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September 9, 2022
I am at the beginning of a new journey: a career change from a hands-on research techie to a mobile network analyst. After many years of working for a service provider (24, to be exact), I recently joined Heavy Reading. I love technology and have always been someone who likes to know "what's next." Don't we all wonder what is next and interesting in networking, mobility and online services?
As I start this new career phase, I have some thoughts on the latest trends. These will most likely evolve as I engage in many discussions within this pioneering industry. Let me know what you think — I would love to hear your views.
Private networks allow enterprise customers to implement applications and services not widely available on public 5G. These range from high bandwidth uplink scenarios and differentiated levels of security and privacy to platforms for executing the telco world's favorite 5G use case, ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC).
Complexities exist in many areas — and one area that I am keenly watching is the challenge around mobility. Enterprises may benefit from linking several standalone private network islands or extending private network coverage into a public 5G network. Moving users between local area and wide area networks, be it handover, a policy-driven approach or roaming, brings new methods and difficulties. Security, the identity of subscribers and who administers them, is also multifaceted and requires considerable thought. And with all that complexity, can we make the business case for private networks work?
I applaud the vendors that have started to solve these issues and experiment with private to public roaming. It is a difficult area with many solutions and one that Heavy Reading will continue watching.
Automation and NetOps
Automation is a necessity for 5G. With cloud native technology, automation should be built-in to operator processes for planning, deploying and configuring networks and services. For new technologies such as network slicing, it is a prerequisite.
The evolving 5G NetOps approach is still striving to simplify this complicated domain, often in a multi-vendor network. Delivering continuous integration/ continuous delivery/ continuous testing (CI/CD/CT) workflows will ultimately allow for a more agile, reliable and stable network across the entire development lifecycle.
While some operators are now reasonably advanced along the NetOps and automation journey, the ability to encompass multiple domains, technologies and vendors remains challenging for most.
Another hugely debated topic is network slicing. I love the concept. I can see the benefits, especially for supporting network isolation, policy and tailored security (although I am less convinced about slicing as a mechanism to segregate traffic by quality-of-service levels). However, end-to-end slicing bridges some very tricky areas such as transport and the radio access network (RAN), not to mention the core and edge networks, and this makes slicing hard.
3GPP continues to develop network slicing, adding study items in Release 18 to support roaming and service continuity. The link between network slicing and private networks is getting a great deal of attention, but for most operators, I think it is still a step away for now.
Identity and management
This has been an interest of mine for a long time. 5G cloud native means subscriber data management (SDM) had to drastically adapt to be distributed and to store network function states. Highly dynamic microservice state-, context- and application-specific data will now reside in the Unstructured Data Storage Function (UDSF). But structured data like subscriptions, policies and applications will be stored within the unified data repository (UDR). Working together, these two new databases will be crucial to data analytics and automation in the new cloud native world.
SDM is also becoming smarter and using subscriber data in novel ways to enable new services and value. Exposing subscriber data over secure APIs (e.g., via the Network Exposure Function [NEF]) could allow more personalized services for individual subscribers and perhaps even create opportunities for third-party application developers. For example, premium mobile gaming services, which use real-time monitoring of latency and jitter at a player's current location, could utilize these network exposure capabilities. However, for service providers to be successful, governance around subscriber privacy needs to be carefully managed and communicated.
Who doesn't like a sequel? I know that most mobile operators are still rolling out and paying for their 5G networks and will be for some time, but I am optimistic about its success. 6G will again push the boundaries of wireless connectivity and performance. The key to moving this concept from the lab to production will be focusing on the use cases and learning lessons from the five previous generations of mobile — a difficult task.
3GPP Release 18 will be a stepping-stone toward 6G, with all future 5G releases branded 5G Advanced. This step recognizes significant enhancements around energy efficiency ("greener" device, base station and network behavior), extended reality (XR) and artificial intelligence/ machine learning (AI/ML). The early 6G organizations and discussions promise even more extensive AI and automation in the core and, of course, more advancements in radio and efficiency. This is going to be an incredible future area of development.
In many ways, although "becoming an analyst" is a new journey for me, it is also the continuing story of my trek through mobile technology.
— Ruth Brown, Principal Analyst — Mobile Networks, Heavy Reading
Read more about:Omdia
Principal Analyst – Mobile Networks, Heavy Reading
Ruth covers mobile network research for Heavy Reading. Key coverage areas include system architecture, core infrastructure and services, and supporting cloud technologies. Prior to joining Heavy Reading, Ruth worked in mobile and fixed network research and design for BT for over 20 years. Her research interests have included convergence, mobile QoS, network slicing, private networks, cloud native mobile core technology and automation. She has filed more than 40 patents on both real world applications and enhancements to mobile core networks. Ruth is an advocate for women in engineering.
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