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5G is an analyst or marketer’s dream: The emerging technology fits nicely with hot technology areas such as network virtualization (NV), software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and IoT. The 5G market is highly anticipated because it has a chance to bring many of these markets together using NV technologies.
5G, which is still in the early stages of standards development, promises more bandwidth and greater flexibility for mobile networks. While it’s true that few 5G standards or definitions exist, it’s already becoming clear that 5G will drive virtualization through its dependence on integration with NV and SDN.
How 5G Will Drive Virtualization
Recently, we’ve reported on SDxCentral.com about the evolving outlook for 5G standards, which are to this point ill-defined. Whatever final form 5G takes, we know that it will provide both more bandwidth – hopefully, gigabit speeds – and it will increasingly be focused on quality of service (QoS) or the ability to “slice” applications into virtual circuits according to service needs. This will promote end-to-end virtualization across entire networks, including the need for virtual connections to enterprises, using 5G as the software-defined WAN.
Imagine 5G as opening up a potential firehose of connectivity and applications to the mobile world. This, combined with the continued mobile-driven nature of our technology landscape (iPhones, WiFi, pad computing, etc.), will accelerate the shift of the center of gravity for the networking industry at large.
Now that I’ve laid out the possibilities, you are welcome to punch holes in them. Fact: 5G standards are not close to existing, and most people do not expect something until 2018. It’s not even clear whether 5G proponents will have the power to drive the standard into core network definitions. Many specifics are far from being decided. The layman’s expectation of 5G is that it will deliver bandwidth up to 100x that of 4G (LTE) via the radio access network (RAN) – though, of course, there’s no way to confirm something that doesn’t exist.
The bandwidth question will involve the most technically challenging parts of the network – how to deliver gigabit-speed connections through the air, using mobile spectrum. The biggest questions for the network virtualization crowd will be the more exciting aspect of 5G, with its potential to build virtualized, end-to-end connectivity, including a definition of service tiers extending through the core of the network. So far, at least, the largest mobile operators are tinkering with the 5G concept, and the first initial application is likely to be fixed mobile access. Image a high-speed mobile network being built with room for many different traffic lanes for different tiers of service.
The QoS Question
Whether 5G rolls out initially as a fixed access technology or quickly expands to wider use, let’s take a look at how it could change the networking game. Traditionally, services – including mobile – have been layered into strategic points of the network as purpose-built devices. For the most part, there is a disconnect between private and public networks – including cloud services – and the e-service provider network. 5G will increase the need to create seamless virtualization across the service provider WAN so that enterprise applications can maintain QoS through the cloud.
At the same time, NFV appears to be gaining the most traction in the mobile area, including Layers 4-7 services and mobile applications such as virtual evolved packet core (vEPC). This means the mobile networking world is moving toward a virtualization model driven by data centers, which is closer to the way the enterprise cloud is built. Now imagine a network that can adopt adjustable, gigabit-speed bandwidth with packet-based QoS network slicing. The idea is to discern between people that are downloading Netflix and those conducting virtual surgery and to treat them appropriately. This would have an enormous impact on the 5G networks – especially the core – by driving huge amounts of data and intelligence needs into the mobile access points and telecom data centers around the world.
This is already driving plans for new network architectures. Recent reports by our SDxCentral news team indicate that Verizon is focused on building a set of regional data centers for delivering NFV at the edge of the network. And AT&T has been a big proponent of NFV, saying it’s planning a data center focused strategy that will virtualize up to 80 percent of its network.
Network Suppliers See 5G Opportunity
Vendors are, of course, jumping on the opportunity – they don’t want to miss the next train. The shift is going to have immense implications for the network architecture, where network equipment providers butter their bread, with an increasing focus on data-driven mobile applications, especially NFV.
Let’s take a look at how a few of the major vendors are responding to this massive shift:
- Brocade saw the wireless opportunity as big enough to drive its recent acquisition of Ruckus Wireless, saying, “The acquisition will strengthen Brocade’s ability to pursue emerging market opportunities around 5G mobile services, Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, and LTE/WiFi convergence.”
- Ericsson has been talking a lot about 5G driving the need for network slicing that can accommodate the growth of video and machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic. The company is promoting SDN and NFV technology to do this.
- Cisco, now an Ericsson partner, likes the implications that 5G will have for demand for mobile backhaul and other network infrastructure. And, of course, it’s no coincidence that the move to 5G and IoT has been a big driver of the partnership between Cisco and Ericsson, giants in the space.
- VMware is looking to defend its virtualization franchise by introducing products such as vCloud for NFV, which will allow service providers to build cloud-based services and NFV infrastructure, much of it for mobile applications.
- Nokia points out that 5G is going to drive demand for SDN and NFV to accommodate the huge need for scale. It recently announced an SDN-based 5G architecture that can automatically adapt radio access and core network resources to meet the needs of different services, traffic variations over time and location, and network topology.
These are just a few examples of how the largest networking vendors in the world are scrambling to position themselves for 5G as it merges with virtualization. And I haven’t even mentioned how large chip vendors such as Broadcom, Cavium, and Intel are salivating at the opportunities in the 5G networking market. That’s without even considering the implication on chip markets for consumer devices, which will also be huge.
Over the next 12 months, SDxCentral will pursue these possibilities – and we are beefing up our coverage on both the news and research sides. In 2016 we’ll be introducing two new reports on 5G and IoT, which we see as huge potential markets. The new applications expected to see growth from 5G include smart cities, M2M, automotive connectivity, security, and video connectivity. The network will have to become increasingly dynamic and automated to respond to shifting data patterns and requirements, which is the natural domain of NV and SDN. Stay tuned as we explore how 5G drives network virtualization in these markets over the next year.