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It’s a 5G Core Network, but not as we know it

It’s a 5G Core Network, but not as we know it

Mobile World Congress (MWC) re-opened its doors at the end of February. It was my first time attending the event in four years, having missed the 2019 event and with the subsequent two events cancelled due to the pandemic. While we arrived with a glimpse of hope that we are emerging from the pandemic, the cloud of the terrible events in Ukraine cast a shadow over many of our conversations.

In my opinion, one of the most disruptive developments at MWC, and one that attracted much attention, was our presentation of the journey to Core Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS. Why do I say disruptive? Because Core SaaS changes the way core networks are built, deployed and run.

Software-as-a-Service is of course familiar to many, and a well established model in the IT world for years. In short, SaaS lets users subscribe to applications provided over the cloud without buying software upfront, building complex infrastructure or deploying, maintaining and operating the services.

At MWC we ran a Core SaaS proof-of-concept demo that attracted many visitors and received great customer feedback with many requests for follow-up discussions.

The Core will go SaaS

Now, SaaS is coming to telecommunications network services. More solutions are being offered as SaaS to meet growing telco market needs. The Core Network is the next big milestone, offering communications service providers (CSPs) and enterprises tailored network solutions with software and services all bundled into a pay-as you-use (and grow) subscription model.

Core SaaS is a gigantic step forward for many reasons, but notably:

  • The Core Network is highly complex and challenging for engineers to design into the SaaS format, so it’s a technological advance of real note.
  • Core offered “as-a-service” rewrites how core networks are created, implemented and run. Imagine being able to configure a full Standalone 5G Core with just a few clicks. This is what we demonstrated at MWC with our Network Builder that models a self-service portal and requires only a few parameters for a user to set up a service.

Of course, the actual deployment will still require integration to the CSP’s network, however it represents an orders of magnitude decrease in the traditional months of design, build and deployment of a conventional core network within the CSPs own environment.

To make this a reality, a new self-service portal is needed. We, at Nokia, are working on this SaaS delivery framework that will provide automated pre-packaged ordering, capacity increase/decrease, billing, analytics and monitoring whilst the operation and maintenance are guaranteed by our site reliability engineers.

Get the best from the Core SaaS

Once deployed, CSPs and enterprises need not worry about the usual complexities of Core Network operations and maintenance. Through a friendly dashboard they will be able to manage capacity scaling, billing and all other functions with ease.

The benefits include:

  1. Network on demand: Core network services are available when needed, not months later. There’s no need for heavy investments in software and hardware, followed by complex projects to deploy and integrate a new core or extend a network service.
  2. Speed to market: On-demand capabilities mean new services can be introduced rapidly. This cuts the risk involved in launching services should they not be picked up by end users and fail to generate the expected revenue.
  3. Easy and fast scaling: On the other hand, should a service be more successful than expected, additional core capacity can be added immediately (on demand). It is easy to scale the core network up or down as needed.
  4. OPEX-based simplicity: Core SaaS delivers simplicity and a more predictive, OPEX-led approach. The pay-as-you-use business model aligns with actual demand, smoothening the investment cycles typically associated with deploying new technologies.

While Core SaaS offers many benefits for CSPs, it also comes with a few special characteristics. As opposed to on-site, dedicated deployments, SaaS services are more uniform in terms of configuration, deployment options, connectivity and more. This means CSPs can only choose from predefined options with guaranteed SLAs for the specific service.

Build or extend – your call

We insert the Core SaaS model into a 3GPP architecture and slicing orchestration. It does not matter whether a CSP or enterprise wants to build an entirely new end-to-end 5G Core or just wants to support specific use cases. You can choose from an extensive service catalog to meet your needs, perhaps deploying a 5G data or voice core, or creating an IoT-optimized network. You can also simply order specialized core system packages too to extend your network capabilities.  

Nokia Core-as-a-Service will introduce a new way to build and run 5G core networks. It’s not the core network we’ve known for decades, but something entirely different. It encompasses all of the ordering and operations which vendors and customers still need to take on board. However, this on-demand, off-the-shelf and consumption-based ordering capability is heading our way and not too far from being a commercial reality.

To learn more about Core SaaS and see our demo, please contact your Nokia sales representative.

Fran Heeran

About Fran Heeran

Fran Heeran is the Senior Vice President & General Manager of the Core Networks business at Nokia with over 25 years of experience in the telecommunications software industry including senior leadership positions in both global solution suppliers and service providers.

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