MADRID -- Zero Touch & Carrier Automation Congress -- The 3GPP standards group is developing a machine learning function that could allow 5G operators to monitor the status of a network slice or third-party application performance.
The network data analytics function (NWDAF) forms a part of the 3GPP's 5G standardization efforts and could become a central point for analytics in the 5G core network, said Serge Manning, a senior technology strategist at Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S).
Speaking here in Madrid, Manning said the NWDAF was still in the "early stages" of standardization but could become "an interesting place for innovation."
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) froze the specifications for a 5G new radio standard at the end of 2017 and is due to freeze another set of 5G specifications, covering some of the core network and non-radio features, in June this year as part of its "Release 15" update.
Manning says that Release 15 considers the network slice selection function (NSSF) and the policy control function (PCF) as potential "consumers" of the NWDAF. "Anything else is open to being a consumer," he says. "We have things like monitoring the status of the load of a network slice, or looking at the behavior of mobile devices if you wanted to make adjustments. You could also look at application performance."
In principle, the NWDAF would be able to make use of any data in the core network. The 3GPP does not plan on standardizing the algorithms that will be used but rather the types of raw information the NWDAF will examine. The format of the analytics information that it produces might also be standardized, says Manning.
Such technical developments might help operators to provide network slices more dynamically on their future 5G networks.
Generally seen as one of the most game-changing aspects of 5G, the technique of network slicing would essentially allow an operator to provide a number of virtual network services over the same physical infrastructure.
For example, an operator could provide very high-speed connectivity for mobile gaming over one slice and a low-latency service for factory automation on another -- both reliant on the same underlying hardware.
However, there is concern that without greater automation operators will have less freedom to innovate through network slicing. "If operators don't automate they will be providing capacity-based slices that are relatively large and static and undifferentiated and certainly not on a per-customer basis," says Caroline Chappell, an analyst with Analysys Mason .
In a Madrid presentation, Chappell said that more granular slicing would require "highly agile end-to-end automation" that takes advantage of progress on software-defined networking and network functions virtualization.
"Slices could be very dynamic and perhaps last for only five minutes," she says. "In the very long term, applications could create their own slices."
Despite the talk of standardization, and signs of good progress within the 3GPP, concern emerged this week in Madrid that standards bodies are not moving quickly enough to address operators' needs.
Executives from both Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) told attendees that standardization often takes too long, while Spain's Telefónica championed open source projects as an alternative to the traditional way of working. (See Telefónica to Hit Gas on Automation With 5G Rollout.)
But others have argued that open source projects do not speed up development. "You build a standard and you deliver it in a year. With open source you announce a release, but that doesn't mean every release is useful," says Klaus Martiny, a senior program manager at Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and the chair of ETSI's recently formed zero touch network and service management group. "They take the same time." (See ETSI's Zero Touch Group Gains Support, Kickstarts Its Automation Engine.)
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading