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The Future of 5G

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Published November 29, 2021
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There would be few people who haven’t heard of 5G and its rollout in Australia. Fewer people, however, have a clear understanding of the kind of infrastructure, security and operator types needed to enable 5G across Australia, for speed, low latency, and scale.

There is no doubt 5G will significantly boost innovation and enterprise in Australia. But it is not a simple matter of telcos turning it on. There are many considerations when implementing 5G which will have impact on its success into the future.

To enable millions of simultaneous enterprise users requires significantly more agility in the network than 4G provided. The full potential of 5G use cases, such as smart cities, will not be possible without sub-6s, or mmWave spectrum. By far the biggest investment made by mobile operators in their delivery of 5G services is in this radio spectrum – in fact provider licence auctions have been held across radio spectrums this year, with more to come.

However, to enable this radio spectrum, more cells are needed in a smaller space to ensure speed and low latency. Called cell densification, the business challenges of deploying hundred or even thousands more radio cells are immense for mobile service providers, both from an infrastructure and security perspective.

The case for NHOs

5G requires an agile and fast network which can adapt to change quickly. In many parts of the world, Radio Access Network (RAN) sharing models are being used the facilitate this.

This model means the telco operators do not bear the risk associated with the installation of radio equipment, nor the necessary radio spectrum license to operate services in those areas.

Increasingly, Neutral Host Operator (NHO) are buying radio spectrums for exactly this purpose. NHOs build the radio infrastructure and operate it, leasing it to telcos for use.

There are a number of benefits to the NHO model, including:

  • It would cover remote areas telcos might not consider to be viable business models, leading to a more distributed network
  • It relinquishes the monopoly hold the bigger telcos have over the mobile network,
  • Infrastructure would be a shared responsibility.

There are also challenges to this model. One of those is in choosing the most suitable platform for neutral hosting functions. As opposed to physical infrastructure, NHOs and 5G need to use virtualisation—moving from hardware to software—in order to manage and scale such a widely distributed network, so latency does not suffer.

There is a myriad of requirements worth considering in choosing the right platform for NHOs. Three key considerations are discussed below:

Cluster management

The virtualisation of 5G means managing networks will be containerised. Managing these containers is often achieved with Kubernetes (K8s). The first challenge facing NHOs will be how to deploy and manage hundreds of K8s clusters across the network. Connecting these K8s clusters and ensuring there is consistent security policy is an essential requirement for any of these kinds of ‘Edge’ platform deployments.

Telemetries

Second, as the services scale up and the number of cells increases, an edge platform must provide a common unified management framework that gives NHOs information over the entire system. These telemetries give insights to the NHOs about the health of the infrastructure, along with application, connectivity and security events across the entire distributed edge nodes.

Cloud

Lastly, as services and workloads scale up, so too would back office and operational support systems (BSS/OSS), which will likely run on the public cloud, due to inherent cost savings and workload elasticity. Very often, a hybrid cloud approach may already be an overall business strategy by NHOs to build a ‘hyper-scale’ network. Therefore, NHO’s edge platform must have the ability to provide seamless connectivity to public clouds with consistent policies for routing, security, service advertisement, alerting and life cycle management.

The solution 

Connectivity and security must be uniform and consistent across any clouds, yet managed under a single cloud-based management console. This will enable NHOs to gain valuable insights into the health of the network’s connectivity and security at the infrastructure level under a unified dashboard, and the ability to scale additional resources simply and cost effectively.

With this in mind, F5 has developed a platform to enable NHOs to deploy network functions quickly and securely across their on-prem, hybrid or multi cloud environments, to deliver some of the promises of 5G. Find out more.