Cloud Native Architecture Critical to 5G Success

As communications services providers roll out 5G services, technology leaders push cloud native innovation as a competitive edge.

By  Erin Poulson

By Erin Poulson August 03, 2021

The telecommunications industry stands on the precipice of a vast paradigm shift – and those companies that successfully navigate the industry’s changes will lead the 5G revolution.

The most significant of necessary changes is a move to cloud native architecture, said Intel’s Muthurajan Jayakumar, Cloud Native Solution Architect and Platform Software Engineer, Network Product Group, in a recent white paper.  

“The traditional [communications service provider (CSP)] approach, with monolithic virtualized network functions (VNFs) that take years to deploy or upgrade cannot keep pace with the new 5G landscape,” Jayakumar wrote. 

“The nature of the 5G core network – dynamic, configurable and agile – requires a cloud native approach that uses web-scale, containerized network functions (CNFs) that are resilient, decomposed into microservices and, as much as possible, open source.”

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Jayakumar stated that as 5G use cases multiply, experts predict the number of services will quadruple those delivered during the last 40 years. So in order to quickly, flexibly deploy that massive volume of services, CSPs must transition to a cloud native 5G core network or risk losing to their competition.

By adopting the cloud native architecture that runs today’s biggest cloud service providers, and using it as the foundation of their virtualized networks, CSPs can gain web-scale benefits, including “independent and fast deployments, programmability, elasticity, and minimized interdependencies among services,” explained Jayakumar.

It’s All About the Cloud Native 5G Core

Doing 5G right requires a cloud native core, explained Fredrik Ambjörn, Marketing Manager, Telecom Core Business Area, Digital Services at Ericsson, a leading provider of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to the telecom industry.

“To unlock the potential of the 5G promise and capture its full value, the evolution to a cloud native 5G core becomes a prerequisite,” he stated in an Ericsson blog post in late 2020.

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There’s a significant difference in the standards for today’s 5G core over its 4G predecessor.

“The new 3GPP standard for 5G Core is introducing a service-based architecture, which is designed for cloud native deployment,” wrote Ambjörn. “… Very limited efforts will be spent on the old evolved packet core going forward.”

He sees the new 5G core will enable new use cases and innovation in areas such as ultra-low latency and mission-critical networks that [CSPs have] not been able to address before.

In a recent LinkedIn article by Jo Peterson, which presented highlights from Ericsson’s 5G Cloud Native Summit earlier this year, Head of Architecture & Technology, Digital Services, Anders Rosengren mentioned a couple of those new use cases that rely on low latency and high reliability. Those include connecting manufacturing robots, for instance, or off-loading AI-enhanced video analytics from a branch office to a network edge location.

In the aforementioned Intel white paper, Jayakumar cited a variety of use cases that 5G could enable, including “smart cities, homes and buildings, voice, 3D video, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), industry automation, autonomous cars, mission-critical applications, and many more use cases we’ve not yet even imagined.”

“To make sure these new use cases can be supported,” wrote Peterson, “5G will need to work equally as well at the network edge, in private clouds, public clouds and on-prem.”

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Clearing the Fog Around Cloud Native

In the same article, Víctor Ferraro Esparza, Product Manager for 5G Core Networks at Ericsson, said Ericsson sees four important aspects of the cloud native 5G conversation: application design and development; technology and infrastructure; processes and ways of working; and management and orchestration. He cautions CSPs to consider the aspects holistically.

“They all influence each other,” he said, “so none of them should be overlooked … whether we are discussing the development of a brand-new cloud native network function (CNF), transforming an existing legacy application onto the cloud, or transforming a whole network. Omitting any of the aspects carries the risk of not gaining the full intended benefits.”

Google Gets Into the Edge of 5G

Last year, Google announced its forward-looking strategy for the telecoms industry, which would help simplify and support CSP adoption of cloud technologies and capabilities in relation to their 5G offerings. The announcement included a nod to a newly formed collaboration with AT&T, as well as the unveiling of Google’s Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy, “which will deliver a portfolio and marketplace of 5G solutions built jointly with telecommunications companies; an open cloud platform for developing these network-centric applications; and a global distributed edge for optimally deploying these solutions.”

Another Google blog post explained why delivering applications at the edge can be a real game changer:

Companies across industries still often rely on robust on-premises systems or even small on-site servers to tackle core computing tasks. But with new 5G capabilities delivered at the edge, retailers can, for example, build enriched in-store visual experiences streaming directly from the network. Or manufacturers can run advanced AI-based visual inspections directly from 5G-enabled devices – all without the need for local processing power – helping reduce cost and the need for on-site space.

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In February 2021, Google publicized further efforts in its GMEC strategy with an announcement about collaborating with Intel, “to develop reference architectures and integrated solutions for communications service providers to accelerate their deployment of 5G and edge network solutions.”

The collaboration will focus on providing next-generation infrastructure and hardware to speed up deployment of Virtualized RAN (vRAN), which results in better network performance, more efficient use of the network spectrum, lower costs, and more flexible deployment models. 

Google and Intel also plan to launch new lab environments to support CSP innovation in cloud native 5G.

Erin Poulson is a contributing writer who specializes in IT and business topics.

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