How 4G and 5G can coexist while you prepare for the future

How 4G and 5G can coexist while you prepare for the future

Most operators think they’ll migrate to a full 5G standalone core within two years of commercial launch, but to get there they need an IT-driven, cloud native SBA with a DevOps mindset.

Perhaps you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal of 4G while moving to 5G, but you can gradually apply power for a gentle, more elegant transition from 4G to 5G. Just as we learned in the journey of mobile from 3G to 4G, the transition among the “Gs” will be incremental, with early deployments starting at 5G radio and leveraging existing 4G network infrastructure. In fact, the 4G evolved packet core (EPC) will coexist with  the 5G core for quite a while, enabling operators and enterprise customers to take advantage of 5G features such as network slicing and user plane flexibility.

The ability for 4G and 5G to coexist will depend on the different deployment, mediation and interworking protocols and options emerging from the 3GPP in:

  • Option 2 (SA) standalone
  • Option 3 (3/3a/3x)
  • Option 7 (7/7a/7x)
  • Option 4 (4/4a)

Most operators think they’ll migrate to full standalone within two years of commercial launch, with some saying they’ll start off with standalone, as you can see in recent Light Reading and Heavy Reading surveys.

Beyond 5G radio, the technology will extend across the full network from mobile access to the core from software defined networking to all forms of backhaul, IP and signaling, routing, fixed networks, software and more. In their planning, there are many questions operators should ask, including:

  • Can I assume my infrastructure is ready to onboard to 5G network functions?
  • What if my network staff has very little experience with 5G and Cloud Native?
  • How can I ensure that my core network elements will interwork?
  • Who can help me with integration to network management systems?
  • How do I build out and integrate CI/CD pipeline?
  • How do I minimize cost?
  • Will solutions be telco-like?

These questions, of course, are all asked in the context of the pandemic. Now that consumers, enterprises and governments realize how important agility and flexibility are in responding to even the most unexpected, there is more focus on how to quickly launch services and to redistribute compute and storage resources. 

Optimization of networks will require best practices for building out 4G and 5G services in the context of cloud native and building a service-based architecture (SBA) that use COTS and cloud. 5G’s SBA will enable network elements to advertise and provide through APIs the services to be consumed by other elements in the core. Oracle Communications’ cloud-native, microservices-based 5G core supports the aforementioned deployment options through SBA. This affords operators flexibility of choice: they can implement their new 5G cores on bare metal or on virtual machine-based infrastructure.

To help service providers navigate the challenges of the decisions around the new 5G core and which track to pursue, we offer a Cloud-Native 5G Core Network Transformation Service, which leverages the expertise of solution architects and local consultants that have developed best practices during their respective journeys working on 5G core deployments, including: deployment of 5G routing and selection; policy and database network functions along with HTTP/2 monitoring; CNE deployment, testing and delivery. In each case, regardless of the environment, implementation services are customized to the customer using evolving best practices for service delivery.

With an integrated set of tools chosen by Oracle and 3rd party cloud-native experts, there can be rapid delivery with automation from test to deployment and CI/CD and independent lifecycle management of microservices. This will help to manage the inherent complexity of integrating 4G core and 5G components, especially with so many differences existing between network elements. The integration of the operations service layer to network management systems will be important to login, KPIs and set up of CI/CD and automated testing.

The Oracle Communications cloud native portfolio is microservices-based, supporting many different deployment options with a distributed architecture for resiliency, scalability and security. This allows service providers to implement their new 5G Core on either a bare-metal or VM-based infrastructure. Of course, the beauty of this is that it enables service providers to leverage their current infrastructure and/or investment.

Oracle’s 5G product includes the capability to do the work on behalf of the consumer network functions (NFs) so there can be intelligent discovery of the network topology, with session-aware dynamic routes between the consumer NF and producer NF in the network. This also includes a lineup of mix-and-match, pluggable, easy-to-deploy/modify/upgrade 5G applications that handle interoperability challenges with 4G and 5G. Important is the support of HTTP, Diameter and mediation plug-ins. We handle capacity goals seamlessly via horizontal scalability; flexibility, observability and traceability tools for metrics and monitoring; continuous deployment and automated testing to support use cases; and in-service upgrades and enhancements for canary releases.

With the shift underway to IT-driven, cloud native SBA and a DevOps mindset, it’s incumbent on operators to look deeper into how they can leverage and improve group- and IT-based tools to support the special attributes of telecom services. That deeper evaluation will also necessitate more staff enablement and onboarding, which will be as critical as the rearchitecting of infrastructure in the evolution to 5G.

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