It’s no wonder that the rollout of 5G mobile broadband has been greeted with such excitement. It’s a major step forward towards realizing a connected world. For consumers, the increased bandwidth and speed means more dependable and more responsive connectivity. They can do everything they normally do, but more so, as well as faster and more reliably.
For business, though, it’s much more than this. In fact, it’s a game-changer. Individual people only possess a few devices each with which they can take advantage of that bandwidth – but enterprises potentially have thousands. Tens of thousands. They can use 5G not just for mobile devices in the hands of their workforce, but for their assets. Everything, from headquarters buildings down to tiny sensors on remote equipment, can be web-enabled. In short, it’s a technological development that can change how business works.
Communication service providers providing the 5G network to enterprises need to create new revenue streams to monetize the untapped potential of the massive investment they have planned for their consumer networks. 5G network slicing – in other words, creating customized virtual networks on a common shared physical infrastructure – creates opportunities to leverage that investments and pivot towards enterprises. This helps them access new markets to release this potential.
Making it happen, though: that’s the challenge.
Every element in every slice
What makes it hard is that 5G networks are a collection of connectivity technologies. Cellular wireless, optical transport networks, microwave, data centers – all these things and more are constituent parts, and they all need to be in every network slice you create.
In addition, different elements of 5G networks each have their own standards. They include TMForum, 3GPP, O-RAN, and IETF, and a network slice created for an enterprise will need to comply with them all. Finally, the end-to-end management – everything from provisioning a slice to managing its lifecycle – needs to be automated and simple enough for operations.
What’s more, there are many, many different vendors, and partners in the telecom ecosystem, providing not just physical infrastructure, but key elements such as networking software, system integration, apps, security, and support.
For a network slice to happen, all these organizations and elements need to be coordinated, and that takes time, effort, and a considerable degree of automation.
So, then. Where to start? The answer is with a blueprint. That’s what we did here at Capgemini. Working with Telefonica, we designed and implemented a proof-of-concept for an end-to-end solution entirely provisioned and managed from the cloud. Many other leading organizations contributed to the blueprint: Microsoft supported the hosting of the orchestration functions in Azure and provided its 5G standalone (SA) Core Network; Intel provided on-prem servers for virtualized baseband; Blue Planet provided the end-to-end service orchestration, built to interact with orchestrators responsible for each domain including radio orchestration and control with Juniper’s O-RAN Service Management & Orchestration (SMO) and RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) with Slice-Aware Admission Control x/rApps; and Casa Systems provided disaggregated 5G radio access network (RAN).
Disaggregation: making things manageable
One of the chief aims of the project was to softwarize the network as much as possible and simplify the operations. Therefore, orchestrating the entire solution from cloud was critical. (The only exception was the radio domain, which employed a physical radio unit.) Disaggregating the software from the hardware, and the management from the physical network, made slicing easier, and made each of these elements simpler to oversee and run. This, in turn, makes adoption more straightforward for enterprises.
The solution was hosted, tested, and verified at our 5G labs in Portugal, and I must say we and our many project partners are very pleased with the results. Together, we’ve shown that it’s possible to build a broad ecosystem that can overcome the challenges of network slicing using end-to-end automation. In addition, we believe our pre-integrated network blueprints can significantly reduce the cost of new network planning, design, and test cycles.
It’s an approach that other operators can use to address new markets, and to make the most of their investment in 5G. We’re actively involved with them and with industry forums to promote the benefits of network slicing and associated blueprints.
As this article highlights, and as other pieces in this short series from our project partners will show, this has been a truly collaborative effort from which everyone – communication, service providers, industry organizations, and enterprise customers alike – will benefit.