Do You Have the Bandwidth to Manage Your Broadband Network? Part 1

Technology is fast-moving and ever-evolving. Whether you are a current broadband provider or thinking of becoming one, you need to consider how to efficiently and effectively manage technology. If you have a smaller network—such as a rural electric cooperative, telecom cooperative, or public power utility—transitioning to a new service platform is challenging enough. Managing delivery of those new services to ensure value for your customers while maintaining profitability…that’s a whole other issue. It requires the personnel, facilities and systems to maintain five-nines availability, as well as the resources to implement a solid disaster recovery plan, should the need arise.

When it comes to managing your broadband network, you’ve got a couple of choices. You can add more resources to your existing network operations center (NOC), or you can outsource the expertise and resources you need. In this two-part blog, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of each, starting with identifying and integrating broadband service support into your in-house NOC.

The resources you’ll need can be divided into three categories: facility, systems and staff.

Facility Planning

These days, most networks—including smaller rural ones—either maintain their own NOC facility or lease from a NOC facility provider. In either case, you can’t assume your facility has the broadband management resources and personnel required. More specifically, it should be large enough to add redundant power and cooling systems, network infrastructure, backup phone systems and the staff needed to provide 24/7 monitoring.

One important thing when it comes to the NOC facility is the increasing need for redundancy, not just in systems but in facilities. Depending on your KPIs, two complete facilities may be required. From a cost perspective, expect to spend over $1M plus annual maintenance and other operating costs for two facilities with redundant systems capable of providing 24/7/365 coverage and disaster recovery.

System Requirements

Inside the NOC, there are two general types of systems needed to support your broadband network. First are the monitoring and support systems that are primary to the success of any network. These include an ultra-reliable network connection that allows you to monitor and respond to issues quickly, as well as diagnostic systems and dashboards for troubleshooting throughput, device configuration, and network topology issues. You’ll also need performance monitoring and alert systems more specific to broadband services. These provide centralized and actionable insights for troubleshooting throughput, availability, capacity loading, hardware thresholds, service interruptions, and other key metrics.

The second type of system includes anything pertaining to the operation and support of the NOC itself. This may include power monitoring, automated infrastructure management (AIM) systems, or—for larger facilities—data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions that provide a holistic view of both the IT and facility stacks. For any system, you’ll need to factor in the annual cost of maintenance, technology upgrades, and expansion.   

Staffing Needs

A typical NOC will require a minimum of eight IT techs for 24-hour support. It’s important that your staff is well trained on IP, Ethernet and fiber networks in order to monitor your new broadband network and respond to issues. That may sound like overkill, but there is real danger if you are understaffed. First, you run the risk of quick burnout and high employee turnover, which would seriously impact staffing costs. More importantly, your credibility as a broadband provider is at risk if your service is not reliable. When you’re making your staffing decision, think in terms of hiring the most qualified people to keep your network operating and your service level high, while keeping customer churn low and maintaining the ability to acquire new customers.

Additionally, you’ll need field staff to respond to issues requiring diagnosing and/or replacing hardware failures, as well as any software issues that prevent remote connectivity to devices. Average annual cost for a mid-level NOC technician is approximately $50,000. For an eight-person staff, salaries and training will run around $400,000, plus the cost of a three- or four-person field team.

Pros and Cons

While it can be complex and costly, integrating broadband into your existing NOC provides certain advantages. For starters, leveraging existing facilities and in-house capabilities can help you reduce time to market and begin monetizing your broadband business quicker. At the same time, using your existing NOC offers the opportunity to cross-train existing staff on broadband, making them more valuable to the organization. If your existing NOC has the capacity and systems required, you may not have to build or source a new facility to support your broadband network. Owning your own NOC and integrating your broadband network within it gives you full control over how the operation is set up and managed. Lastly, combining the management of multiple networks—such as an electric grid and broadband—improves economies of scale.

On the other side of the ledger are the challenges that this approach creates, and cost is one of the biggest. The do-it-yourself model requires a significant investment in facility improvements in order to support your broadband network from day one. Upfront costs, therefore, are a concern. The need to continually monitor and upgrade the technology deployed in the NOC also creates added opex costs. It is important to remember that if you elect to go this route, you are responsible for virtually all aspects: employee training systems management, testing protocols, consumables management. It’s not that it can’t be done—but you need to carefully consider if you’re ready to take it on. In part 2, we’ll flip the equation and discuss outsourcing options for all or part of your broadband network operations. In the meantime, I invite you to check out Fujitsu’s portfolio of managed network services.

Don’t Wait for 5G to Make Network Slicing Pay Off

5G is just around the corner… or so the story goes. Yes, network service providers worldwide are busy preparing to deploy 5G, if they haven’t already started. But we have to face facts — 5G technology is still evolving, and 5G networks serving mass market mobile devices won’t be available for some time. So, while it’s still important to gain early competitive advantage in the race to 5G, achieving the full potential of next-generation networks will be a marathon, not a sprint.

However, you don’t have to wait for 5G to fully mature before you can take advantage of a key aspect of 5G networks. As you drive toward the goal of delivering 5G services, you can serve a variety of different subscriber needs now with network slicing.

Carving Up Capacity

In the traditional network, bandwidth was fairly monolithic. Allocating capacity for certain subscribers typically required implementation of a VPN or VLAN, reserving bandwidth in a static way that was less than efficient. With the promise of 5G, the ultimate goal will be to create scalable, end-to-end network slices that will be applied dynamically through automation.

But network slicing is not just for 5G. You can implement network slicing in today’s networks to deliver differentiated services to business and consumer customers now.

Network slicing enables the creation of multi-application networks that provide service differentiation with a certain bandwidth profile to meet specific customer needs. For example, you can define a set of requirements, such as low latency or high availability, to serve various categories of services — from automation and IoT, to augmented and virtual reality. This not only provides a more efficient way to manage applications and resources for service assurance, it also offers opportunities to drive more subscriber revenue.

Start Slicing Now

To determine how to get started, consider the different bandwidth profiles and applications that will benefit from network slicing, and develop a broader policy around how you can separate out the network. Virtualized services can be defined and separated by allocating resources in virtual network functions (VNFs) to assure the performance of each slice.

Getting a head start on network slicing now means you don’t have to wait for 5G to offer new value-added services. And although 5G standards are still evolving, the ONAP Project recently released a new 5G blueprint, including support for network slicing. This means you can start working toward implementation of this technology in an open, disaggregated manner that will dovetail with future 5G networks.

Monetize the Slice

5G networks are being rolled out this year, but we’re going to be waiting a while for full mobile capability. Network slicing provides a clear opportunity to deliver profitable new services and improved quality of service (QoS) now. Potential business use cases include deployment of virtual customer premise equipment (CPE) technology at the edge of your network to better serve both consumer and enterprise customers. Network slicing can also be employed to make critical communications services more reliable for public safety agencies and municipal governments. These are just a few examples of how you can increase profits through network slicing. To learn more, register for the webinar “Approaches to Solving Network Slicing Before 5G” with IHSMarkit and Fujitsu: Register Here

ONAP: Riding the open-source wave towards network automation

As digitization becomes increasingly important, communication service providers (CSPs) are constantly looking for innovative solutions driving more automated control into their networks. In the quest towards enabling faster service delivery and reducing operational expenditures, CSPs are faced with multiple challenges along the way that need to be addressed in order to achieve their business goals. Today’s operational support systems and networking infrastructure need to be refreshed in order to keep up with the scale and rising bandwidth demands, further accelerating the need for automation driven by SDN and NFV technologies.

In addressing some of these challenges, the telecom industry has started to embrace open-source solutions, bringing about more collaboration and harmonization. The ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform) project hosted by the Linux Foundation is a classic example of this. Over the last year we have witnessed an increased momentum among CSPs and vendors alike embracing ONAP as a unified orchestration and automation framework, with several of them making active contributions towards enhancing the project. At its core, ONAP provides a comprehensive platform for real-time, policy-driven orchestration and automation of physical and virtual network functions that will enable software, network, IT and cloud providers and developers to rapidly automate new services and support complete lifecycle management.

ONAP provides a common modular reference framework that defines key functional blocks and standard interfaces, which form a basis for service definition, resource onboarding, activation and control, and data analytics across a broad range of use cases. Common information models, external API support and generic management engines decouple the specific services and technologies, providing users with the flexibility to develop additional capabilities enabling new blueprints. With CSPs’ networks continuously evolving, the increased complexity of managing and implementing service offerings across multi-domain, multi-layer, multi-vendor environments is furthering the need for a unified approach to service orchestration and network management across legacy and modern infrastructures.

Although there is a high level of industry consensus on the architectural principles and interface definitions guiding the development of ONAP, we have a long road ahead towards secure and stable deployment in live networks. There are multiple options network operators are considering in integrating ONAP into their existing OSS environments. As with many open-source projects, we believe there will be markets for various distribution models providing network operators with flexibility on how they choose to consume ONAP and associated offerings, including: 

  • Integrated solutions with carrier-grade versions of individual ONAP modules  
  • Service models, applications and micro-services built to run in ONAP environments
  • Compliant networking infrastructure (physical/virtual), including PNFs, VNFs, domain controllers, etc. that plug into ONAP

There are multiple complexities involved in introducing ONAP into an existing OSS playground and the ability to successfully deploy and automate service delivery across the many network domains. Managing this incremental shift towards adopting ONAP modules / components, and having them co-exist with existing management systems, will be critical to enabling a smooth transition. The rise of 5G further necessitates the need for a scalable architectural platform to onboard and activate new services enabling a wider range of business opportunities for network operators, and to this extent ONAP seems like an attractive option. Having fully embraced open-source as a key catalyst to network automation, Fujitsu is actively engaging in the ONAP ecosystem. We are contributing to the development and extension of the ONAP framework towards addressing new use cases in partnership with network operators, with the goal of further driving community collaboration. As we continue to ride the open-source wave, we look forward to seeing the industry make this important digital transformation together.

MicroApplications – An Introduction to Solving Problems with Software in Small Packages

Why does a software solution have to be so difficult?  The answer is, it doesn’t.

MicroApplications (MicroApps) are small software applications frequently used for mobility platforms, like mobile phone apps.  When we use the term MicroApplications at Fujitsu we have a broader definition. 

A MicroApplication is a small software application that addresses a specific customer problem or use case. MicroApps are increasingly popular because they can be developed and deployed quickly and cost-effectively. 

Let’s break that down a bit more.

  1. Small – It’s in the name – Micro. The term small is in comparison to larger monolithic software applications used in the telecommunications industry, such as Element Management Systems (EMS) or Network Assurance platforms. These types of software platforms are designed to address many use cases and therefore are bigger — both in the amount of code required, as well as the time to develop and test them prior to rolling into production.
  • Specific – MicroApps are designed to address a specific customer need, typically an operational need, such as backing up a network element database, or extracting performance data from a router. 

MicroApps, however, are not necessarily simple to develop or implement. They can be small and focused, yet still address hard problems that have multiple degrees of complexity. An example of this would be around the IS-IS based routing protocol Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) used in traditional SONET/SDN network equipment. 

Like many routing protocols, a flat network is a problem from a routing table perspective. Fujitsu developed a MicroApp that helped discover, analyze, and subdivide these OSI networks into smaller routing instances to prevent oversubscription, and therefore communication loss. 

  • Faster & Cost-Effective – The third element of a MicroApp is how quickly its benefits can be achieved. Today more than ever, network service providers are looking for a faster return on investment (ROI) when considering a software solution to problems. One year or less is now considered a must but can be a challenge for larger software platforms. 

Because they are smaller and focused on a single use case, MicroApps can better meet this ROI timeline by simply delivering the solution faster. As an example of this, Fujitsu developed a fully functional, multi-vendor database back-up MicroApp for one of our customers in less than 90 days. This project was completed through a one-time purchase, the benefit of which could be realized in the same fiscal year. An equivalent network management system would have cost millions of dollars and carried hefty annual support contracts for years to come.

Fujitsu Network Communications has a long history in the telecommunications industry, both for our optical acumen but also as part of our larger heritage as one of the world’s leading ICT companies. We are committed to helping our customers on many levels of software development, and recognize the importance of MicroApps in the evolving world of telecommunications and software automation. To learn more, view the introductory video here:

 

Network Slicing Made Simple

To deliver on the promise of 5G, this next-generation technology will enable multiple new service streams virtualized through a common infrastructure. With all the different use cases for 5G, these services will have diverse performance requirements, which adds to the challenges of delivering them in an efficient way. To overcome these challenges, tomorrow’s networks will rely on network slicing.

The 5G radio consists of three distinct elements as defined by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP): radio unit (RU), distribution unit (DU) and central unit (CU). In the 5G New Radio (5G NR), multiple RUs hand off data to the DU. Network slicing begins within the DU by identifying specific services and allocating virtualized, isolated resources. The transport network interoperates with the DU and CU for dynamic service delivery and resource allocation, while the network operation uses multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) segment routing for dynamic establishment of resources. 

There is, however, a simpler and more cost-effective way of engineering and maintaining the MPLS segment routing elements. This involves physically separating the control and user planes using disaggregation, and operating the control plane in the cloud. Contrasting the cloud control plane to a traditional router will illustrate the benefits of this approach. 

A traditional router platform consists of an integrated control and user plane, in the form of a chassis and plug-in cards. These chassis come in multiple sizes based on performance and capacity supported. Each chassis dimension has integrated control and user plane regardless of the chassis size. Therefore, scaling is limited to that fixed dimension, meaning they always scale up to a limit. This means that — from Day One — the platform will typically only run at 20 to 30 percent capacity, but will still have to reserve the full footprint, power and thermal allocation of full loading. This is a very inefficient use of CAPEX. Furthermore, each of the deployment sites runs the risk of under- or over-engineering the capacity. Too small a dimension with an under-capacity site results in loss of revenue through unfulfilled demands, while an over-engineered site is an inefficient use of capital.

Control Capacity in the Cloud

Alternatively, the disaggregated approach consists of a programmable, purpose-built blade forming the MPLS-segment routing common infrastructure, and a decoupled virtual control plane in the cloud. When a new service is required, a virtual routing instance is generated in the control plane and provisioned throughout the virtual network, including resilient alternate pathways, end-to-end, based on the service level agreement (SLA).

Once calculated for the virtual network, the programming is pushed down into the common infrastructure. These cloud micro-services offer real protocol isolation per virtual router instance, where each protocol is running in its own container and brought together as one virtual router application instance. Multiple virtual router instances with full isolation can share the same network element hardware, offering a very CAPEX-efficient scaling operation. We refer to this as a scale-out approach via linear resource scaling, resulting in better infrastructure utilization versus traditional routers. 

Applying the cloud control plane approach to network slicing based on upcoming 5G services offers simplified operations and capacity scaling using virtualization to dynamically allocate and provision services to customers. As services are provisioned, the virtual routing instances are provisioned end-to-end for each service and customer on a global basis, then pushed down to the programmable network elements running the user plane.

This simplified operation offers full resource guarantees with reduced operational complexity, resulting in faster time to market/revenue return, while lowering the cost per bit using a capacity efficient virtualized network. This allows for the construction of one common infrastructure where individual network elements are minimized and right sized for capacity with multiple virtual networks, enabling many diverse service use cases to fully realize the potential of 5G.

3.5 GHz for Utilities is Not Your Grandpa’s CB Radio

Move over, county mounties and bears in the air – there’s a new Bubba Big Rigger in town, wall-to-wall and treetop-tall. The FCC recently opened a block of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, known as Citizen Broadband Radio Services (CBRS). This newly available block enables efficient use of radio spectrum, while helping to promote innovative SmartX applications and Internet of things (IoT) technology.

In the past, utilities have turned to Wi-Fi networks, bulk network data buys, or even spectrum leasing partnerships for their wireless infrastructure needs. All of these options can be expensive and difficult to scale, especially with the onrushing deluge of IoT devices, all of which require wireless connectivity. Now with CBRS, the FCC has opened up more efficient and secure wireless networking options for utilities.

For many utilities, SmartX is a major driver for owning, managing and controlling their own wireless network infrastructure, enabling them to modernize their existing services while introducing innovation and new revenue opportunities to their businesses. With high-performance wireless connectivity, utilities can benefit from industrial IoT “smart” sensors to increase operational efficiencies from automation and analytics. These efficiencies can take many forms. A few examples are automated data collection over wind farms extending over several miles; fiber replacement/supplement for operation; and easy deployment of remote surveillance cameras, power plants, water, gas and electricity metering and data security.

With CBRS, utilities can now deploy private LTE networks in available shared spectrum instead of hard-to-get or expensive licensed spectrum. CBRS offers more secure connectivity than Wi-Fi, with the high speeds and quality of an LTE wireless network. Whether connectivity is required in a tall office building, a college campus, or a large remote site (as in the mining industry), CBRS solutions allow utility companies to build a local private LTE network for their entire enterprise – regardless of the scale of their operation. The ability to aggregate multiple channels or carriers within the CBRS band will now allow utilities to offer mobility services to their existing customers while modernizing their existing operations.

For data transmissions from fixed wireless access points, CBRS will allow utilities to use SAS-enabled shared spectrum to create a robust, carrier-grade, broadband wireless network. (SAS, Spectrum Access Sharing, allows the FCC to monitor and manage any network interface between CBRS users and the US government who currently own a portion of the CBRS spectrum.) Utilities acting as wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) can build a highly reliable wireless network that offers cost-effective fixed wireless access with low latency and delivers real time communications to all their sensors, cameras and industrial IoT needs. Wireless networking over CBRS spectrum offers a means to tap into the growth opportunities for smart connected systems in various industries. CBRS offers plenty of spectrum to go around and although initial deployment costs can seem high in relation to Wi-Fi, the ongoing costs are lower, to the extent that LTE over CBRS deployments are expected to prove more economical over the long term. Utilities planning their SmartX and IoT implementations should start evaluating CBRS at this early stage of the game, and take advantage of the potential benefits for the new generation of connected utility technologies and big data analytics. The glory days of Citizens’ Band radio may be in our rear view mirror today, but for Citizens’ Broadband radio, it’s a big wide open road out there.

How Utilities are Creating New Revenue with Legacy Assets

Changing market dynamics across the power industry are creating a shift in the way that utilities operate. As more people leave rural America in search of high-tech lifestyles in urban centers, electric cooperatives and public power companies alike are dealing with the realities of customer erosion and an ever-increasing demand from their members to provide broadband. This situation is compounded by flat revenues due to lack of growth, as well as adoption of renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances. As a result, utilities are striving to develop new, more lucrative revenue streams. Furthermore, utilities are facing increasing pressure from customers to offer high-speed Internet, since many incumbent carriers are not expected to update their networks anytime soon.

At Fujitsu, with our long information and communications technology industry heritage, we can easily see a parallel with the rise of the mobile phone roughly 25 years ago. As telecom subscribers began ‘cutting the cord’ in favor of wireless service, and reduced subsidies, established telcos were faced with the challenge of developing a revenue replacement strategy. Fortunately, established players in the telecom industry had existing capital and operational investments — in the form of infrastructure, unused capacity, systems and support and most importantly, people — that they could leverage to offer new broadband services to their existing customer base.

Likewise, utility companies also have significant assets at their disposal that can be monetized for new revenue opportunities. The key is knowing where to look and how to make the most efficient use of existing investments to improve profit margins.

Shifting Focus

Many utilities have existing fiber buildouts that they are upgrading to the latest technologies to take advantage of digital transformation to operate their electrical service. As a result, these utilities are realizing they will soon have surplus network capacity on their hands. For savvy public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives, the best way to monetize their fiber assets is to deploy a below-the-line, or unregulated, service over their own broadband network.

For example, many utilities have invested in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in parts of their service areas, with fiber networks capable of speeds up to 100 Gbps supporting electrical substations. A utility with this infrastructure could offer broadband service to customers in the vicinity of each substation.

Beyond fiber infrastructure, utilities have other assets that can be leveraged to offer fixed broadband services, Wi-Fi or fixed wireless access:

  • Knowledgeable workforce with service delivery expertise
  • Current fleet of vehicles
  • Vertical assets, such as light poles and towers
  • Data centers for electronics and colocation services
  • Back-office administrative and billing support systems.

Now more than ever, utilities have options available for using existing infrastructure to replace lost revenue sources with minimal additional capital investments. This strategy not only improves the bottom line, it also, more importantly, brings 21st century services to rural America at a much lower cost since they have existing assets/foundation to launch a new service. And as more consumers, businesses and cities embrace advanced broadband technologies, like smart applications and the Internet of Things (IoT), the opportunities will only grow stronger, particularly with the addition of data analytics, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Where to Start?

While the promise of profitable broadband services is certainly enticing, some utility companies are reluctant to consider a new business model. How do they choose the right strategy? What can they do to minimize costs and alleviate risks? What assets can they combine and how do they put them together?

To ensure a successful transition to digital transformation, an important first step is choosing the right partner to make the journey with you. Becoming a broadband service provider is more than just building a network. The right partner will offer expertise in how to finance the network build-out, the best approach to implementing deployment, and what sort of services and “smart” applications you can offer to maximize monetization. In many cases, the right partner will even handle rollout and manage the network for you, until you are ready to take over.

As a full-service integration company, Fujitsu works closely with utilities to help them design, deploy and manage broadband networks, bringing all the pieces together in an end-to-end solution that fits their unique business case. We can analyze your existing assets to determine what capital investments and support systems can be leveraged, and develop a strategy to speed services to market so you can begin to realize below-the-line or unregulated revenue as quickly as possible. And with our years of experience and networking skills, we can manage network operations for you.

Lighting Up a Bright Future

A convergence of trends is creating new challenges for utilities, from the shifting demographics of rural America to increasing adoption of renewable energy. At the same time, the advancement of broadband technology, along with the IoT, smart applications and “always-on” connectivity, opens up vast potential for new revenue models and business opportunities across the utility market. To learn more about how you can put advanced technologies to work within your existing electrical utility, and grow “below-the-line” revenue, call Fujitsu to arrange for a complimentary assessment of your opportunity.

These Four Tenets are the Secrets of Hyperscale Optical Transport

The ever-expanding demands of data center interconnect were never going to be easy to address. Data center operators facing constant pressure for better cost metrics in terms of bandwidth and rack space density know that when the chips are down, it’s all about economics of scale—or more accurately, scalability.

With the new 1FINITY T600 optical transport blade, the quest to deliver the maximum amount of traffic and the highest performance at the minimum possible cost is suddenly much more reasonable and achievable. In addition to being the first compact modular blade to offer ultra-high speed transmission up to 600G, the T600 delivers the highest spectral efficiency in the industry: up to 76.8 Tbps per single fiber, enabling maximum performance and capacity for both data center interconnect (DCI) and 5G applications.

The T600’s value for data center operators can be broken down into four tenets that were uppermost in our minds as we designed the platform. These four tenets represent the cornerstones of hyperscale optical transport for next-generation DCI as well as 5G:

  • Flexibility – Designed to support all DCI applications, the T600 offers a wide range of configuration options and is engineered to scale progressively while controlling cost per bit per km.
  • Capacity – To enable extreme optical transport use cases, the T600 supports 600G transmission with both C- and L-band spectrum on the line side, as well as providing client ports that are upgradeable to 400 GbE, further boosting capacity; the blade will soon offer 6 × 400 GbE client ports as an option in place of the existing 24 × 100 GbE ports.
  • Automation – Starting with the feature-rich system software on the blade, Fujitsu has embraced the open-source model and laid the foundations for automation that simplifies operations and enhances adoption of network-level automation.
  • Security – From management to control to data plane, the T600 incorporates security measures to protect critical data from intrusion, including Layer 1 encryption and compliance with Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 as well as built-in physical design defenses.

Hyperscale optical transport will require extreme but flexible fiber capacity and reach capabilities that can be scaled for various DCI applications. Fujitsu addresses these needs with the 1FINITY T600 Transport blade, enabling data centers and cloud providers to equip their networks for the demands of the hyperconnected digital economy.

Find out more about the four tenets of hyperscale optical transport on the 1FINITY T600 blade—watch our video intro and check out the hyperscale transport technology brief.

A Domain Approach Could Simplify 5G Network Management

With the advent of 5G, a much more highly virtualized and dense mobile network infrastructure will place greater demands on management.  5G virtualization presents new challenges, both through individual components running as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and through network slicing, chiefly because these factors result in complex networks and consequently, much more complex network management.

Work is underway among the industry groups charged with developing and ratifying standards for 5G implementation. However, the current visions for slice management run a high risk of making network management so complex that it will significantly impact 5G roll-out and flexibility. The burdens of complexity will likely drive service providers to avoid the problem by adopting single-vendor network solutions. This will impact openness, and reduced commitment to openness carries a high price.

But what if there were an approach that simplifies slice management and allows service providers to bring 5G quickly to market.  Such an approach could base network management on a simple technology domain-based model, using standard interfaces per-domain to address 5G management and then evolving this design after initial deployment.

Engineering principles tell us the way to solve a complex problem is to break it down into simpler smaller problems. For 5G this means breaking the network into domains that can be managed individually but also linked to each other for capacity planning, service management, correlation, etc. A great deal of work is going into slice management for 5G, but it is also essential to think about the big picture and consider the entire approach for a fully manageable, easily implementable 5G network.

Figure 1: The 5G domains we expect to manage 

By breaking the problem down to domains, we can rely on each domain to understand the best way to provide resources for each 5G service class. These domains could also own the job of keeping service classes separate, so as to provide each as a separate network slice.  It would then be the job of multi-domain orchestration to manage the combined resources to provide the end-to-end network and make it visible to the service layer.

The domains shown in Figure 1, and their interfaces are as follows:

  • User Domain: The 5G user equipment, such as a smartphone, set-top box, PC, or IoT device. User equipment management standards will be part of the base specifications for 5G.
  • Virtualized Radio Access: Contains the remote radio, distributed unit and central unit, and where possible, runs as VNFs on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) compute, storage and inter-networking provided by the virtualized infrastructure domain. The ORAN (Open Radio Access Network) Alliance is standardizing management interfaces for the 5G RAN as well as for interworking interfaces in the network.
  • Transport Domain: The transport domain is potentially split beyond what is in 4G. It contains fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul elements, and will typically be an Ethernet over optical infrastructure. This domain may contain a cloud control layer based on virtualized compute. Existing transport interfaces across IP, Ethernet and optical layers are usable here including: Transport API (TAPI), Metro Ethernet Forum lifecycle orchestration (MEF LSO), and TM Forum interfaces. Open-source tools like OpenDaylight will be relevant to building interoperable controllers in this domain.
  • 5G Core: The core 5G network functions for functions such as authentication, access and mobility management and policy control. The 5G Core runs as VNFs on COTS provided by the virtualized infrastructure domain. 5G Core domain functions will have management interfaces defined per-function as part of the base 5G specifications.
  • 5G Services Domain: The 5G services domain understands the business logic and service class requirements for 5G services. Various standards and open source technologies may be applicable such as TM Forum and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), as well as work in the 5G Public Private Partnership (5G PPP) and other bodies.
  • Virtualized Infrastructure Domain: This domain includes the COTS infrastructure and the software stack for virtualization, including technologies and APIs from OpenStack, Kubernetes, and the Cloud Native Computing foundation. Telecom-specific software such as ONAP and Open Source Mano (OSM) can be applied.

Figure 2: A domain management approach to the complex 5G infrastructure 

In the scenario represented by Figure 2, each domain understands how to deliver its own appropriate set of network slices. This set of slices is then brought together by the multidomain orchestration layer to deliver an end-to-end network. The service layer can then request an end-to-end network from the orchestration layer that specifies the service class required.

Clearly, there will be cases where one domain needs visibility or control of an adjacent domain to provide the service level required. The multidomain orchestration layer could provide a dependency model that ensures such dependencies between domains. Ultimately some form of peer interworking between domains will be needed.

Looking at the long term, one desired goal may be to reduce the overall number of domains by combining management to get better capacity utilization and control over the infrastructure. However, separation allows for smoother initial roll-outs while retaining the openness desired by network operators. Another goal will be to begin to implement the full network slicing models envisioned by groups like 5G PPP and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as the 5G network matures.

The simplicity of a technology domain-based approach in early roll-outs of 5G will ensure that operators can mix and match technologies and avoid vendor lock-in, while still providing the services needed by customers and fulfilling the overall potential of the 5G network.

The Reality of Delivering the 5G Vision

With the start of 2019, the era of 5G is officially here… or is it? Are you ready? While a few early market leaders are already hyping 5G services, most service providers are still making plans. And as the build-out begins, the reality of deploying complex new architectures is introducing a variety of challenges.

Due to the increased speed and capability that 5G promises, service providers can expect mobile subscribers to consume more and more data, particularly rich multimedia content. Add to that the flood of device-to-device communications expected with the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as new use cases for the smart home enabled by fixed wireless access, and it’s easy to see that substantially greater capacity, scalability, reliability and performance will be needed — from the first mile all the way to the edge.

Intelligent RAN Plan

Next-generation 5G networks will require robust transport infrastructure, including a dense radio access network (RAN) architecture with distributed intelligence. This increasing densification means more advanced topologies in the access part of the transport network, as well as evolved fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul (i.e., X-Haul) interfaces.

As the 5G RAN becomes increasingly virtualized, service providers will be able to dynamically support a range of use cases with varying demands using SDN control and orchestration. Plus, a key benefit of this virtualization is the opportunity to disaggregate the optical transport network, simplifying the evolution to an integrated and modular 4G/5G network that is highly programmable.

However, X-Haul deployment plans will be highly dependent on the varying capacity needs and latency sensitivities of the specific use cases to be supported, requiring careful consideration of many different factors.

Vision to Reality

The potential for significant revenue from diverse 5G services is very real. And with a robust transport network capable of adaptively handling multiple open radio interfaces, network latencies and virtual infrastructures, your network will be able to support countless devices and applications, delivering the full 5G experience.

Yet, the complexities of next-generation architecture mean that service providers are essentially in uncharted waters as they transform this vision into reality, requiring them to fundamentally rethink network design and deployment. For this reason, Fujitsu is working closely with leading network service providers to help them plan, design and deploy 5G networks that will allow them to deliver new services they can monetize immediately, while preparing for more evolved use cases in the future.

To help other service providers learn from our real-world experience, we’ve published a paper entitled “Transporting 5G from Vision to Reality” that examines 5G transport challenges, the evolution of the RAN architecture, best practices for design and deployment, early business model opportunities and a vision for the future.  Click here to download this informative paper.