LOS ANGELES – Wireless carrier executives are bullish on 5G technology particularly because the underlying software platforms that are the basis for 5G allow for a more distributed network architecture to serve new use cases.
That was one of the themes from this week’s Mobile World Congress Americas event in Los Angeles, where network executives from the country’s four largest wireless providers were discussing 5G and the benefits of this new network architecture.
“Virtualization gives us the opportunity to really distribute the core network,” explained Andre Fuetsch, president at AT&T and CTO of AT&T Labs. “This allows for a distributed compute cloud that’s much closer to the customer. And these new use cases become very different.”
Fuetsch cited specific use cases like autonomous vehicles as requiring this new architecture.
“If that data goes into the cloud today, that data center could be thousands of miles away from that car so the latency is just not going to cut it,” Fuetsch said. “You can leverage this massively distributed core and computing infrastructure to help.”
“It enables us to virtualize the RAN over time and then connects back with fiber to what we are calling our intelligent edge network, which is a multi-purpose network,” Palmer said of the carrier’s efforts. “Instead of having one for enterprise, one for wireless, one for FiOS … now we are unifying starting with the core and software defining the core for agility and speed. It’s easy to focus on the RAN, but you do need the rest of the network in order to achieve the full promise.”
Sprint CTO John Saw said that software and virtualization also allows for more agility in terms of constructing a network.
“If you look at 5G a lot of the core functions are software APIs,” Saw explained. “No longer are they big, expensive single purpose boxes talking to each other, but it’s really COTS [common off the shelf] software and service basically communicating with software APIs. That is a big advantage. Scalability is huge. You can do things like network slicing.”
On a separate panel discussion, Karri Kuoppamaki, vice president for network technology development and strategy at T-Mobile, said that distributed core model will help the carrier “drive to the edge of the network.”
“You need to drive intelligence and functionality to the edge of the network,” Kuoppamaki said. “In the previous generations we focused on centralization. In the 5G world we will see more distribution taking place.”
Kuoppamaki also cited T-Mobile’s recent virtualized packet core announcement with Cisco. “That is the reason we have the ability to support the flexible needs of 5G going forward,” he said of the deal. “If there is a use case that requires local break out and low latency we have that in place. We have the ability to take it further out closer to the edge of the network if it’s required. That’s a fantastic aspect of virtualization and how you build your network.”
Nicki Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon, discusses the carrier’s 5G network plans with ACG Research principal analyst Chris Nicoll.