Insights from early adopters of cloud-native 5G Core for SA
What do Telstra in Australia, Vodafone in Germany, Singtel in Singapore and Rogers in Canada have in common? Besides being leading communication service providers (CSPs), they were the first in their respective markets to launch commercial 5G services running on cloud-native 5G Core networks. And they all chose Ericsson as their partner for this journey.
What does the journey entail?
The launch of 5G Standalone (SA) services is dependent on the adoption of the new 5G Core architecture, which is built on microservices and cloud-native technology. This means all CSPs wanting to offer powerful 5G SA based services will need to embrace the cloud-native transformation of their core network.
Cloud-native applications provide numerous benefits, but to harvest them requires many parts of the core network, as well as people and processes, to be revisited and adapted. You can discover more about these needs in our Guide to building a cloud-native 5G Core.
Let’s explore how Telstra, Vodafone, Singtel and Rogers tackled the cloud-native transformation to successfully launch 5G services: from the challenges they faced to their key learnings.
Case number one: Telstra: re-shaping its core network for the best 5G experience
Telstra – Australia’s leading telecommunications and technology company – started exploring cloud-native technology long ago, even before they started deploying 5G SA. Back in 2019 Telstra started deploying cloud-native EPC packet gateways and Mobility Management Entity (MME) elements in their network. This early adoption of cloud-native technology provided them with an effective way to become familiar with the new technology, as well as gain practical insights into how to run a cloud-native network.
At the start of 2020, Telstra began the process of preparing its core network for a full migration to cloud native by deploying Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core in parallel to the existing EPC network that supports its 4G and 5G non-standalone access (NSA) customers. The dual-mode 5G Core was delivered into production initially to accommodate the 5G NSA and 4G traffic – that is, both new traffic and traffic to be migrated from the legacy EPC network. The next step is to launch 5G SA, with a single software platform managing both the EPC and the new 5GC network functions (NFs).
“We’re really looking forward to taking advantage of the dual-mode 5G Core and supporting New Radio standalone services,” says David Aders, Group Owner for Mobile Development & Product Engineering, Telstra. The tight interworking between the dual-mode 5G Core and the EPC system ensures a seamless end-user experience without any traffic disruption when users move in the network and transition between the two systems.
The journey to build a cloud-native 5G Core network platform spread across several network domains such as cloud-native infrastructure, 5G Core, 5G voice, automation and orchestration, network security, and operations and life cycle management. Telstra has had to deal with impacts on all of them and, as a result, has created the following list of insights and learnings:
Working with Ericsson was crucial for Telstra to achieve their targets.
“Throughout the entire process Ericsson worked very closely with us, helping us to figure out exactly what we need in terms of features, capabilities and interoperability.” – David Aders, Telstra Group Owner for Mobile Development & Product Engineering
Learn more about Telstra’s journey to a cloud-native 5G Core (watch the customer video interview and download the full case report).
Case number two: Vodafone Germany, Europe’s first commercially live 5G standalone network
Vodafone’s approach to a cloud-native 5G Core took a different path than Telstra. Instead of beginning by deploying cloud-native EPC NFs, Vodafone built a parallel, overlaid cloud-native solution for 5G Core NFs only. Their target of being first in Europe to offer commercial 5G SA services demanded a fast deployment of 5G Core that could run in parallel, but tightly-interworking, with their existing 5G EPC network (service 5G non-standalone and 4G). Another important aspect was that Vodafone Germany skipped the lab environment, instead directly performing some of the testing and validation activities directly in the ‘real’ network, which provided them with greater deployment agility and allowed them to meet their target of being the first to go live.
This allowed greater deployment flexibility and minimized the risk to existing services. As Vodafone Germany’s journey into a one core solution to serve all its different access types continues, the Ericsson 5G Core solution is being gradually expanded to include EPC-related network functions, to allow the migration of all 4G and 5G NSA traffic. This will eventually enable Vodafone Germany to run all 4G and 5G traffic into a common software platform, built on cloud-native technology and offering high levels of network programmability, operational efficiency, and resource optimization among other benefits.
The scope of the project also included:
- Integration of both Ericsson and 3PP 5G NR SA to enable services country-wide
- A 5G voice solution with EPS Fallback and intersystem mobility, integrated to Vodafone’s 3PP IMS solution
- Provisioning from the Business Support System (BSS) via Vodafone’s 3PP UDM solution
- Integration to the existing Ericsson Network Manager system
Like any significant network upgrade, the deployment of Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core was not without its challenges. “It’s a big change,” says Julia Velasco, Head of Data Core Engineering, Vodafone Group. “It’s a real step-change in terms of the technology we’re using, so there’s definitely a challenge in making sure our teams have the right skills and the right understanding and knowledge of this new technology.”
However, the evolution to cloud native is more than just a knowledge jump, it’s also a mindset change. “The 5G Core is a full transformation, not just one element of the network. Sometimes the boundaries between the network domains start blurring, and so the engineers and operations teams need to start working even closer together. We enter these continuous software development cycles where the use cases have to be defined and optimized very closely by the designers and operators. This is a clear change in the structure of the processes that we had before,” Velasco adds.
The summary of the key learnings and insights from Vodafone can be seen in the table below:
Here’s what Vodafone has to say on the importance of their partnership with Ericsson to achieve their goals.
“The relationship between local teams helped a lot because Ericsson shares a very good understanding of the network. Their understanding of the different processes and technical complexities have been a true asset.” – Julia Velasco, Head of Data Core Engineering, Vodafone Group.
Learn more about Vodafone’s deployment of Europe’s first 5G standalone core (watch the customer video interview and download the full case report).
Case number three: Singtel - the first and most powerful 5G standalone network in Singapore
Singapore is a regional business, economic and technology hub in Asia Pacific, and in May 2021, Singtel became the first operator to launch 5G SA in the country. An achievement aligned with Singtel’s ambition to differentiate its 5G offerings beyond connectivity and to innovate consumer services and enterprise solutions.
Singtel believes it is extremely important for customers, and the partners they work with, to validate the opportunities of 5G SA in real-life scenarios and establish a space for developers to innovate with this new technology.
Mark Chong, Group CTO, Singtel, says flexibility, affordability and ease of integration are the key business drivers throughout the deployment process: “From a network perspective, we are talking about harnessing the different parts of the network, making it programmable, exposing the network functions and enabling an easy and standardized way to integrate with customers’ applications to deliver controls.”
Being one of the first telcos in the world to deploy 5G SA was challenging. Singtel devised a comprehensive 5G plan to implement the SA architecture that transformed all network domains including radio, transport and core, along with Operations Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS). This enabled Singtel to address existing customer needs and use cases as well as attract new customers and drive new use cases as part of the continuing digitalization of Singapore.
Looking into the core domain, Singtel moved from EPC to 5G EPC to support NSA and deployed a parallel cloud-native 5G Core using Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core to support the SA launch. The dual-mode core deployment was important for Singtel, as EPC functionality will be needed long term to support legacy (non-5G capable) devices and roaming devices that are EPC-only capable.
The new cloud-native 5G Core environment included new interfaces and new network functions, which required thorough and vigorous testing. Ericsson Automated Acceptance Tests (AAT) was used to accelerate the deployment and achieve an early launch with 5G SA. AAT saved a substantial amount of time in regression testing, freed up Singtel’s team to focus on Singtel specific testing, and increased the speed of delivery.
One of the challenges for new technology is the skills gap that companies face in areas like 5G NR, containerization and network engineering. Singtel recognized that education was a key factor for success. Using its position as a technology leader in Singapore, Singtel trained or retrained over 250 engineers and influenced the technical curriculum for new engineers to ensure that new staff have the right skills for these ground-breaking network technologies. The company also educated its consumer and enterprise customers on the capabilities of the new technologies.
Other key learnings and insights from Singtel’s 5G SA deployment include:
Tay Yeow Lian, MD Networks, Singtel, says: “To achieve our goals, we followed the three Ps – people, processes and platform. I’m very heartened to see the great partnership between the Singtel engineers and the Ericsson engineers. The second p is processes. We engaged the local engineers, and the PDU back in Stockholm, enabling us to fix all the issues without glitches to prepare for the launch. Lastly, the platform. Singtel is very happy to have selected Ericsson as our 5G platform, and now we’re reaping the benefits of getting ready for 5G and we hope to grow the 5G business.”
Learn more about Singtel’s deployment of the first and most powerful 5G standalone network in Singapore (watch the customer video interview and download the full case report).
Case number four: Rogers, Canada’s first nationwide 5G standalone network
Like Vodafone Germany and Singtel, Rogers’ goal was to be the first in their market to offer countrywide 5G SA services. At the end of 2020, Rogers was already performing its first 5G SA data call in a production site. In March 2022 Rogers launched Canada’s first commercial 5G standalone network. They also followed a similar approach to Vodafone Germany and Singtel, by opting to overlay 5G SA to their existing 4G core network. Another point of similarity to Vodafone, Telstra and Singtel was Rogers’ goal of building a one-core network to manage both 5G and 4G, providing highly efficient total cost of ownership. Rogers deployed Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core solution which includes all packet core, unified and data management, policy, signaling controller and exposure network functions. This provides Rogers with high levels of network programmability, operational efficiency, and resource optimization, among other benefits.
One interesting aspect to highlight that differs a bit from the previous cases is that from a cloud infrastructure perspective, Rogers has also split their journey into two main steps:
- Step one: Utilizing the Ericsson Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) for the services launch, which includes Ericsson Cloud Contained Distribution (CCD) to support Kubernetes.
- Step two: Gradually moving into Ericsson Cloud Native Infrastructure (CNIS), a bare metal-based cloud infrastructure solution that will provide higher resource utilization and simplified operations.
Another noteworthy aspect is that Rogers is also exploring network slicing to expand its 5G service offerings to new segments. Rogers started this journey with a proof-of-concept, utilizing the Ericsson Orchestrator solution to design, orchestrate and lifecycle manage both RAN and core elements on top of a cloud-native infrastructure. The service assurance solution was also used to implement closed-loop assurance of end-to-end slices.
Upon successful completion of the PoC and validation of Ericsson solutions, Rogers has started to deploy network slices in their production network. One of the network slicing-based services to be offered, for example, is the Rogers First Priority Service: a secure and dedicated data channel that seamlessly connects users to the vital information they need via their devices and emergency vehicles.
The following network slicing use cases are being explored by Rogers:
- Use case one: automated orchestration of network slices, instantiation of a slice including RAN and 5G Core control, and user plane network functions. This ensures no service degradation for users even in network congestion scenarios.
- Use case two: closed-loop assurance of the slices. Ericsson Orchestrator’s policy function automatically increases the slice capacity according to configurable performance threshold. The service assurance solution monitors the slice and triggers the increased capacity process once the pre-defined threshold is reached.
- Use case three: customization of network slice characteristics. Ericsson Orchestrator was used to efficiently modify the slice configuration parameters and evaluate how the changes affected the slice’s service performance.
Rogers’ key learnings from its adaptation of 5G SA and cloud-native technology in the core network can be grouped into the three main areas shown in the figure 5 below.
According to Luciano Ramos, SVP Network Development, Planning & Engineering, Rogers Communications, their partnership with Ericsson was key for their successful 5G SA services launch:
“In collaboration with Ericsson, we were able to achieve our goal to be the first in the market. Through our partnership, we also get access to Ericsson’s research and development centers and access to top talent as we deploy next-generation services. We are very pleased with the roadmap we are on with Ericsson in bringing 5G to life in Canada.”
Learn more about Rogers’ deployment of Canada’s first 5G standalone network (watch the customer video interview and download the full case report).
Nowadays the telecommunication industry is well-aware that deploying 5G SA goes far beyond simply adding new radio network capabilities and the new 5G Core network applications. However, the complexity involved is sometimes overlooked.
There are some commonalities in the deployment journey of these four 5G pioneers. Namely, they all started their journeys two to three years before their network go-live dates, and that they were all based in three main pillars: platform, processes, and people.
Moreover, they all demonstrated that ramping-up skills, and the will to challenge the way things have always been done were both keys to their success. But these things demand time, and they recommend that other CSPs should start tackling competence ramp-up and processes review as early as possible.
Working with a knowledgeable and experienced partner like Ericsson that not only provided the best solutions but advised and guided them through the transformation process was another key success factor.
The cloud-native core transformation required to deliver 5G SA services must cover six key areas (as seen in the picture below), and Ericsson is ready to guide CSPs through all of them.
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