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Reducing your risk with 5G? Be bold.

At some point in every customer meeting I have these days, the question of how to make the transition to 5G comes up. There are, of course, lots of different aspects to that topic, from engineering and implementation, to marketing and customer offers. But, one of the persistent themes is around risk and how best to manage it. Although we are moving quickly to adopt 5G, there are still a lot of unknowns about how it will play out and how best to use it to support strategic and long-term business objectives.

The main driver for 4G was consumer mobile broadband services. This continues to be true for 5G NSA (non-standalone) as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services. NSA requires some updates to the existing 4G core, which is preferably a cloud-native 4G core; but primarily introduces 5G radios that will access new spectrum and create some efficiencies in the air interface. Their principal benefit will be to increase bandwidth, especially in dense urban markets. Having a “5G” in the upper left corner of the consumer’s smartphone will drive a lot of handset sales, as well. For these reasons, moving to 5G NSA seems to be a manageable risk.

And yet, the real promise of 5G lies in new market opportunities such as enterprise, industry and vertical services markets. To unlock the full opportunity requires 5G SA (standalone) and a cloud-native core. Massive IoT, low latency machine-to-machine communications, convergence of fixed and mobile access and end-to-end network slicing are some of the high points of what 5G SA will eventually offer, and a cloud-native core is at the heart of this. In other words, this is a golden opportunity for CSPs to diversify their businesses and tap into what promises to be an enormous trend. But the timing and market demand for these new services is uncertain, and the capital investment is much larger and, thus, can be perceived as having more risk.

The reality for many CSPs is that the transition between 5G NSA and SA is not clear cut. As the market uptake of these new 5G features plays out over the next decade, they will need to operate a mix of legacy technologies including 2G, 3G and 4G, along with 5G NSA and 5G SA. To help manage this transition, the ability to support all of these technologies from a common core platform would be the most efficient. And from a risk point of view, there are definite advantages to moving to a cloud-native core, because it not only gives CSPs greater flexibility, it sets them up to respond rapidly to new 5G market demands as they emerge.

Moving to a cloud-native core to achieve this kind of multi-G flexibility requires some changes. First on my list, is the issue of training staff and transitioning skills. This is one of the least appreciated issues around the move to virtual/cloud architectures. One of the principal advantages of having a cloud-native core for 4G or 5G is the ability to very quickly create new services and add new features and improvements to existing services using DevOps methodologies. In-service rolling updates using techniques such as canary deployments will rapidly speed-up the deploy, evaluate and implement phases.

My advice is that you want to start getting a feel for this new world as soon as possible.  It will not only enable you to grab new market opportunities with a prepared workforce, but it will ensure that you can flexibly transition your services, from 2G to 5G SA, at your own speed and according to your own business requirements.

One of the risks of 5G is the standards. This is where choosing your 5G vendor is critical. How involved is the company in the 3GPP standards development and for how long? Does it have leadership on key committees and a solid portfolio of standards-essential patents? What is its track record working with the bigger ecosystem around 5G? You want to be certain that what you build today will not need to be re-engineered as the standards evolve.

Along with the development of the standards, you also need to assess your vendor in terms of security and trustworthiness. Does its 5G architecture protect both the network and all associated services from current and emerging attack vectors? And does it have an end-to-end understanding of how best to design, integrate and validate these new networks, both mobile and fixed? Moving to 5G SA is an all-encompassing network engineering change, one for which suppliers of individual components may not have a good grasp.

You also need to look for flexibility in the implementation. For instance, core software should be infrastructure agnostic to support varying business and operational objectives. In the area of containerization, you expect your 5G core to support containers, but not necessarily exclusively. In many instances, VM-based platforms will be the initial deployment choice for many CSPs, these being used in the future to host containers-in-VMs before evolving to containers-in-bare-metal. This is probably a topic worthy of a future blog, but again, flexibility is essential.

The move to 5G in its many flavors presents tremendous opportunities and risks. To sum up, one of the greatest risks of implementing 5G is perhaps being too cautious —because you impede yourself from being in a good position to realize new opportunities. Moving to a cloud-native core for 5G, and also 4G in the near term, will give you enormous flexibility and, thus, first move advantage in this rapidly evolving market. This is one of those cases where “fortune favors the bold.”

Want to know more?

Take a look at our 5G cloud-native core infographic to see this is an investment in the future.

Visit our Cloud Packet Core solutions page to see how our cloud-native design helps you to profitably and cost-effectively evolve.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia or @nokianetworks using #5G #cloud #CloudNative #CSP