How to evolve your transport Network Management System for 5G success

In previous blogs, I’ve written about how 5G is a game changer for transport networks (Ericsson Blog: Why your 5G network needs 5G transport). With 5G comes new RAN architectures and more transport interfaces. These new interfaces have varying requirements for capacity, latency and advanced functionalities like network-based timing and synch distribution and traffic management (Ericsson Blog: Hubs, heat, and hops: market drivers for 5G Transport). In addition to these changes, there will also be an impact on the way communications service providers manage 5G transport networks.

Drone inspecting traffic

Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Head of Transport

Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Head of Transport

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Let’s review. In the 2G/3G/4G eras, networks were designed and built with a relatively clear line of demarcation between the RAN management domain and the transport network management domain.  This approach works mainly due to the fact the RAN architecture—distributed RAN (DRAN)—is relatively homogenous.  With the DRAN architecture in 2G/3G/4G networks:

  • All radio system elements are fully contained at the same physical site.
  • Backhaul connectivity is a simple access link (fiber or microwave) to an aggregation router connected to a multiservice IP/Optical transport network.
  • RAN traffic is more or less treated as over-the-top traffic, alongside all other traffic coming from enterprise and residential access networks.
  • RAN traffic is terminated at the packet core location (mobile switching office) where various gateways parse the traffic and send it along to its final destination.

As a result, the network is traditionally managed along these lines as well. The RAN organization is responsible for managing the RAN part of the network. They use software, tools and processes that work specifically for their domain. Same goes for the traditional IP/Optical transport network organization. The operational lines of responsibility are very clear. So much so, that the relationship between the RAN and traditional transport organizations are much like a customer/supplier relationship. The RAN team expects connectivity with a service-level agreement (SLA) from the IP/Optical network (or Alternative Access Vendor), and as long as the SLA was met, all was well. If there was a problem, the RAN team would check their domain, and verify all was working. Then, the Transport team would validate their connection was up/running. If no fault was found in either domain, it became complex and cumbersome to troubleshoot and isolate end-to-end network level problems.

Enter RAN densification and virtualization with 5G

Let’s face it, with 5G there is just more—more sites, more network elements to manage, and more complexity in terms of 5G use cases, edge computing, network slicing and corresponding SLAs. Recent market research from OMDIA Technology shows small cell connections are forecasted to grow significantly in the coming years, 26 percent CAGR though 2023. In addition to the physical layer interfaces to manage and control, 5G comes with an overlay network, and even more virtual network functions to connect. Simply put, the way we as an industry approached managing discrete domains in the past just won’t scale efficiently and effectively for 5G. Since the transport network is the glue (#theglue) binding all these disaggregated and virtual 5G network elements together, network management becomes a significant factor in successfully launching, operating and maintaining a 5G network. To deliver on the promise of 5G, transport network management tools and processes must evolve and keep pace with the 5G network as it evolves. There are three key characteristics to consider for a 5G-ready transport network management system:

  • simplicity and ease of use for a better user experience
  • analytics and automation for operational productivity
  • cross-domain awareness for multi-domain and multi-layer management

Keep it simple. Easier said than done, right?  For the 5G era, a network management system must start with a platform-based architecture.  In this way, fault management (FM), configuration management (CM), performance management (PM) and other applications work together to present a unified, contextual view of the network.  This is critical to reduce troubleshooting time and decide on remediation actions. The transport network management platform should be modular, and scalable enough to support high capacity transport networks. It should be capable of handling multi-layer connectivity and support a multi-vendor environment.

Analytics and automation. With densification and virtualization coming with 5G, the tools and processes used to manage 4G mobile backhaul will struggle to manage the new fronthaul and mid-haul transport network segments. Analytics that can turn data into insights is important as complexity increases. Look for capabilities that include historical and forecasted analysis on node and network-level performance and usage. Automation is a requirement in 5G to keep RAN site deployments on schedule and to ensure timely and efficient updates and upgrades. Look for a network management platform can support auto-provisioning to enable easy integration and fast deployment of nodes into the network by reducing the number of manual steps. This simplifies and reduces the number of on-site activities and work-team coordination tasks.

Cross-domain awareness. With 5G, having the transport network be more RAN aware and vice versa is going to be important to deliver on the promise of 5G in terms of use cases, network slices and corresponding SLAs. The management platform should have multi-domain and multi- layer management capabilities, with auto-integration. It should also support auto-installation of transport network infrastructure by establishing basic configuration with O&M connectivity and registering with control and management functions. For auto-configuration, the solution should automatically configure transport connectivity service for the desired RAN interfaces (such as virtualized RAN or VRAN), and interact with the RAN from a connectivity requirement perspective. Finally, in auto-optimization, look for a platform that optimizes transport resources during the run time phase to achieve overall optimal QoE for consumers, and interacts with the RAN domain to achieve overall optimization.

Ericsson Network Manager to the rescue

5G is a game changer for transport networks. Changes in network size, network complexity including the mix of technology types, growth of data traffic, and virtualization are happening now. As such, a different approach to manage the 5G transport network is necessary. Ericsson Network Manager (ENM) is the next-generation Ericsson network management solution, designed to provide a unified network management system for multi-technology, multi-domain and heterogeneous networks. It offers greater network upgrade flexibility with zero downtime, capacity to scale from very small to very large networks and an intuitive user interface that provides common tools for all applications. It can be deployed in various environments including cloud/bare metal deployments. And, it has extensive integrated help and videos simplifying common network operations.

To learn more about how Ericsson Network Manager can help you manage your 5G transport network, click here:  Ericsson Network Manager

Related blog

Ericsson Blog: Why your 5G network needs 5G transport

Ericsson Blog: Hubs, heat, and hops: market drivers for 5G Transport

Ericsson Blog: Lessons from the first wave of 5G deployments

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