world.