Supporting SLAs in a 5G environment

05 July 2021 | Chuck Girt

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Chuck Girt

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In the past, SLAs were based on voice, but mobility today requires a different approach. Chuck Girt, CTO, Everstream, explains the implications for fibre providers

There’s a lot of hype surrounding 5G, and for good reason. As wireless carriers continue to grow their 5G footprints, they want to provide the best user experience possible. They want consumers to experience the same level of high-capacity connectivity on their personal devices as business users experience on their laptops in the office. To match that “fibre-like” experience, they need the real thing: fibre. Wireless carriers are therefore striking partnerships with fibre service providers to provide critical backhaul capabilities from 5G towers back to the fibre network.

One of the biggest challenges fibre service providers face is delivering on the service-level agreements (SLAs) that wireless carriers are demanding to enable these high-speed, high-capacity 5G networks. In the past, SLAs were based on voice – Can you hear me now? —–but mobility today requires that nearly everything can be done on the go, especially high-bandwidth activities like videoconferencing, file sharing and streaming.

5G network KPIs
To deliver on the performance requirements of 5G, wireless carriers rely on fibre service providers for the lowest levels of latency, packet loss and jitter – and often, microseconds make the difference.

• Latency is a factor of physics – how quickly data packets can be pushed through a network and switched from port to port.
• Jitter results from inconsistent arrival of these packets.
• Packet loss occurs when one or more packets arrive out of order or fail to arrive at all.

Wireless carriers today are eager to partner with those fibre service providers that are not only ready to commit to delivering on specific key network performance indicators, but also those who will codify that commitment in the SLA.

The anatomy of the 5G SLA
As massive as the leap from 4G to 5G is, wireless carriers’ expectations of all providers in the wireless supply chain have grown in tandem, and fibre service providers are front and centre. Gone are SLAs with commitments mainly based on uptime and mean time to repair. 5G works when fibre service providers can commit to ultra-low levels of latency, jitter and packet loss. Here’s what we’re seeing:

• Latency ranging from 3.5 milliseconds to 15 milliseconds (yes, in thousandths of one second).
• Jitter under 25 microseconds (µs) – and, yes, that’s 0.025 milliseconds.
• Packet loss no greater than 0.001%.

A fibre service provider’s ability to deliver on a 5G SLA is dependent on myriad factors, including network density, age and capacity of the fibre, and distance of the backhaul route from the tower to the network core. Select providers can meet these next-gen requirements, and they are relying on the combination of next-gen technologies and expert engineering to do so.

Network automation
When microseconds can make the difference between a stellar 5G experience and a poor one, fibre service providers are increasingly leveraging network automation to support the former. It comes down to understanding the wireless carriers’ needs and what must occur in the network to deliver on that promise.

Network automation helps when things go wrong, such as rerouting traffic after a fibre cut; however, it is also a critical part of day-to-day operations for fibre service providers. Automation tools also can be configured to identify and use the best path with the least amount of latency, helping providers meet the strict SLA requirements wireless carriers are putting forth for their 5G networks.

Next-gen fibre networks
Legacy networks owned by incumbent fibre providers have legacy fibre and equipment, and often receive minimal investment to upgrade these dated assets. Greenfield fibre network service providers – defined as those actively building and densifying new fibre infrastructure – are building networks that are purpose-built to deliver high-capacity connectivity. Next-gen fibre providers are able to deliver specifically on customer requirements, engineering the shortest path to achieve the lowest latency possible.

5G will put incredible strain on wireless networks. In the near future we might see 1 Gbps services to the phone, with individual towers delivering up to 10 Gbps of bandwidth. More data means more congestion – and, of course, more latency, jitter and packet loss.

Expect to see fibre service providers overbuilding or consistently updating their networks and the electronics within them to meet the coming demand.

The most forward-looking providers are proactively architecting their networks to meet the SLAs wireless carriers need to deliver the next generation of services.