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Software Enabling 5G

Written by Folke Rosengard, Head of Business Development, Nokia Software

We are in front of one of the biggest upsides in the whole telco industry in a long time, thanks to the digitalization trend and IOT.  IOT will add a massive amount of new connections; and the digitalization trend creates a growing demand for a multitude of diverse connections including use cases with high bandwidth, low latency and ultrahigh reliability.

5G is the ideal solution to respond to this demand, however, 5G is much more than simply a new Radio Access Network (RAN) generation. It comes with sophisticated software that affects all parts of the network, including, how service providers operate the network and how they offer profitable and compelling services. It is a whole new business system that enables service providers to respond to the massive demand fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT) and digitalization trend in a profitable way.

5G requires a tight connection between network, operations and business with all the systems and processes working together to deliver and monetize the 5G use cases for consumers and enterprises. The software is the key to realizing 5G capabilities in an efficient way. Technical capabilities such as dynamic slicing of mobile networks and a service-based architecture to enable multiple and diverse use case requirements based on agile, flexible and real-time digital fabric are critical for telcos to maximize and exploit 5G capabilities.

Network providers must have a strong digital fabric that’s built on applications with five key characteristics:

  1. Intelligent: Analytics and machine learning in everything are critical to manage an ever-growing volume of data. Great experiences are the ones that are personal, contextual and fast. These rely on the ability to augment human intelligence with machine learning and analytics. They use the data to provide a 360-degree view of the experience and decide what actions will produce the best outcomes.
  2. Automated: Manual processes are too slow to handle the big data explosion. As such, intelligence workflows and bots should push automation to extremes to ensure we can drive insights to action with efficiency and speed using closed-loop fundamentals.
  3. Secure: With more of our lives online, customers must know they can trust their providers to handle their data. The new digital fabric must include security in its foundation to provide customers with the highest level of protection in the digital world.
  4. Cloud-native: To respond with agility at a better cost point, software needs to be built for the cloud, from both the technological and consumption-model perspectives.
  5. Open: It’s unlikely that service providers will rely solely on one infrastructure vendor or partner, one revenue-sharing relationship or service. Applications must be multi-vendor, open and lightweight – and the complexity of the network must be removed or abstracted.

5G will enable a range of new use cases with a variety of specific requirements. To support each use case in an optimal way, security capabilities will need to be more flexible. For example, security mechanisms used for ultra-low latency, mission-critical applications may not be suitable for massive IoT deployments where devices are inexpensive sensors that have a very limited energy budget and transmit data only occasionally.

Another driver for 5G security is the changing ecosystem. LTE networks are dominated by large monolithic deployments―each controlled by a single network operator that owns the network infrastructure while also providing all network services. In contrast, 5G networks may be deployed by a number of specialized stakeholders providing end-user 5G network services.

“Cloud Native software” is a fundamental principle for software for the 5G era.  There are many benefits of cloud-native software for telcos, including more efficient use of cloud resources, operational simplicity and horizontal scalability.  Proven by massive scale companies such as Google, Twitter and Netflix over years of use, horizontal scaling or adding more containerized applications within a cluster, enables providers to provide the processing capacity they need to process data quickly.

Managing and reducing the complexity, while keeping operating costs under control, can only be achieved through injecting intelligence and automation into the transformation process. As 5G extends beyond radio technologies, deep into the cloud, across mobile and transport layers, it will be paramount to combine data from RAN and non-RAN sources and introduce machine learning-enabled automation to create algorithms for use cases that operate across all these data sources.

Today, automation is popping up almost everywhere in the network, and “closed loops” are considered silver bullets for killing complexity. A recent study by Nokia Bell Labs concluded that closed-loop automation can only work in combination with a new architecture and – even more important – an implementation master plan. The full benefit of automation can only be realized if it’s done in concert. Small benefits can be – and are being – realized with tactical, domain-specific automation, but those benefits can only be maximized if harmonized and orchestrated across all domains.

As non-telco companies digitalize their own product offerings, new opportunities will emerge for telcos and service providers. With the new network characteristics of 5G and cloud resources sitting close to customers, these companies will be in a position to offer capabilities no IT cloud service provider can match.

The software helps communication service providers to reinvent themselves as digital service providers. A key in this transformation is to recognize the need for far greater agility with frictionless business and operational adaptability. In other words, digital service providers need to act in and capitalize on windows of digital time. To operate in digital time, service providers need a holistic and real-time view of what’s happening with business and operations to determine the next best action to take – this applies for all areas of operations from marketing to product management, customer experience management, network and service operations, care and monetization.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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