Programmable networks: New 5G functions in 30 seconds

Programmable networks are in the center of service providers journey to digitalization. But what is a Programmable network, and what characteristics are most important here, moving into 5G and IoT? For a fast-track look into this, tap into this blogpost discussion with Marcelo Malizia, Solution Marketing Manager with Ericsson Digital Services.

In a previous post, we introduced a summary of What it means to be a digital service provider, that successfully takes on a set of market challenges in 2020. Here, automation and cloud were highlighted as the essentials required to manage the complexity associated with leveraging business opportunities that are either enhanced, or created by, 5G. And the journey to digitalization was described as applying these essentials across three specific criteria: Digital engagements, Automated operations, and Programmable networks.


In this post we explore the criteria of Programmable networks, a criteria that is built on aspects of openness of the core network, with virtualization and containerization of network applications and platforms. Below you will find a transcript of a recent discussion with Marcelo Malizia, Solution Marketing Manager with Ericsson Digital Services and senior professional in the telecom core network domain.

Q: "Hello Marcelo! Thank you for taking the time for meet up. To start with, could you gives us your view of what we mean by programmable networks?"

A: "My pleasure, Martin. Programmability can be seen as a term describing the ability of a network of doing principally two new things. The first is to be able to launch innovative communication services for consumers, at an unprecedented level of agility and flexibility. The second is to be able to effectively explore new revenue streams, using for example network slicing leveraging cloud-native design principles."

Q: "Very well, but why do you see the ability of doing these things as so important to service providers, now?"

A: "If you look at the last decade or so, we have seen a tremendous growth in new application and services. At the same time, the telecom industry has not been very successful in capturing the value generated from this service explosion, apart from the connectivity services. Now, successfully meeting the market challenges we see coming up, relevance and growth are all about being customer centric. And this is done by playing an active part of open ecosystems, working with different partners to jointly create value beyond legacy services, swiftly adapting to new business- and revenue models. The implication for service providers is threefold: First, they need to be more efficient and flexible than before, to increase their relevance in the value chain. Second, they need to start pursue new business models.Third, they need to make significant decisions on business opportunities—meaning decisions on what technology to build their journey on, with 5G and IoT now being right around the corner."

Digital Service Provider implications

Q: "And what benefits do you see for the consumers, in this massive industry transition?"

A: "I believe that the benefits are numerous, but let me try to put this in a simple way. Consumers will benefit from a wider service offering and better network performance simply because it will better meet their expectations. Ultra-high speed and stable reliability will enable multiple view-point event experiences and immersive VR-gaming, only to highlight two examples out of many. Smart cities and factories will benefit from a richer communication services offering, coping with needs of different IoT devices, more services customization and more speed. And the benefits continue to line up as ecosystems expand across healthcare, public safety, autonomous vehicles and more. Across industries, private and enterprise consumers will benefit from the capabilities that programmable communication networks can offer."

Q: "Fantastic. Getting back to how to offer customer centricity, and the fact that this is increasingly is about service agility. What are the key building blocks required to assemble a service-agile programmable network?"

A: "The center of a programmable network is in a an agile, flexible, cloud-based core network. The core network represents the first building block and is a foundation to monetize beyond connectivity services. The second building block is a solution to provide cloud-based communication services, capable of transferring today's revenue generating engine also into tomorrow's services context. And the third building block is a distributed cloud infrastructure, allowing for a dynamic allocation of resources to the location where they are needed at the exact time they are needed. Let me give you an example: We can now show how a network function can be instantiated in only 30 seconds, something that will really help service providers to innovate and try out new things in an unprecedented way"

Q: "Ok, let us then look at the core network specifically. What characterizes a core designed to serve as the backbone of a programmable network?"

A: "As we see it, it has to have a set of three distinct capabilities. First it needs to be elastic and scale horizontally, in order to efficiently meet a changing demand. Second, it needs to provide an adaptive business logic, in order to inject new functions to help capture new revenue through programmable APIs. An example here is the ability to expose the different types of events such as roaming status, or IoT device interaction using APIs. And then, third, a programmable network needs to include a consistent omnichannel experience based on a common information layer, in order to allow any application to have access to shared data in real-time."

Q: "And these three capabilities are what we from Ericsson's side provide with our Cloud Core solution?"

A: "That is right. Our Cloud Core is built with these included, designed on the principle to enable automation and efficient management to drive down OPEX and improve time to market. By adopting a cloud native design from the very beginning, the Ericsson Cloud Core will deliver the machinery required for true service agility."

Q: "So, Ericsson Cloud Core is tailored for the digital service provider. But complexity many times lies in how to leverage the investments already made, in today's legacy network. What is you review here, of the reality service providers are in today?"

A: "You are absolutely right. The evolution to 5G can follow several different paths, or options as they are referred to. Both the radio and core networks are directly concerned here, and the choices here are on top of mind for basically every single customer we meet today. Today's LTE networks and older will co-exist with 5G New Radio (NR), and that is why it is key to offer solutions that reduce or even remove thresholds going forward. And the Ericsson Cloud Core is a solution that presents exactly that, in that it is built on one single shared software platform capable of serving both 4G and older networks, as well as 5G networks. This Dual-mode capability combines support of both current generation Ericsson Packet Core and Ericsson Unified Data Management and Policy Control solutions, with coming Ericsson 5G Core. It is a key enabler supporting the journey towards building the programmable network, while at the same time leveraging investment already made."

Ericsson Cloud Core key enabler for 5G-1

Q: "This is great. Thank you Marcelo, it has been a pleasure talking with you! Now what do you recommend for anyone interested in tapping into this discussion further, and understanding this more?"

A: "For more insights I suggest you check out our Digital Services Provider web page, where you will find more on how Ericsson is helping service providers. Then I also suggest you have a close look at the on-demand recording of a really interesting Mobile World Live webinar held on November 20th, on the topic of 5G deployment considerations. It is a well spent few spent minutes, and will support your own journey as we all move towards 5G."

Access the webinar

Stay tuned for the podcast and our next blog post of this series—where Eva Hedfors, Head of Marketing & Communications, Business Area Digital Services, gives us the end-to-end view of the Digital Service Provider blueprint with some highlights around Network Slicing.

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