What's the Plan for Command & Control of 5G Networks?

There are currently more unknown unknowns about 5G than known unknowns. What not-yet-invented services will be the 5G cash cows? What technologies will be needed to support these 5G revenue streams?

One thing is known, however: Without full control over network and application performance, plus full command over user experience, the entire premise of 5G (dramatically better user experience thanks to superior capacity and ultra low latency) will come crashing down.

Here's how 5G command and control planning is playing out as the clock ticks toward the oft-touted 2020 deadline for early commercial deployments.

Slicing up the 5G revenue pie
Predicting the success of various potential 5G revenue streams is something of a guessing game. But operators do have some influence over it, and they're betting on virtualized network slicing as a good investment. The idea is to lease "slices" of their 5G networks to partners or organizations in different verticals to use for their own applications.

But for network slicing to succeed, the operator must have in place accurate, real-time visibility and control of the network and also the traffic travelling on it. It must also constantly monitor and manage how well the network performs. That is the only way to guarantee the performance of mission-critical features (like latency) for partners and customers.

Mobile operators as 5G 'technology distributors' and ecosystem partners
Why should mobile operators invest in better "guarantees" on network and service performance?

As more customers rely on digital services to run their lives and businesses, the network becomes more critical. With virtualized network services that can be provisioned on demand, operators can provide more personalized services rather than "pre-defined" bundles. It makes sense that customers can also start to choose "how much service quality" they are willing to pay for.

Again, this business model depends on control over and knowledge of what's running on 5G networks, and how the services and applications behave.

Software-defined networking (SDN) separates the network's control and data plane, giving operators more control over applications and sessions, and the ability to re-route traffic more easily. But operators must be able to assure each horizontal network slice -- whether it's for emergency services or factory automation -- by guaranteeing performance per customer, not just per slice.

That means using advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to manage service quality, predict failures and take real-time action based on contextual insight.

AI and the adaptive 5G network
For the first time, mobile network operators really have a chance to take ownership of performance and user experience, not merely running their networks more efficiently, but also making them "application aware."

Here's how:

  • Merge network operations, skilled IT and cloud and data center staff to define and deploy management tools to gain full visibility across applications, services and network layers.
  • Automate processes to cope with highly dynamic services.
  • Apply real-time intelligent analytics and machine learning to improve network and service performance visibility.
  • Make mobile networks more intelligent using analytics and automated service activation, testing, monitoring and remediation.

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How to command and control 5G slices
Another "known" is the density of 5G networks: Many towers and small cell sites work in a mesh fashion to connect a constantly changing blend of humans and "things." Given the distributed nature of content, compute and users, operators will need:

  • Closed automation loops, powered by machines and AI, assisted by humans whose role will be to "train" AI algorithms.
  • Visibility into what's happening across each layer, by closing loops not just at network layers but all the way to application Layer 7.
  • Ability to monitor cloud at the microservice and container level, using virtual software agents scaled dynamically and embedded directly by an orchestrator in service chains.

These are all requirements to deliver personalized 5G services on-demand with a guaranteed level of performance.

The foundation of 5G command and control
How can operators make mobile networks smarter and guarantee application performance in the most efficient way? What steps can they take today to be not just ready, but optimally prepared for 5G?

Here are the main building blocks:

  • Move from a traditional network-centric approach to a distributed data center with mobile edge computing (MEC) and new operating models to run programmable cloud networks and DevOps.
  • Transform their network operations center to operate a distributed version of a traditional data center with new network performance management tools similar to what IT has on the data center side.
  • Run top-to-bottom (Layer 1-7) performance assurance continuously to support services at the correct latency level.
  • Become information companies and distributors of technology powered by analytics and AI.

Today, mobile operators are responsible for coverage, spectrum, access and backhaul. But it will take more to succeed with 5G. Operators have an opportunity with 5G to step up and deliver application performance and assure end-to-end enterprise services, working with other partners in a value chain.

Investing in "command and control" is therefore a must for operators that want to become leading distributors of 5G mobile cloud services.

— Patrick Ostiguy, President and CEO, Accedian

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