The benefits of NFV are unfolding in 5G

This year's SDN NFV World Congress, which took place in the Hague from October 14-17, 2019, continued to follow the progression of NFV transformation as the platform for 5G. Ericsson had a strong presence at the conference, as well as on the show floor. Here are my top 6 takeaways from this leading event for the Software-Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization industries.

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We’re now around seven years into the NFV transformation of global telcos, and we’re starting to see more results and benefits, even though there’s still a lot left to do for most industry players. So far, SD-WAN is by far the most successful service for SDN.

At this year’s SDN NFV World Congress, Ericsson kicked off the first day with a packed seminar. There were guest speakers from Verizon and Orange covering topics including early 5G learnings, edge computing, new ways of working with vendors, real-time enterprise and the operational transformation in becoming a digital service provider.


5G deployments driving the transformation

We’re seeing some interesting developments in the deployment of 5G networks, particularly in the US, South Korea and selected markets in Europe. Ericsson keynote speaker Inma Rodrigues, Head of Cloud, Core & OSS in Europe and Latin America revealed some interesting insights, including the fact that Switzerland estimates a population network coverage of 90 percent by the end 2019 – for South Korea the figure is 93 percent.

In South Korea, data traffic has grown from 9 GB/month to 25 GB/month, and so far service providers there have been able to increase revenue by charging a premium for 5G. There is also an increased interest in IoT and enterprise services.

As of September 2019, there are 37 live 5G networks globally, with Ericsson delivering 19 of them.


5G live networks


Vertical NFV silos are slowing down the transformation

Although the majority of service providers have started to virtualize their core networks, the majority have carried this out as vertical silos per domain – vEPC, vIMS, for example. This is an easy first step, but to reap the benefits of 5G, the core network need to be a horizontal telco cloud to achieve the efficiencies in deploying new services with features like network slices and edge computing with end-to-end service orchestration. This remains a challenge, in addition to the need to reorganize operations and add new processes and skills. They have come the furthest here and are the likely winners in the 5G race. This is also why Ericsson is advocating a system-verified NFVI, based on open source, to allow for a stable platform for multi-vendor applications.


Edge computing is the topic of the year

As expected, edge computing and distributed cloud was discussed at length; it even had a  dedicated conference track. There seemed to be a broad consensus regarding the high-level drivers and expected capabilities for edge computing. The various roles in the value chain are still a topic for discussion, as well as the business models. Nevertheless, the operator has a very strong position as the anchor point for connectivity and mobility, as well as the granularity of the Point of Presence (POP) for edge site and the possibilities for local breakout.  

Ericsson demonstrated the Edge NFVI solution, which was launched in June 2019. An important part of the solution is the orchestration, which ideally needs to be managed from the same central point as the rest of the telco cloud. This is a must for the life-cycle management (LCM) of hundred potential sites. The prime target in this case is a central office location, but hardware is also adapted to fit into base stations for deep-edge deployment, where ultra-low latencies may be required. Read more in a recent paper on Edge computing and 5G.

Download paper


Partnerships are needed now more than ever

NFV and 5G systems will need more partnerships in the future, as no single service provider or vendor can deliver these systems independently.
Orange Spain, which has taken the role as of the NFVI and the NFV stack, presented how it had replaced traditional vendor relations, i.e. buying a product (node), and had instead started working with the vendors ‘under one roof’ to secure a working end-to-end service. Ericsson now has a formalized partner VNF certification program for all the VNFs to run on the Ericsson NFVI, which has been selected by over 140 operators.  


Cloud native is fast approaching for NFVI too

Cloud native applications have been discussed for a few years, but now, it’s starting to be rolled out to service providers. This summer Verizon and Ericsson introduced cloud native, container-based EPC technology in the core of Verizon’s active network. The NFVI platform has therefore been complemented with CaaS (Container as a Service) layer based on Kubernetes. This will apply also for the edge computing platform. At the SDN/NFV World Congress, Ericsson demonstrated how the new 5G core can be added as part of the dual-mode 5G Cloud Core solution, where it’s possible to migrate from vEPC to 5GEPC for NSA (Non stand-alone 5G) and finally to the SA (Stand-alone 5G core). The dual mode solution is also designed as cloud native for the vEPC parts and allows for both VM and container-based implementations. The demo, which can be run on a live network, also shows the migration from VMs to containers, where the vEPC can eventually be decommissioned.


Orchestration of cloud-native applications and network slices

NFV Service automation has been a strong theme at the SDN NFV World Congress for the last three years and 2019 was no exception. The demo shows how network slices are deployed based on a TOSCA model in the service orchestrator and how the different VNFs are located in the right places within the network – at the edge, for example. This is also based on policies. The orchestration process also includes the life-cycle management of the slices.

Finally, it looks like NFV and 5G will start to go live at scale during 2020.


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