The 5G virtualisation challenge: The next steps

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5G will revolutionise communications by not only offering higher capacity, but also providing new services that service providers will be able to deploy across their network in a very short and simple manner, resulting in faster time-to-market and stronger competition among top service and application providers.

This comes as a result of the fundamental change in the way networks will be designed in the 5G era. Architectures and technologies such as SDN (software defined networking), NFV (network function virtualisation), MEC (mobile edge computing) and C-RAN (cloud RAN) exist today, but only on a smaller scale. The major forklift that will be required in a mobile network when introducing 5G technology will enable a smooth migration to those technologies and will result in the benefits described above.

A strategic part of the architecture and technology change, will be at the wireless backhaul domain, as 5G will call for the virtualisation of wireless backhaul. Network virtualisation enables operators to dramatically improve operational efficiency by making their infrastructure and resource utilisation much more efficient and flexible. It also enables a very fast introduction of new services and technology throughout the various network domains.

Wireless backhaul virtualisation will serve two aspects of network virtualisation:

SDN integration

Wireless backhaul will integrate, via open interfaces, with the end-to-end SDN and NFV infrastructure and enable SDN applications to achieve network resource optimisation (spectrum, power), higher service availability (with smart re-route mechanisms), and faster introduction of services and technologies. All of these are applicable in the wireless transmission domain, as well as in multi-domain, and multi-vendor environments (assuming vendor alignment to standard-based interfaces and applications).

One application that will increase operational efficiency in the wireless transmission domain is the adaptive adjustment of power consumption at each site, according to the traffic running through the site at any given instance. Meanwhile, dynamic frequency allocation will be performed throughout the network based on required capacity weather conditions. This will offer considerable savings on spectrum and costs.

Cloud RAN support

Separating baseband units (into BBU hotels at data centres) and remote radio heads will create significant benefits to mobile operators. However, such a model heavily depends on what is today a highly inefficient I/Q interface between the two elements (CPRI, for instance). This interface should be transported via wireless transmission (and not only over fibre) in order to create a cost-effective transition to C-RAN. This will be enabled by higher capacity wireless fronthaul, as well as a migration to Ethernet based fronthaul, that will allow operators to reduce the capacity required for connectivity between the BBU and the RRH.

These two network virtualisation features will enable operators to nimbly and quickly introduce new services and technologies – which you can expect to see take centre stage in the coming years.  

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