SAN FRANCISCO – 5G was the main talking point at this week’s Mobile World Congress Americas event, but carrier executives made a point to note the need of a strong software and virtualization layer to get the most out of those networks.
During an extended keynote panel, carrier network technology leaders described opportunities and challenges they see in terms of their 5G plans and the role of software in getting the most out of those plans.
Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO, provided the most insight into the connection between 5G and virtualization. He touched on AT&T’s ongoing efforts in virtualizing its network resources, which is expected to hit 55 percent control by the end of this year.
Fuetsch compared current 4G LTE networks to a rock band where there was little control over where assets (sound) were allocated. With 5G, Fuetsch said the use of software will allow for more of a finely tuned orchestra where a conductor can control the source and volume of sound.
This level of control bleeds into network slicing opportunities opened up by the carrier’s software layer. He explained that level of control allowed for the economical support of different business models than have traditionally been allowed across telecom networks.
“This will allow us to open new economies where IoT [the Internet of Things] and everything gets connected,” Fuetsch said. “Today it’s one size fits all and not economical to connect all things. We will have fine level granularity control.”
Fuetsch also listed three items AT&T is looking for from the vendor community as it moves on 5G deployments. These included openness, in terms of gleaning application performance from the network to optimize a service experience; standardization, as a move to avoid proprietary products and drive innovation from new “disrupters” in the market; and intelligence, that he described as being around data analytics to drive the creation of new services.
5G Leveraging 4G
Verizon Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer focused her talk on the link between bolstering the carrier’s current LTE-based 4G network on the road to 5G.
Palmer highlighted a number of ongoing projects rolling out across the carrier’s network, including new antenna technology, adding virtualization deep into its network core, and traffic support products like fiber for backhaul.
“All of this leads to 5G,” Palmer said. “Fiber investments and new technologies in the radio, these are all foundational and not throwaway items. They lead to a world where 5G can be placed into the network.”
Ron Marquardt, vice president of technology at Sprint, voiced similar notions about current network updates.
“We work in a no-stranded environment in that all new equipment is upgradeable to 5G,” Marquardt said. “We need to understand and control the infrastructure requirements to support 5G.”
Sprint earlier in the week touted some of its hardware efforts targeting 5G, as well as acknowledged the role of software.
Günther Ottendorfer, chief operating officer of technology at Sprint, said the carrier’s deployment of its OpenStack cloud-based network functions virtualization (NFV) platform has been “an essential building block” as the carrier builds toward its 5G network.
“For the last two years, we have been trying to educate the whole team on how important it is,” Ottendorfer said at this week’s event, referring to its NFV work. “It’s not a question of whether we do it, but when we shift the platform, and that’s working itself out.”