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The power of 5G core networks

2018.06.06 By Zhao Wei

5G services and applications bring new challenges to existing networks, including core networks. At Mobile World Congress 2018, Huawei demonstrated its 5G core network solution for all-service enablement to help operators support fast service development in the future and enable digital transformation in all industries.

Fully connected, full-service

"4G changed lifestyles but 5G will change society" is a well-known industry maxim. During past generations of mobile communications, connectivity was human-centric, but in the 5G era everything will be connected. 5G will foster a fully digitalized society and change the way the whole world operates at a fundamental level.

Over the past decade, mobile broadband services drove the widespread growth of 3G and 4G networks, introducing greater variety and diversity into our day-to-day lives and entertainment. Basically, it changed the way we live. But over the next ten years, telecommunications networks will go from providing people-to-people connections to people-to-things and things-to-things connections, which will provide a wealth of information services for all different sectors and industries.

5G networks will give rise to new services, such as smart offices, home entertainment, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), autonomous driving, industrial control, and IoT. These new services will impose harsher requirements on network capabilities. Autonomous driving and industrial control, for example, will require networks to support ultra-low latency of under 5 ms and industrial-grade reliability guarantees in mobile scenarios. Services like multi-service broadband for homes, high-def video surveillance, and 360º VR live-streaming will need networks that support 5 Gbps or more for a single user plus a network throughput of 20 Tbps or more per square kilometer.

5G will also enable new business. In the 5G era, operators' business scopes will expand beyond the mass market to include industry verticals, generating significant socioeconomic value and new business opportunities for operators. Yet due to the vast variety of service requirements in different verticals, operators need to build highly agile operational capabilities to respond to fast-changing market demands.

5G will open the door to a fully connected, full-service era. Core networks will play a crucial role, acting as the enablement center for all access types and all services. First, it will transform the current network-centric service model into a user-centric service model by eliminating differences in network access. Second, it will enable 5G networks to provide different services on demand for different industries through network slicing.

With the new opportunities and challenges 5G will bring, it will be crucial to reconstruct existing core networks. In June 2017, 3GPP officially confirmed that the 5G core network will adopt service-based architecture (SBA), which has been proposed by 26 companies, including China Mobile and Huawei, as a unified infrastructure. This means that 5G networks will be truly open, service-oriented, and software-oriented, facilitating the integrated development of 5G and vertical industries.

New business, new operations, and new experiences

At MWC 2018, Huawei launched and demonstrated a 5G end-to-end product solution based on the 3GPP standard. As the core component for managing differentiated services and ensuring user experience in operator networks, Huawei's 5G core network helps operators extend the value of their networks to all industries, enabling new businesses and operations and providing a great new service experiences for users.

New business: product slices

Network slicing is the pillar technology for enabling 5G to digitalize all industries. It’s also the key to new business models. Slices will become a commodity, with operators able to generate revenue by selling network slices to provide services for different industries. Huawei's 5G core network is based on microservice-centric architecture (MCA), which simplifies network slice management through integrated lightweight management, enabling closed-loop business segmentation. It also simplifies network deployment through unified access functionality, permitting the closed-loop deployment of network slices and helping operators to quickly offer slices as products.

Operators will be able to first deploy core networks to launch business operations such as eMBB, voice, and WTTx, which will maximize network-resource efficiency through the free orchestration of microservices and guarantee the E2E SLA of services through definable networks. A network slice for voice services, for instance, can guarantee five 9s reliability and allow O&M to be independent of other services. An eMBB slice enables high bandwidth of over 20 Gbps for a single user and fast updates of new functions. And a slice for FWA services can save large amounts of network resources through a simplified user plane that doesn’t have functions such as billing or SA.

In the future, operators will be able to slowly expand their network slicing operations to include slices for smart grids, industrial control, and autonomous driving, providing differentiated services for multiple industries and enabling digital transformation and commercial success for all.

New business: agility

The 5G era will be defined by fast-changing market demand. Operators will need to build agile operational capabilities to quickly seize market opportunities and succeed commercially. However, they’re constrained by the architecture and technology of their current networks. For example, new service deployment typically takes over six months, making it difficult to compete for new market opportunities. Huawei's MCA-based 5G core network supports automated, self-managing, and smart operating models, enabling lifecycle management and the smart operation of microservices, shortening new service deployment to weeks or even minutes, and boosting fault location accuracy and efficiency by more than tenfold. Traditionally, to update a particular function of the core network, the whole version needs to be updated. But, with Huawei's 5G core network, only the specific function needs to be updated, significantly cutting down on the workload. Functions can be updated in real time, and the updates have no effect on other functions, because different functions are completely decoupled.

New experience: ultra-high bandwidth

Single-user ultra-high bandwidth is one of the key capabilities of 5G networks. Leveraging multi-core coordination, Huawei's 5G core network allows for ultra-high bandwidth of over 20 Gbps for a single user, ensuring an outstanding experience for eMBB applications such as AR and VR. Through distributed network architecture, the user plane can be flexibly deployed at the network edge by separating the control and user planes, ensuring ultra-low latency anywhere. Huawei's 5G core network simultaneously supports 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, ensuring the best user experience when there are multiple coexisting networks through integrated control plane management and a distributed user plane.

Huawei's 5G core network helps operators smoothly evolve their networks from how they are today to how they need to be in the future, so that operators can protect existing investment and simplify network operations. Operators can increase network capacity through the cloud-based expansion of core networks and support 5G non-standalone (NSA) scenarios using the mixed pool of traditional networks with updated software and cloud-based core networks with increased network capacity. Software upgrades make 5G and traditional network orchestration possible, supporting network-level convergence and 5G standalone (SA) scenarios.

On the road to commercialization

With the most proposals made and accepted for 5G architecture, Huawei has been working with its industry partners to encourage the development and maturity of 5G standards, technologies, and industries. It has led and promoted the standardization of key architectures, including SBA, multi-access edge computing (MEC), and network slicing.

At the same time, Huawei and globally leading operators, such as China Mobile, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom, continue to carry out technical and commercial verification for 5G core networks to accelerate the pace of 5G commercial adoption. As of the end of 2017, Huawei had built 15 pre-commercial networks around the world for its 5G core network. In 2017, Huawei's 5G core network was named Best 5G Core Development at the 5G World Summit 2017 and Best Vertical Application in 5G at the SDN NFV World Congress. The solution also picked up the Best Network Software Breakthrough award from GSMA at MWC 2018, reflecting Huawei's leading capabilities and outstanding performance in 5G core network standards, technologies, and commercialization, and the fact that its industrial practices are highly regarded by the industry.

Huawei has also launched 5G Slice Mall, a world first comprising a series of joint innovation projects with operators such as China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, and industry partners such as State Grid and LETINVR. Of these ventures, Huawei, China Telecom and State Grid cooperated on 5G network slicing in the electric power industry, publishing a joint report on the topic, launching research, and carrying out technical and pre-commercial verification. At MWC 2018, Huawei demonstrated a network slicing-based telemedicine service developed with Deutsche Telekom and showcased a VR game using 5G network slicing created in partnership with Telefonica. In the future, Huawei will continue to use innovative projects and platforms, such as 5G Slice Mall, to spur 5G innovation and commercial adoption and drive its sustainable development.

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