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Why 5G’s core network must change – what every operator needs to know


We’ve been saying it for years. A cloud-native core network is essential for operators to achieve the full revenue-generating potential of innovative 5G services in a wide range of industry sectors. See our blog from 2018.

Yet we are frequently asked whether it's better to rely on an existing core network or build/evolve to a cloud-native core. Many operators around the world with aging core networks face this investment dilemma.

It was certainly a hot topic of discussion at our annual Core Users Group in September, with delegates seeking to simplify and improve their network cores by focusing on serviceability, automation, and cloud. Such discussions are driven by the realization that 5G’s demanding services depend on fundamental changes to the core. The 5G core is at the heart of the network, acting as the anchor point for delivering a seamless service experience and performance at scale, across fixed and wireless access technologies.

Why is cloud-native essential?

So that nobody is in any doubt, let’s restate the reasons we believe operators need to implement a cloud-native core network.

Today’s 4G service is largely based on bandwidth and coverage for mobile broadband. The evolved packet core supports that need nicely. But 5G changes the picture. 5G needs a core that can answer new business and network challenges.

There are five key business objectives that the future 5G core must address:

  1. Offer superior mobile broadband with 5G’s better bandwidth, latency and density
  2. Extend existing services to new enterprise, industry and IoT markets, enabled by 5G’s improved affordability and network slicing feature
  3. Rapidly and repeatedly develop new services by embracing 5G’s agility and efficiency
  4. Offer new services and pursue new markets by going far beyond traditional broadband, voice and messaging
  5. Become a digital service provider by taking an end-to-end approach across network, operations and business to enable diverse offers that capture more of the overall value chain.

To enable all this, the core network must be able to scale to connect new devices, deliver high performance to meet new traffic demands, and extend any service over any access technology. It needs to be dynamic to support all those new use cases. It needs to be efficient to make operators more competitive by offering services rapidly and with a short time-to-market.

Supporting 4G and 5G

Is a cloud-native core the only way to achieve all these aims? In reality, yes. There is some talk in the market focusing only on containerization of the 5G core. But this is incomplete - what’s needed is a core that can operate in any cloud environment, whether that is based on Virtual Machines (VMs) or containers, and that has a breadth of cloud-native capabilities encompassing:

  1. Microservices architecture
  2. Infrastructure agnostic
  3. Open APIs
  4. DevOps

5G’s success requires an end-to-end strategy, which is the aim of Nokia Bell Labs’ Future X network architecture blueprint. This allows operators to deploy a cloud-native core that can competitively support all access technologies, mobile and fixed. It can be rolled out to support existing 4G services, and it’s ready to deliver the more exciting business opportunities when the move to 5G Stand-Alone deployment is made.

In short, the cloud-native 5G core network is an investment in the future.

Just as the 5G Core is unlike its predecessors, we were inspired by many conversations and 5G’s technology to deliver an extraordinary infographic for the 5G era. We invite you to explore it.

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

Edmund Elkin

About Edmund Elkin

Ed’s passion is market development, which for him these days means the 5G core. Based in Naperville, Illinois, he is enthused about what’s next for telecom that helps improve people’s lives and their societies. Previous experiences include AT&T and the US Navy. He holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Electrical Engineering.

Tweet me at @EdElkin1

Rob McManus

About Rob McManus

Rob is a senior product marketing manager for Nokia’s Cloud Packet Core. If you need convincing about the exciting possibilities of a cloud-native core – talk to him or keep an eye out at key industry forums where he’s a regular speaker.

Tweet us at @nokianetworks

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