Delivering on 5G, the NEED for End-2-End, Multi-Vendor

Delivering on 5G, the NEED for End-2-End, Multi-Vendor Visibility

21 August 2020 | Bruce Kelley

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Bruce Kelley

Blog Author | senior vice president and CTO, NETSCOUT

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As the interest in next-generation IoT and mobile-based technologies and services continues to rise, communications service providers (CSPs) need to translate these into new 5G revenue opportunities.

Areas such as telemedicine services, which received a significant boost during the current pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, as well as smart cars, smart city projects and enterprise LAN / WAN services all represent significant revenue opportunities for CSPs looking to roll out 5G technology. However, the challenge is to deliver services that are reliable, performant and profitable, providing the key features needed for each specific service use-case, all off the back of a host of brand-new technologies.

Currently most 5G implementations utilise a non-standalone architecture (NSA) linking a 4G core to new radio infrastructure that supports 5G frequencies. This enables CSPs to leverage their existing 4G investments, delivering faster connectivity whilst still benefiting from the marketing buzz around 5G.

However, to truly deliver next generation 5G services that require specific QoS (in terms of latency and reliability), or which have specific infrastructure separation and security requirements, carriers must move towards deploying stand-alone 5G. This involves a new 5G core, with a Service Based Architecture (SBA), virtualised / containerised infrastructure, orchestration and potentially multiple vendors. There is a lot of complexity here.

Managing 5G OpenRAN

The edge of the 5G network, the RAN, is also changing. Traditionally RANs were built with each component provided by a small number of network equipment vendors. These vendors delivered complete solutions for ‘their part’ of a network.  This minimised inter-operability problems, but it also made these solutions expensive and inflexible.

As an alternative, the industry has been pushing OpenRAN, a vendor-neutral disaggregation of RAN at both the hardware and software level, using general purpose compute platforms. OpenRAN will free CSPs from vendor lock-in and arguably drive the innovation required for 5G services to deliver the ROI that CSPs need.

The need for visibility

We have a lot of moving parts and considerations here. Firstly, we have a new set of high-value services that require close monitoring to ensure they deliver on their performance, reliability and security promises. On top of that we have customers of those services (application vendors, enterprises, automotive etc.) who will need visibility, from the network perspective, on the behaviour of their users and infrastructure for assurance, security and compliance reasons. Finally, we have a whole new set of infrastructure, protocols and vendors that need to work together seamlessly for this to be a success. How do we do this? The key is comprehensive end-2-end visibility.

This is a challenge that CSPs need to overcome, and quickly. In order to do so we have to augment the current network infrastructure vendor supplied monitoring solutions, which only show ‘their view’ of what is going on in ‘their part’ of the network, with a holistic, service level view of performance, reliability and security. The CSPs ‘deliver’ services, and the service is the only thing the consumer cares about. Whether they are an application vendor, enterprise or individual – the consumer doesn’t care about a disparate combination of RAN, backhaul, core and application capabilities.

Achieving holistic, multi-generational and end-2-end visibility through packet traffic

The beauty is that the driving force behind the visibility CSPs need for service assurance, troubleshooting, security and business intelligence use-cases is already here, it’s universally available and never lies. Virtual appliances that can enable visibility into packet traffic and application workloads makes it possible to monitor and capture all traffic flows traversing a CSP’s network environment, whether it is physical, cloud, 4G or 5G.

Packets enable visibility without borders, and as the deployment of 5G infrastructure will be a long drawn out journey, with 4G infrastructure still set to play a key role for years to come, CSPs should look for a solution that can monitor wire data across multi-generational network infrastructure. This will enable CSPs to monitor the health between all of their network components, enable new services for customers and take full advantage of 5G revenue streams, even if their 5G infrastructure is still rolling out.