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The race to 5G is already on

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Kathy Gibson reports from SATNAC in George – 5G starts today; we don’t need to wait for 2020, because 5G is a software evolution rather than a revolution.
Most importantly, it is software, and the majority of what we need for 5G happens in the core network, says Professor Thomas Magadanz, Fraunhofer Institute Fokus.
“We need to start now to prepare for this big change,” he stresses.
Magadanz points out that 5G is a convergence of many domains. “It is complicated. On the one hand it is not just a massive networking infrastructure that provides high bandwidth.
“It is integrating all networking technologies that are IP based. We talk about 3G and 4G, the fixed network and even the satellite infrastructure. So it is a fixed-mobile infrastructure.
“We also see multimedia services, virtual reality and augmented reality. We see massive IoT applications as well,
“But the real big thig is the software-isation of our networking infrastructure: network function virtualisation (NFV), software-defined networks (SDN) and mobile edge computing (MEC).”
IoT is a key driver for 5G, Magadanz says.
The 5G world relies on virtualised networking, so open innovation is a given. This means there will be a competitive supply of innovative applications by third parties – so incumbents could feel threatened.
Magadanz explains the NFV provides virtualised network functions that is adaptable to various compute, storage and network functions.
There is no 5G reference architecture as yet. However, there are indications of what this could look like.
The NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) Alliance suggests a new way of thinking about the 5G reference architecture – and IoT is already part of it.
In this model, the 5G architecture is software-ised, and allows for network slicing – or virtual networks that provide dedicated control planes for various functions such as smartphones or autonomous driving, IoT or e-health.
“The could be hundreds of those slices in the future, and they can run in parallel,” says Magadanz.
“The key story is that almost every enterprise could become a virtual network operator. They can start small, thanks to cloud technology they could scale up.
“This opens the doors for completely radical new network infrastructures.”
In this architecture, the orchestrator is the man decision point in the interaction between the data centre and these discrete network slices.
Through cloud computing, network functions can be deployed in the edge or in the central node. On the edge, controllers have to be simple in order to manage a limited set of devices that have low latency and low power usage.
A modular core network can be created from different pieces including specific implementations of basic functionality.
“This is a great place for innovation; and these building blocks can be put together for optimal control,” Magadanz adds.
For telcos, it is going to be important to seperate the user and control planes, and to create a flatter network infrastructure. This can be done with existing networks and would be the first step that telcos take as they move towards 5G.