Dell’Oro Group’s quarterly report on wireless packet cores found that network functions virtualization (NFV) for evolved packet core (EPC) grew 142 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2018. It also ranked Ericsson as the No. 1 vendor across all EPC variants, beating out Huawei, Nokia, Cisco, and ZTE.
In preparing service providers for the next generation of equipment and future wireless data networks, telecom equipment vendors are focusing on EPC, 5G new core products, and NFV cloud native implementations.
Dell’Oro Senior Analyst Dave Bolan said that the report is about the progress of cloud native virtual network functions (VNFs) as leading-edge service providers prepare their EPCs for 5G. He said that while virtualization began infiltrating the EPC market several years ago, “only in the last year and a half have they become cloud native VNFs,” in preparation for 5G.
“Everybody that’s getting ready for 5G is going with cloud native virtual network functions today,” Bolan said.
The report found that cloud native NFV for EPC made up 19 percent of EPC revenues but is expected to accelerate to 37 percent in the first quarter of 2019.
Cloud native VNFs are needed for a 5G core as they have a shared data layer, are stateless, and are data-less. This allows for greater network resiliency, the ability to quickly spin up services, network slicing, the ability to deliver microservices, and for mobile edge computing of low-latency services.
In order to prepare an EPC for 5G, Bolan said it will be necessary for the separation of EPC nodes on the control plane and the user plane (CUPS) for the larger network capacity. The CUPS standard was outlined in 3GPP Release 14, which Huawei, Nokia, and Ericsson all contributed to.
The five top vendors in the report have begun working on cloud native VNFs. “Talking to those vendors, all the RFQs [requests for quotation] they see from the service providers are for cloud native VNFs. They don’t want virtualization for the sake of virtualization,” Bolan said. “It has to be cloud native to work in the different stack environments that they have and to have the user plane separation,” as well as being stateless, data-less, and have a shared data layer.
Bolan also noted that as the 5G core is built and separates from the virtual EPC, it will require an LTE EPC. When that happens, vendor revenue dollars will begin to be used in a couple of years to develop the new 5G core.
The first 3GPP approved 5G specification was released in December. It dealt with 5G non-standalone (NSA) networks and how to upgrade the EPC to handle 5G. Bolan said that this upgrade is to help the EPC handle 5G costs in the data sessions and allow signaling from a 5G handset and 5G base station through the EPC.