MWC reflections: our dual-mode 5G Cloud Core - a containers’ symphony
At Mobile World Congress 2019, we launched Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Cloud Core. Together with a great team, we had the great privilege of being at Ericsson’s booth as business builders and at the forefront of the launch as spokespersons. Let us share some questions and concerns we discussed with services providers who are about to launch 5G services. Here is part of the team that was onsite during the event.
The great feeling of making a vision come true and showing it live!
Being at the most important worldwide telco industry event, as engineers and product managers who have been working endless hours and hours, you can imagine the type of feelings we had when seeing, explaining, and showing something real, something live, something that two years before was just ideas and visions in the heads of few people. And now that something is here, thanks to the hard, impressive, and smart work of hundreds of people. It was a great feeling when we started to run the demos and realized that service providers were truly impressed. We never heard anyone say, “I already saw something similar from another vendor.”
This type of feeling probably happens only a few times in your professional life when you look back and can proudly say, “Yes; we were right!!”
But how did it happen? And what did we demonstrate?
Making complexity simple with the “perfect symphony” in the 5G Core network
Our industry—and the entire world—has a big opportunity that is enabled by low latencies, high bandwidths, network slicing, and programmable networks. But the industry also faces two big “growth challenges”: how to be more efficient, lowering the operational and capital expenditure costs when data traffic keeps growing year after year and how to deal with the growing network complexity of the 5G use case opportunities.
From the technology side, we have two standard variants in the Core network: one enables a “quick and easy 5G start” and the other is more disruptive and enables the “5G cloud agility game,” which is based on a new service-based architecture with new functions, new services, and a new technology paradigm. How can you put “quick and easy 5G start” and “5G cloud agility” together?
Service providers’ main business problem is about deciding when to start their 5G network evolution: after deciding on commercial strategies and business cases or during that process. They cannot wait too long, though; they need to touch and experiment with the technology and learn its potential now. Also, they need a Core system with the flexibility to support all 5G use cases and standards. This gives them the agility to launch new services and will simplify their investment decisions.
Ericsson delivered a strong message. We showed our dual-mode 5G Cloud Core as the solution for ‘being first with 5G, first get to the core’. A one core network. We showed how service providers can add new technology and support legacy technology with this one core network. We explained a uniform Cloud Core network platform where all the parts are efficiently operated and managed, and they are orchestrated like a perfect symphony. This is what created the impact and made visitors feel something they have not felt before. What was that? We showed a perfect core network symphony, with flexibility and simplicity. We turned the complexity into simplicity by showing a uniform symphony melody in the core network. Also, we showed how Ericsson’s software has been optimized to allow users to reach 5G peak rates.
The new Core network bricks: the containers
We were at the Ericsson network evolution wall, showing Ericsson’s end-to-end 5G story, from RAN to Core network. A colleague of ours had a great idea: let’s talk about bricks, the bricks that build the walls. Yes!! Why not??
Today’s core networks are built with heavy bricks, building solid walls that are strong and to some extend rigid. You cannot change the bricks very quickly. With virtualization, we have been able to use new bricks, the virtual machines, with new unit sizes enabling more-flexible wall constructions already in 4G.
Our dual-mode 5G Cloud Core has new, much smaller, bricks. They are the containers. They are like Lego pieces that are easily portable. They are colored, small, and easy to plug and unplug, and it’s easy to add or remove more of the same. That means they can be changed or replaced quickly without tearing down the full wall.
Lego pieces are something that children play with to create their building dreams. Now there’s something similar that service providers can use for automation and business innovation.
Our dual-mode 5G Cloud Core is now a set of Lego pieces called microservices. We have a lot of common Lego pieces in all our VNFs. Our Lego pieces are dual-mode, some of them are EPC-marked, 5GC-marked, and 5GC/EPC marked. Others are O&M-marked. We can build a (5G) EPC architecture, a 5GC architecture, or a combined one. We just take the pieces and create the VNF we want. We can evolve it as needed based on network evolution needs and serve multiple and diverse. And we use the same tools and processes to make it easy and simple. Isn’t this great?
The demo showed a stepwise and smooth evolution from a VM-based EPC to a container-based dual-mode 5G Cloud Core. We showed how we can use our automatic acceptance test to quickly verify and launch 5G. We showed an early customer proof-point on EPC containerization (cMME) as part of Ericsson Packet Core Controller offering.
Andreas is explaining and customers are seeing the new bricks and the container-based MME as an early proof-point.
Víctor is talking about the Core network evolution symphony with uniform O&M and a common container orchestration platform, using the same tools and processes regardless of NF or VNF in Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Cloud Core.
Hot topics and concerns from customer discussions
Even though it looks great, the Core network evolution to containers also comes with many concerns and questions. Here the top ones:
- What does the evolution from VM-based EPC to container-based mean in terms of security, networking, performance, and operational paradigms?
- Are my NFV investments protected? Am I doing the right thing?
- When should I start with containers?
- What is actually optimized? How do you do it? Can you show facts explaining where and how container-based core network software is more efficient than today’s VM-based software?
- Dual-mode sounds great, but I will not deploy 5GC for quite some time.
Also edge computing and its network slicing realization was a hot topic, eliciting the following questions:
- What solution does Ericsson have to distribute the User Plane Function (UPF) to the edge? What capacity does it provide? How fast and how easy you can distribute UPF and get low-latency, high-bandwidth service propositions?
- What is network slicing? Is this e2e?
What was the feedback for what we demonstrated?
“It is cool!! It looks so simple and straightforward. This is definitely the right thing. How can this be so simple?” We heard statements like that and we could perceive the anxiousness of service providers touching the technology and sensing its possibilities.
One of their main follow-on questions was, “How do I practically evolve to a container-based solution?” Showing a live demo in combination with a service provider case really gave us strong credibility as a leader for 5G Core.
What we learned from customer discussions
5GC is known by CTO teams; however, in general, most people we met do not understand well what SBA means and what the main “intrinsic SBA” benefits are.
Containers create an “adoption concern,” especially for those who have made big investments in NFV platforms and made big fine-tuning efforts with long and expensive NFV projects. Some asked, “Are we exposing ourselves to a high-cost scenario for containers or to a NFV-story part 2?”
Given the amount of questions, it looks like 5G use cases and network slicing deployments are in a “technology exploration” phase. However, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) using low latency were shown widely at MWC. I tried the VR in the SKT, DT, and Qualcomm booths. Especially Qualcomm emphasized that it is shadows and lights from many sources that make a VR image look real. And they empathized that this requires a lot of compute power in combination with low latency.
We also learned that customers have many questions about Ericsson’s new CSU hardware, which can be mounted in the base station to be able to provide edge computing services, and about the e2e aspects for network slicing.
- Containers look great. The container proposition is very strong; it’s not necessarily tied to 5GC/SBA, but it’s definitely an intrinsic part of that.
- The 5GC/SBA value proposition is not yet understood by most service providers. (One person from 3GPP asked us for help on how to do better marketing for 5GC R15.)
- Most of the uses cases that 5GC/SBA and R15 network slicing permit are in the infancy stage. A lot of education needs to be done, and a lot of technology exploration will happen before this turns into real commercial scenarios.
Watch the MWC video.
For more info on Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Cloud Core, download the solution description.