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Cloud Packet Core – Six facts you should keep in mind.

Cloud Packet Core – Six facts you should keep in mind.

It’s well known that 5G networks enable many extraordinary new services and revenue possibilities for CSPs.  Making the most of these opportunities requires a flexible, high performing Packet Core that will deliver the low latency and high-speed connections these services demand. 

This was the central topic of a recent panel discussion, where me, Mike Hawley, Head of Packet Core R&D, together with Keith Allan, Packet Core Product Manager and Marcelo Madruga, Head of Technology and Platforms in Core Networks, got together to delve into the Packet Core facts that are really important for CSPs, what exciting new technologies are on the horizon in this vital area, and how Nokia solutions are helping CSPs achieve their Packet Core goals.

Fact 1 - High throughput and low latency are critical 

So, what areas are really the most important for CSPs? From his experience with customers, panelist Keith Allan sees high throughput and low latency as critical to CSPs. Nokia virtual forwarding path (vFP) architecture is key here, enabling throughput per user equipment in the order of 10Gbps or higher and cutting latency values to as low as 0.3ms.

“A second area that is very important to CSPs is flexibility and scalability,” said Keith. “Solutions must provide multi-terabit packet core user planes based on physical network functions and pre-integrated packet core appliances that can act as control plane or user plane, with features that support a diverse range of business needs.”

Fact 2 - Implementation risks can be minimized

During my turn in the discussion, I talked about one of the common challenges faced by CSPs – minimizing the risks inherent in implementing the 5G Packet Core. I mentioned some new 5G concepts that allow CSPs to minimize risk by staying nimble. These include implementation on any cloud, the core network being built to be cloud-native, and solutions that are hardware agnostic.

I said: “Risk factors include Core networks needing to be deployed regionally for coverage and low latency, with 5G adding increased pressure to distribute the network close to the edge.” This leads to high investment in servers and real-estate - CSPs can minimize this risk by deploying on a public cloud.

Fact 3 - Software as a Service and slices are the key innovations

Asked about innovations, Marcelo Madruga pointed out that the most important are those that enable any new services to run, so CSPs can profit from their investments. 

“Shifting the Core’s consumption model from a facilities build to Software-as-a-Service is an innovation that drives CSP profit,” said Marcelo. “With network software hosted on public clouds, CSPs are freed from activities like upgrades, so they can focus on exploring new opportunities, improving the end user experience, increasing monetization, and simplifying network operations.”

Marcelo also regards network slicing as a vital ingredient - he sees CSPs looking not only for applications and end-customer devices, but also dynamic connectivity and configurations that are optimized for each use-case. He believes these can play a key role in delivering customer experiences.

“However, as important as network slicing is, automation of slice creation, configuration, and management is even more so,” Marcelo says. “This level of automation is a game changer and allows CSPs to rapidly target and serve new customers, creating new revenue streams.”

Fact 4 - Automation makes the difference  

Later in the panel discussion, I highlighted that automation is also a key tool in optimizing expenditure on operations and the importance of automating network slicing. I added that CSPs adopting cloud-native design principles can operate like webscalers, growing and shrinking the network as easily as any webscale application. I said: “CSPs need to think about the network as a collection of orchestrated and automated microservices instead of a collection of disjointed network elements.” 

I also said  that, “Another aspect is expansion of the DevOps concept into DelOps, which you can think of as CI/CD extended from a hyperscaler’s environment to Telecom.”  The DevOps models used by many web companies are inherently single vendor, and don’t work in a CSP’s multi-vendor environment. Nokia’s DelOps - delivery operations - addresses this challenge and brings true multi-vendor CI/CD agility to CSPs.

Fact 5 – APIs are clearing the road for new services

One of the key challenges CSPs are facing is achieving the revenue gains that 5G promises and that their investments in the technology demand. Marcelo Madruga commented on how 5G technology has contributed to the growth in possible services: “Historically, API-based services have been challenging to implement when the network relies on telecom specific hardware. However, Service Based Architecture and cloud native systems are now clearing these roadblocks.” 

Marcelo also touched on a new Nokia initiative that will enable developers to create brand new services easily - Network-as-Code.  “Advanced service chains like Uber are built on distributed as-a-service resources - developers use integrated development environments to put those services together in a chain, all through simple API calls,” said Marcelo.

Network-as-Code also uses a simplified API and a secure network exposure gateway, allowing developers to create any new web services they want.

“Network-as-code is a Nokia initiative that unlocks the network for developers and fosters openness to drive innovation and profit for CSPs,” said Marcelo.

Fact 6 - Implement security from day 0

Of course, security is critical to CSPs, but as 5G and the packet core evolve to support new services, the network can be attacked in new ways. “Giving the same user experience outside your region means you're now having to deploy in locations that are not necessarily 100% within your control,” said Keith Allan. “Traditionally telecom networks had closed proprietary hardware systems, but with the cloud, you need to evolve your security to the same level.

“5G standards and 3GPP standards put many safeguards in place, with secure communication techniques, encryption and other things between the different network elements.”

CSPs are asking the packet core vendors to make sure they create a culture of security from the ground up.  “Nokia is an expert in telecommunications networking technologies, and we've been securing networks for our CSP customers for a long time,” said Keith. “We're evolving that approach to include confidentiality, integrity and security to ensure that our development environment keeps up with the rapidly evolving industry.”

Rounding up the discussion, our panelists reemphasized their main themes of ensuring a flexible packet core deployment, reducing 5G implementation risks through public clouds and that API abstraction will speed up the development of new services. 

Mike Hawley

About Mike Hawley

Mike Hawley is Head of Mobility Management Packet Core R&D at Nokia, and has over 30 years of experience in wireless networks, with leadership roles in product management, pre-sales, systems engineering, and his true love, R&D.  Mike is a passionate and charismatic leader, and he holds degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame (Bachelors) and the University of California, Berkeley (Masters).  When he’s not enabling brilliant engineers to turn their ideas into products and features in the real world, you can find him designing and building wood furniture or taking pictures of our planet’s beauty.

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