A truly manageable 5G communications network – what will it take?

Networks are evolving into living, breathing and “thinking” entities, and with the coming 5G will be composed of millions of heterogeneous elements that will operate in unison – and must be manageable.  

We believe that the key to delivering on the promise of 5G in terms of network management lies within the Self-Organizing network paradigm. In this post, we’ll take a high-level look at software-based approaches like SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NFV (Network Function Virtualization) that may become essential building blocks in the future 5th Generation of Networks.

Self-management in 5G

Future 5G networks, expected to be at least 100 times larger in size to cater to an estimated 1000 times increase in traffic, will be an orchestration of millions of elements. That said, a congruent increase in the cost of managing these networks is simply not feasible.  This is why network operators are looking at new approaches to network management that will enable efficient operations and consistent delivery that go beyond traditional practice. It is today clear that the in order to evolve effectively, networks will have to be made smarter with advanced software-based capabilities such as self-configuration, self-optimization, self-healing and self-protecting. This is becoming known as the Self-Organizing Network (SON).

The challenge will be to incorporate technologies that make network equipment more flexible in order to introduce SON capabilities. Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are 2 such technologies that the industry on whole and Alvarion in particular are focusing on for the future.

SDN & NFV – A High-level Intro

Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are two very hot topics in the communications industry.

SDN proposes the separation of control and data, moving management functions from the network elements towards controller software which is executed in a generic server.  This will enhance the programmability of the network.

NFV is an initiative to virtualize network functions and to migrate them from dedicated devices to generic servers. This initiative is supported by network operators and its main goals are to reduce deployment costs by reducing the dependency on proprietary hardware platforms and to improve service flexibility by providing software-based frameworks for the development and deployment of new service features.

Both technologies are in agreement on replacing expensive and dedicated appliances with generic hardware and advanced software.

Self-Organizing Networks based on SDN & NFV

SDN and NFV are being discussed as technologies that can be applied to achieve Self Organizing Networks. This is because SONs require a programmable control of the network and that is pretty much aligned with both SDN and NFV approaches.  SDN architectures provide a uniform control substrate for the programmatic management of network resources via vendor-agnostic APIs. On the other hand, NFV promotes the usage of virtualized network functions that will be easy to deploy in order to add new functionalities or to update existing ones.

In actuality, it will be a combination of SDN and NFV that provides an optimum solution: the control of the data is abstracted and standardized, allowing for network and application evolution without the need for upgrades of network devices. This can include, of course, new self-organizing features.

This solution will enable network operators and service providers to develop and deploy new optimization functions for specific services. In terms of self-protection, new countermeasures for new cyber-attacks could be immediately deployed upon attack detection. When the quality of a service starts to degrade, self-healing functions can be used to recover the committed QoS/QoE. The result would be more efficient, secured and resilient networks and services.

As we continuously work to build powerful Wi-Fi networks that are both heterogeneous and complete, the need for self-organizing capabilities in order to contain their management becomes a top priority for our customers as for the eco-system in whole. We believe that a software-based approach is key to bringing all the elements together effectively and SDN and NFV are two front-runners we will continue to focus on in this respect.

Stay tuned for more articles about the evolution of heterogeneous 5G networks.

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