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5G is finally here

The new year promises significant and rapid advances for 5G, including new 3GPP standards and TM Forum Catalyst proof-of-concept projects exploring the business and operational challenges mobile operators could face as they implement them.

Late last month 3GPP completed work on the first version of Release 15 of the 5G New Radio (NR) specification. Originally planned for release in June 2018, the standards body agreed to speed up its work to accommodate demand for increased cellular data capacity, particularly for the Olympic Games in South Korea next month. About 450 people worked on the spec, contributing hundreds of hours to its development.

AT&T announced this week that because of 3GPP’s accelerated release it will introduce 5G service in a dozen markets by late 2018.

“With these specifications now available, hardware, chipset and device manufacturers can start development,” AT&T said in a statement. “This allows us to provide mobile 5G services sooner. We’re confident this latest standards milestone will allow us to bring 5G to market faster without compromising its long-term vision.”

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is standardizing 5G as part of its IMT [International Mobile Telecommunication system] for 2020 and beyond initiative, with specifications from 3GPP and contributions from other standards bodies like ETSI and NGMN. Specifically, standards are being developed for new radio interfaces and a next-generation (NG) mobile core. These are being delivered in two phases, the first focusing on specs for enhanced mobile broadband and the second adding capabilities for advanced services like ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (uRLLC) and massive machine type communications (mMTC).

The first step

The initial Release 15 is for a non-stand-alone NR spec.

“We’ve released the non stand-alone 3GPP specifications, which means that you need an LTE anchor and besides the LTE anchor you have a 5G-NR cell,” Nokia’s Balázs Bertényi, RAN Chairman, 3GPP, told TelecomTV. “You basically do your control plane and control plane communications through LTE and boost the user data capacity with 5G NR and the new radio technology.”

The full release in June “will encompass the so-called stand-alone system so that we will not have to rely on the LTE anymore for control plane communications, and it will have full control plane support for the new 5G radio,” he adds.

Paving the way

This release lays the foundation for advanced 5G concepts like network slicing.

“This is the really deeper significance of the work we’re doing, not the specific features we deliver now but the fact that as we continue, both NR and the 5G core network are going to expand on the basis of the foundation we’ve provided in the last year of intense work,” says Samsung Electronics’ Erik Guttman, System Aspects Chairman, 3GPP.

Catalyst projects look at the challenges that lie ahead

TM Forum’s Catalyst program is addressing the challenges communications service providers (CSPs) face as they prepare for 5G network slicing, in particular how to manage slices end to end across digital ecosystems. A recent project called 5G service operations – real-time service assurance, which was championed by AT&T, BT, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telenor and Vodafone and included MYCOM OSI, Netcracker and TEOCO as participants, demonstrated how to manage a 5G environment at the service-management level using network slicing and assurance based on service level agreements. The team is hoping to demo a new phase of the project at TM Forum Live! 2018 in May, which could incorporate the new 3GPP Release 15 specs.

The first phase of the project used intent-based management, which abstracts the complexity of the network at a high level and then uses customer intent, analytics, policy and machine learning to manage it through automated closed control loops. By combining intent-based management with adoption of common information and data models and standard, open application program interfaces (APIs), CSPs will be able to automate service provisioning, configuration and assurance end to end across partners’ boundaries.

The team looked at utilization and efficiency of infrastructure as a business driver for 5G network slicing and evaluated two internet of things (IoT) use cases:

  • an uRLLC smart factory of the future application using robots, sensors, actuators and high-definition cameras connected via a 5G network; and
  • an mMTC connected vehicle example with a car sending IoT data feeds via a 5G network to an automobile manufacturer to indicate performance.

The idea was to create different types of network slices with completely different characteristics, but using a common infrastructure, and then optimize usage of the resources. For example, if there was no demand, the slices wouldn’t consume resources, or if the uRLLC application needed additional resources to meet its service level agreements (SLAs), then capacity could be increased on the fly, perhaps by ‘stealing’ resources from the mMTC application.

“The challenge is to optimize resource usage,” says Milind Bhagwat, Enterprise Architect, BT. “We don’t want these slices to consume resources when there is no demand, so there has to be constant update from the network in terms of the capacity utilization and quality of service. Based on the data received from the network, optimization has to happen, which means we need to have logic in our orchestration layer to optimize the use of the resources.”

Watch this video featuring Bhagwat to learn more about the 5G service operations Catalyst:

Making intent intelligent

Another proposed Catalyst project called 5G open policy management: Intent -> intelligent, would also like to look at intent-based management in 5G network slicing, specifically developing an ‘open and industrialized’ policy framework. The project would be a continuation of the Real virtuality Catalyst, which demonstrated provisioning of bandwidth on demand and produced the Resource Function Activation and Configuration API. It was championed by BT and NTT and included Ericsson, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Tech Mahindra, TierOne, TEOCO and the University of Adelaide as participants.

The team now would like to develop an open-source policy framework that can cope with the rigors of 5G slicing scenarios, and build policy models that include service definitions and descriptors for domains and resources that can be expressed in easy-to-manage ways. Operators need to find ways to make sure the churn in domain technologies and controllers doesn’t impact policy models which are federated at multiple layers.

Other proposals for Catalyst projects include looking at how to use artificial intelligence to improve business processes, which could include 5G slicing, and how telcos might be able to build platforms of 5G services to help other industries transform. The Forum also is part of the UK’s new 5G Innovation Network, which could result in additional proof-of-concept projects.

We’d love to have more participants in the projects, and we are always looking for new ideas for Catalysts. If you would like to learn more, please contact Tania Fernandes via [email protected].


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called tele.com, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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