The network architecture evolution will take place in phases over many years

While rolling out the next generation network, the legacy infrastructure needs to be managed. This will take place in numerous phases over many years to come

The promise of increased agility, improved handling of data growth and lowering cost per bit (TCO), as well as the opportunity to exploit new business models are compelling reasons for service providers to invest in network evolution, leveraging advanced technologies such as 5G, NFV, SDN to name a few.

Notwithstanding the long-term potential that the programmable network platform of the future can deliver to the service providers business, the velocity of transformation will be dictated by the service providers business priorities, market situation and regulatory constraints.

The widespread introduction of advanced automation, toward zero touch systems, and platforms built on shared and public infrastructure will also drive significant changes in organizational design and ways of working. This presents an opportunity to streamline and improve existing business processes to fully exploit the benefits that new technologies can bring to the business. Whilst “non-technical” in nature, these impacts to the service providers business environment are non-trivial and represent a large and influential component of the network evolution journey.

The reality of needing to manage legacy infrastructure, whilst building the next generation network holds true for many service providers. Accordingly, the network evolution will take place in numerous phases of implementation and over many years, therefore requiring courage to stay on track with the journey, given that the longer-term benefits materialize after transformation has taken place in multiple domains.

The table below describes a plausible evolution path for the different architecture domains. The timings are indicative and may vary substantially depending on market maturity and in context with an individual service provider’s business situation.

Area 2020-2021 2022-2023 2024-2025
Access & Network applications Continued 5G non-standalone deployments for eMBB (incl. voice). Initial 5G standalone deployments for eMBB, tight interworking between EPC and 5GC introduced from day one. Initial 5G standalone deployments also for local area private networks. Increased amount of 5G standalone deployments for eMBB and local area private networks. Additional wide and local area use cases deployed. 5G standalone deployments dominating. Additional wide and local area use cases deployed.
Cloud Infrastructure Cloud infrastructure deployed in national sites. Initial deployments in regional site infrastructure in preparation for distributed cloud. Cloud infrastructure deployed in access sites. Container based cloud infrastructure being adopted in most sites. New technologies like function as a service (FaaS) evaluated for live deployments. VM deployments will start to sunset, Containers will be the reference deployment option of cloud infrastructure. Further improvements in platform characteristics delivering flexibility and resilience with optimized cost.
Management, Orchestration, Monetization Further deployments for e2e network service orchestration & cross domain orchestration. Limited closed loop automation in daily operations. Starting to leverage deep learning systems. Digital transformation ongoing. Increased analytics, AI & machine learning for closed loop automation in daily operations. Zero-touch network taking full advantage of AI. Deployment and operation of networks and applications having minimum human intervention, reaching high performance and zero downtime.
Transport 25GbE interfaces in RAN transport start getting deployed. 100GbE optical transponders in long-distance and metro systems. Initial 400GbE capable systems deployed in data centers. Initial deployments of RAN transport interaction. Underlay/overlay transport models. Initial deployments of more flexible fronthaul based on eCPRI and SDN mobile backhaul. Increased amount of DRAN sites with >1 Gbps backhaul. Possibly 800GbE capable systems deployed in data centers. Automation in transport networks. 50GbE and possibly 100GbE interfaces in RAN transport start getting deployed. SDN controlled mobile backhaul and fronthaul. Cross-domain orchestration.

Table 1 Network Evolution Journey - 2020-2025