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Do Mobile Network Operators Really Need a 5G Standalone (SA) Architecture?

Affirmed Networks
Partner Perspectives
Affirmed Networks
6/4/2019

Understanding NSA and SA
The path that mobile network operators (MNOs) follow to 5G will depend a lot on how they plan to pay for that journey. Depending on the requirement, a non-standalone architecture (NSA) makes the most sense for MNOs focused on providing 5G services to consumers; a standalone architecture (SA) comes into play for MNOs focused on new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities, smart factories or other vertical market solutions. Let’s look at what both the architectures offer:

  • NSA allows MNOs to leverage their existing network investments in transport and mobile core —rather than deploy a completely new end to end 5G network. This allows MNOs to start offering consumer 5G services and to position themselves as a 5G provider.
  • SA is a fully virtualized, cloud-native architecture (CNA) that introduces new ways to develop, deploy and manage services. This allows MNOs to serve Enterprise customers and opens an entirely new realm of opportunities for services and revenues.

MNOs that begin with NSA can gradually add or migrate to SA over time. Enterprise applications typically have increased requirements that only a SA network delivers, including network slicing and edge computing native abilities. This makes SA cloud-native platforms ideal because they provide increased capabilities, including allowing MNOs to go down market to serve smaller enterprises where customization is critical. The ability to customize is a direct benefit of a cloud-native software architecture since it is micro-services based, which makes it extremely agile and easy to deploy new or upgraded services. Micro-services increase the agility factor 10 or even 100 times compared to a traditional or even virtualized architecture, including NSA networks. Learn more about the Critical role of cloud-native core solutions in this eBook.

Building blocks of a cloud-native architecture

To understand the true meaning of a 5GC architecture, let us revisit the four pillars of a cloud-native approach. CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) defines cloud-native as having the following:

CLOUD NATIVE is a fundamental change to the way networks and applications are designed, implemented, deployed and operated.

  • Container packaged
  • Microservices which enable MNOs to quickly create, innovate and deploy services in weeks or days without impacting the network. They can be run on one or two CPUs for better scalability;
  • Dynamic orchestration which allows MNOs to automate the lifecycle of software so that new software versions can be instantly created, updated and removed based on pre-defined criteria including real-time traffic demands;
  • Service mesh layer which provides MNOs the visibility into the communication between microservices and with other applications, provides load-balancing and security for microservices

Is it Cloud Washing or Cloud-Native?
It seems today that everyone claims they are ‘cloud-native’. However, there are specific characteristics a network must possess for it to be a ‘true cloud-native’ network. Legacy network vendors started lifting monolithic software out of their legacy hardware platforms and shifting it into virtual machines and containers, calling it cloud-native. This does not meet the microservices test as it’s a big piece of monolithic software - not close to being a true microservice. In addition, microservices must be autonomously released, they cannot share the same database with another microservice. Each microservice must have its own release cadence. If the service does not meet these criteria, this is cloud washing. Neither is lifting and shifting containerized or dynamically managed. Thus, this lift and shift tactic that results in so many claiming they have a ‘cloud-native’ solution is far from cloud-native.

At Affirmed we’ve natively built all services, including the 5G services, from the ground up for the cloud giving MNOs the ability to scale services up or down as needed to serve any sized market. By not having a legacy hardware platform we have the freedom to go ‘all-in’ on virtualization because we don’t have billions of revenues to protect with old legacy technology. In addition, all our microservices are autonomously released - every microservice has its own separate release cadence. This is critical to ensure you have the most agile platform to compete in the 5G era.

Control Your Network with Affirmed UnityCloud
Affirmed UnityCloud allows MNOs to build the most innovative 5GC network, converge multiple networks into one unified network without being locked into a proprietary platform.

Affirmed UnityCloud is a true cloud-native 5G platform that allows MNOs to:

  • Innovate Faster with an Innovation platform that allow services to be quickly deployed in days/weeks vs. month. It minimizes the risks and cost of deploying new services and testing new markets using DevOps based environment.
  • Build Once Deploy Anywhere – build services once and deploy anywhere in the network from core to edge on public, private or hybrid clouds
  • Converge All Networks including 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G (NSA/SA) and wireline on a single platform dramatically reducing network complexity
  • Own your own future – deliver best performance at the lowest TCO on an NFVi agnostic architecture

UnityCloud embraces open-source technology, because the next great idea in 5G won’t come from a single vendor, but from many working together. That’s why our cloud-native platform includes a PaaS layer that supports the best in open-sourced PaaS components for observability, tracing, monitoring, database etc. Using the UnityCloud open-source APIs allows mobile operators to bring more ideas into the mix and share the network across many applications so it’s easier and quicker to deploy new services. MNOs control their network – they are free to chose vendor of their choice and use as many as needed to build the services they want.

This provides MNOs with the ultimate flexibility to run services such as high bandwidth and/or low latency sensitive services to be run at the network location to ensure the required performance – closer to the customer or even at the customer premise. Other services might be best deployed in the cloud.

Affirmed UnityCloud enables network operators to unify 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G services as well as fixed services onto a single, simple, flexible and powerful standalone 5G core (5GC) platform. It allows MNOs to selectively deploy CNFs at their own pace by seamlessly supporting legacy and 5G services within the same mobile core environment. To learn more about UnityCloud, download this UnityCloud flipbook. For a deeper understanding, download UnityCloud Solution brief.

To become a 5G leader, MNOs need to successfully transition their networks to 5G, for which they need a mobile network that works for them, a network they can completely control. With over 100 deployments worldwide, Affirmed understands the complexity and the risks of transitioning your network. We took all those learnings and applied them to this new cloud-native paradigm for 5GC, called Affirmed UnityCloud. UnityCloud is an evolution of Affirmed’s vEPC solution. It is both a new ground up platform, and a set of products around 5GC to help you transition to 5G and be an innovation leader.

This content is sponsored by Affirmed Networks.

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