5G at Layer 123: Challenges and Opportunities

Ahead of his presentation at the Layer123 World Congress, ADVA's Director of Solutions Marketing Ulrich Kohn discusses the challenges of moving from 4G to 5G, open networking in mobile, and how hardware manufacturers can leverage the transition to disaggregated networks.


What are the main challenge for MNOs when moving from 4G to 5G? Could you please comment, especially on the impact on the mobile transport network?


Before commenting on the challenges, allow me to first highlight the main opportunities with 5G. This new mobile technology will enable reliable, low-latency services and scale to a very high numbers of mobile devices, making it the perfect solution for wireless enterprise connectivity. As spectra in mid and high bands becomes available, 5G will also enable new high-bandwidth opportunities and can even be applied for fixed wireless access (FWA).


However, these new 5G services can’t be implemented efficiently with legacy mobile transport networks. Today’s architectures must be enhanced to support high-bandwidth, low latency, secure traffic isolation and precise synchronization, especially as a range of split options will be applied simultaneously in mobile networks.


The new connectivity network for 5G New Radio (NR) combines ultra-scalable packet aggregation with low-cost optical transport to meet the strict cost targets of fronthaul applications. The demand for automated configuration and secure traffic isolation creates the need for open control and emerging segment routing (SR)technology. This leads to open servers becoming part of the connectivity network for VNF hosting as well as customer appliances. And let’s not forget the vital role of precise synchronization.


 All of this seems to be an overwhelmingly complex task. Luckily, the building blocks are readily available and powerful industrial alliances such as TIP and O-RAN are joining forces to master this integration effort. ADVA – uniquely in our industry – has expertise in all of these areas and offers solutions in each segment, enabling a fast and seamless route to 5G-ready mobile transport networks. Our engagement with open bodies prepares the path for the new connectivity in mobile.


Our industry is controversially discussing the value of openness. Recently Ericsson has outlined the security risk of open RAN technologies. What is your view on open networking in mobile?


There seem to be some misconceptions about the nature of open networking. If you hope for plug-and-play solutions that don’t require system integration, that are self-explanatory and easy to operate, you might be disappointed by the open solutions available. There will always be a need for sophisticated system integration, which also has to preserve the openness of the architecture.


If we accept this and understand openness as a way to substitute monolithic single-vendor solutions by multiple well-defined technology domains, then the value of openness becomes different. The end customer now has a choice between several suppliers in an ecosystem of many technology experts.


Core or mobile networks are already in the middle of such a transformation as purpose-built hardware components are being replaced by standard servers, standard operation systems and modular software components on top. Open RAN will happen as well (the opportunities of multi-vendor sourcing are simply too promising) and ADVA is committed to providing key components to it. Our expertise in optical and packet transport as well as network function virtualization and synchronization are becoming invaluable elements of a 5G new connectivity network – as a pre-integrated solution or as part of an open transport network.


ADVA is a supplier of hardware-based solutions. Disaggregation and NFV – both highly relevant for 5G networking – are substituting purpose-built hardware by COTS servers and bare-metal switches. Isn’t this a challenge to your business model?


Any challenge also creates new opportunities and ADVA is well positioned to leverage the transition to disaggregated networks. Firstly, not all hardware functions can be moved into software. For example, our synchronization solution builds on sophisticated hardware-processing of time-stamped packets. With software solutions, the required accuracy cannot be achieved. The same argument is true for encryption, packet forwarding and line-rate testing among many others.


Secondly, virtualization of hardware-implemented network functions can be done most efficiently by the suppliers of those appliances. We began to leverage this advantage early on and have developed software-twins of our hardware appliances. With Ensemble Connector a virtual multi-layer demarcation device and VNF hosting platform was developed, building on our competence in packet networking. A similar approach was taken with Ensemble Activator, which is a network operating system for bare metal switches.


Today, ADVA has a leading portfolio at the physical as well as at the virtual packet edge, combining best-in-class physical network functions with bare-metal switches and servers and respective network operating and hosting solutions.


Ulrich Kohn will discuss New Connectivity in 5G in his presentation during the Layer123 World Congress – catch him at 16:30 (CEST) on 15 October speaking in the Edge Computing and Disaggregated Networking track. Register to attend here.