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The role of optimisation in 5G networks

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5G will bring about a significant change in the ability to meet increasingly complex consumer demands, says Martin Walshaw, senior engineer at F5 Networks.
As we all know, 4G and LTE are designed to improve capacity, user data-rates, spectrum usage and latency.
However, 5G represents more than just an evolution of mobile broadband.
It will be a key enabler of the future digital world and the next generation of ubiquitous, ultra-high speed broadband infrastructure that will support the transformation of processes across all economic sectors. 5G will also represent a step change in the ability to meet the growing scale and complexity of consumer market demands.
While 5G is still in its evolutionary stage, its development will clearly be influenced by a need to support three specific use-cases (all of which will have an impact on emerging fields like autonomous vehicles, telemedicine and the Internet of Things):
• Extreme Mobile Broadband (EMB)
• Massive Machine Type -Communication (mMTC)
• Ultra-Reliable Machine-Type Communication (uMTC)
Bringing these to life will require adaptation on both the radio and network side. For example, services may be centralised and in some cases distributed. This will depend both on the service function itself (some service functions will be naturally centralised or distributed) and, from a use-case point of view, access to technology and the type of performance required.
Access to a technology that is potentially able to apply functions independently from the underlying protocol gives service providers the flexibility to implement services almost everywhere in the network.
Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) – which enables the edge of the network to run in an isolated environment from the rest of the network, and creates access to local resources and data – is likely to have an impact here. Indeed, Research and Markets has identified it as a $80 billion market opportunity by 2021.
The optimisation and acceleration of transport protocols will become even more important for networks requiring low latency and the capability to hit high performance in a short amount of time. In this case, it is recommended to have a TCP optimisation function capability running in different points of the network and, in particular, as close as possible to the end-user in terms of RTT/Latency. This will enable faster reactions in the case of changes of network conditions, as well as service/applications requests.
Delving further into the detail, TCP optimisation could become hierarchical and distributed where different proxies talk to each other, creating “reliable” point-to-point intermediate connections. The purpose here is to enable faster re-transmission in the case of any network drop irrespective of cause (congestion, IP traffic rerouting, temporary loss of connection on radio or fixed connection, etc.)
Another important element to consider is the deployability of policy enforcement and traffic steering functions on 5G networks in different parts of the network. From an architectural perspective, the same concepts and capabilities for TCP optimisation apply here. In other words, the capability to distribute the functions can happen at any point in the network and for any kind of traffic. This can include traffic steering, manipulating video, or working as a gateway function for IoT-based services that can be orchestrated by F5 technologies, removing and re-adding existing tunneling protocols.
F5 is starting to stand out from the crowd in this space due to its ability to manage, analyse and manipulate the traffic from Layer 4 up to Layer 7, injecting, removing or changing content. This includes both application layer traffic (such as HTTP, SSL, etc.) as well as network protocols (like GPRS Tunneling Protocol-encapsulated traffic for mobile network transport). By running a Virtual Network Function (VNF), it becomes possible to achieve high levels of distribution and, ultimately the ability to better monetise, secure and optimise service providers’ networks.