In an effort to address the demand for capacity and average revenue per user (ARPU) pressures, service providers are looking at 5G technology as the engine to optimize the different parts of their networks and deliver faster, new and more profitable services. In many cases, they realize that upgrading their physical infrastructure has limitations because of costs and inefficient time to market constraints, and they are looking for solutions, specifically virtualization, that scale their networks to meet the capacity demand while simultaneously delivering business value – savings.
Network virtualization, through usage-based pricing and resource pooling, seems to be most attractive option for efficient capital expense and operation expense planning. In addition, managing the network virtually adds lower OpEx as operations become more efficient. Managing network operations could become easier, because it is much simpler to monitor and react to network changes through a central platform and automated processes.
Need for speed
Data centers, flexible virtualized platforms and new software modules are now changing the traditional physical infrastructure thinking. The faster to service option accelerates installations, provisioning, and introduction of new services, as well as faster migration to the new ultra-network. Network slicing and virtual automated platforms could save time and generate quick revenue by offering new rich media services to vertical markets (enterprises, transport etc.) but also to traditional mobile operators’ networks.
However, virtualization and 5G do raise some questions. What is the need and impact of 100G capacity? What should the ultimate end-user capacity be? What are the new customer segments that will generate fast revenue when providing infinity capacity? Will virtualization allow a provider to offer that capacity at a minimum cost and increase ARPU? IT departments and network engineers will need to work together and adapt to the new state of the network in order to optimize the opportunity. Network planners also need to think about infinity capacity lines by creating a fully optimizable and elastic scaled network.
NFV entrance points
Even though NFV offers potential, it isn’t a magic entry point to the ultra-network transformation. Although there are several promising commercial virtual network solutions trials, network planners understand that in parallel they need to run their current networks as they migrate to their ultra-networks. In many cases, lab trials or isolating parts of the network to try new solutions could satisfy service providers, but this approach has drawbacks: understanding the network’s ongoing operation in a virtual mode with live traffic and most importantly the network recovery plan in case of failure. NFV could be enabled through points and services over which network experts have control and command but are a low failure risk, such as virtualization around packet gateways, control plane functions, IP multimedia subsystem and analytics platforms.
Network planners may want to follow the lead of service providers such as SK Telecom, Telefonica, AT&T or even Verizon Wireless, which has begun trialing a 5G wireless service capable of 1 Gbps, with a launch scheduled in 2017. Currently, Verizon is testing many technologies that may or may not be part of 5G, including beam forming, NFV and SDN integration and millimeter wave technologies with the goal of creating an ultra-network. Will its wireless service be faster than Google Fiber in just a few years? Time will tell, but 5G is already quickly nudging the industry towards an ultra-network transformation.