Skip to main content
Oct 22 2015

Do we really need new network architecture for 5G?

This blog is by Volker Held, head of Innovation Marketing at Nokia Networks. Twitter: @v_held

5G won’t look anything like the previous “Gs”

So far the “Gs” of mobile communication had a clear use case as their guiding design principle: voice for 2G, data services for 3G, and mobile broadband for 4G. But what will the clear use case for 5G be? I would argue that nobody really knows. But if we don’t know for sure, then how will we know how to design the new “G”? The 5G era will be all about market dynamics, not only of the telecommunication space, which has shaped the previous “Gs”, but also dynamics of the entire economy.

5G-network-arch-Nokia-900x468

Basically every industry will have to rethink its business model to be more productive, find new ways to monetize, disrupt the competitive landscape or simply to survive in the face of new competition. Consider these examples: The manufacturing and logistics sector targets productivity gains of more than 50% with a fully connected production system. The health sector wants to achieve over 20% cost savings and help cope with the shortage of doctors through remote patient care. OEMs are increasingly providing components that contain inbuilt connectivity as a basis for value added services. Connected mobility will be hot for car manufacturers as their traditional business provides lesser potential for creating additional customer value. Even the highly publicized autonomous driving will become a reality despite the fact that it won’t guarantee 100% safety. As long as it is deemed much safer than human drivers and lead to improved traffic flow in the megacities, insurance companies and governments will push for it – and this will require a communication system that connected vehicles can truly rely on and that provides virtual zero latency to avoid accidents. Last but not least, the media industry will need networks that deliver UHD (Ultra High Definition) and 3D content to the screens of their customers wherever they are.

If 5G networks want to be a key enabler of these industry dynamics they will need to support a multitude of use-cases, many of which are still unknown. From a business perspective, 5G is about turning the network into a platform that can transform the way an industry does business and how it will impact consumers’ lives.

5G will be a flexible ‘system of systems’

Taking these diverse needs and lifespan of the infrastructure into account, we must make ‘flexibility’ the key design principle of 5G networks. And related to ‘flexibility’ is ‘reliability’. With the flexible integration of different technology components, we will see a change from best effort mobile broadband towards truly reliable communication. Reliability is not only about equipment up-time, it also relates to the perception of infinite capacity and coverage that future mobile networks need to deliver anytime anywhere for every kind of application. This reliability is becoming more critical as we start to rely on the 5G communication system for control and safety.

Building a separate system for each use case is not an option. The real opportunity is in developing 5G as a ‘system of systems’ that can meet all requirements invisibly from the user’s perspective. Therefore, 5G is much more than a new radio system and will require an overhaul in the network to keep complexity and cost manageable. The 5G architecture uses a ‘system of systems’ approach to integrate and align the many different and independent parts of a network to achieve higher performance with greater functionality as compared to today’s networks. Nearly all network functions will become software-defined, cognitive technologies will automatically orchestrate the network, and content and processing will be dynamically distributed across the network close to where they are needed at a certain point in time.

Is the current EPC/System Architecture Evolution ready for the 5G era?

The answer is clearly no. The existing architecture is not able to support low latency services for example, especially when they are combined with fast mobility. Currently it would be impossible to deliver UHD videos to hundreds of train commuters without service degradation during their journey or to steer the moving platoons of the self driving cars of the future. To make this happen 5G will utilize NFV (Network Function Virtualization) for best scalability and agility, and SDN (Software Defined Networking) for separating control and user plane functions, which enables dynamic allocation of those resources to follow the user’s location. For such latency sensitive services the gateway can be dynamically allocated close to the radio access, while for basic Internet access a central gateway is sufficient.

Furthermore, in LTE virtualization is applied in a box-driven way. In 5G, virtualization will be used as the underlying principle of architecture design. Network functions from access, core, OSS to security and analytics will be easy to split up and reassemble according to the particular needs of the use case. That means that the physical network can be sub-divided into several virtual networks, and each of these virtual networks is then tailored to a certain use case.

Just like the city of Rome, 5G architecture won’t be built in one day, but it will endure the test of time and significant upheaval along the way.

Discover more about the phased approach for 5G and key features of the programmable 5G multi-architecture on our webpage.

Have you heard? Nokia Networks unveils its programmable 5G multi-service architecture

Please share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – and join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #NetworksPerform #mobilebroadband #innovation #FutureWorks #IoT #analytics.

About Volker Held

At Nokia, Volker is focused on combining the technology and business side of innovation. He heads Nokia’s 5G market development activities for the company, helping to create the future of telecommunications. He was also one of the founders of Nokia FutureWorks and brought Technology Vision 2020 to life.