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5G network technologies and future analyzed by South Korean telcos
January 02, 2017 | By Dr. Michelle M. Do @ Netmanias (tech@netmanias.com)
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On December 7th, "5G Network Technologies Workshop", co-hosted by 5G Forum and SDN/NFV Forum, was held in Novotel Ambassador Kangnam Hotel in Seoul, Korea. At the workshop, panels including Jinhyo Park (Head of Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom), Eun Kyung Paik (SVP at KT) and Kyung In Kwon (SVP at Ericsson-LG), gave presentations about "5G Network Technologies and Future", specifically discussing key network technologies, market and ecosystem, and network operations in the coming 5G era. Below is the highlight of what was addressed.

■ Panel presentations
1.  SK Telecom 
SK Telecom first discussed the challenges they had faced while moving towards 5G, the solutions they came up with, and the resulting trade-offs.


(source: Presentation by SK telecom panel) 

SK Telecom named 5G design challenges they had faced (i.e., Increased Data Rate, E2E Latency Reduction, Higher Reliability, Massive Connectivity, Guaranteed User Experience and Efficiency) and introduced evolving solutions to each challenge, along with their resulting trade-offs.

Technological changes towards 5G

1) From centralized system to distributed system: Higher system complexity, but lower latency

2) From dedicated system to virtual system

Dedicated systems may give better performance, but virtual systems have better flexibility, extensibility and energy-efficiency. SK Telecom already made clear its intent not to use vendor-dedicated system any more to its current partners including Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia, who came together to develop virtualized systems. 

3) From closed to open/unbundled 

Open systems could mean challenges in clarifying who is responsible when failures or errors are encountered. But to survive today's rapidly changing mobile industry where Google implements telco functions as software on its cloud servers and Facebook deploys its own base station, open/unbundled systems seem to be an ultimate way of achieving innovation and automation needed today.

Then, presentations about upcoming changes in 5G network, the design principles of ATSCALE(@SCALE), SK's next-generation network, and improvements needed in operational environment for SW-centric network operation were followed.
(source: Presentation by SK Telecom panel) 
ATSCALE design principles  

  • Unbundling: SW and HW are decoupled, function blocks are unbundled, and control and user planes are separated. 
  • Open Source: Openness in SW, HW and interfaces like fronthaul is the key. 
  • Softwarization: Most network functions, like NFV, SDN, Orchestration, network slicing, are to be implemented as software.
  • Cloudification: Switching from CAPEX to OPEX. Network operation is to be automated.   

Network building models are switching from CAPEX-centric to OPEX-centric. For instance, Google wants a model where it offers cloud servers featuring core network functions like IMS, and lets service providers use the functions by paying monthly service fees. This allows non-1st tier operators who cannot afford the high costs of building their own network and system to use the same functions at affordable rates. Also, because SW-centric network operation cannot be controlled by a certain number of designated network administrators, automation will be essential for successful operation. 


ATSCALE architecture (source: Presentation by SK Telecom panel) 
Changes in network operation


ATSCALE has a SDN/NFV-based architecture, where quite a number of virtualized network/service functions are built as blocks on the underlying infrastructure. This leaves mobile telcos with the challenge of operating these many functions efficiently.
To get ready for 5G era, SK Telecom has worked on improvement of operation environment, with the focus on Big Data and AI (Deep Learning). Its ultimate goal is to enhance the operation system up to the extent where the system automatically learns from constantly generating data, and analyzes parameters delivered from the network to predict certain types of problems (congestion, anomaly detection, resource usage, HW/operation failure, etc.) before they are identified by the system operator. 


2. KT 

KT saw inter-operability is the most critical element of 5G. With this global trend of moving towards SDN/NFV-based softwarization and openness, any individual 5G technologies will have no use if they cannot work together or cause performance degradation while working together.
As more software-defined operations are expected in 5G, DevOps approaches can play important roles. KT pointed out that, for DevOps approaches to work, sufficient human resources in software, especially in system-level software, must be secured first, which is not the case for telcos in South Korea. So, a DevOps system that is optimized for the country, rather than for individual telcos, has to be developed, KT noted. 


3. Ericsson-LG 
Ericsson-LG said automated operation is one of the key issues that 5G has to deal with, taking an example of the high complexity encountered in the course of virtualization. In radio access, Self-Organizing Networks (SON) for automated operation is not a new concept. It has long been discussed since the arrival of LTE, and  has already been included in 3GPP standards. Ericsson-LG took examples of AT&T's Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy (ECOMP ) and Ericsson's Control, Orchestration, Management, Policy and Analytics (COMPA), and emphasized the significance of comprehensive management and automation of everything from radio access to transport, routing and OSS/BSS. 
■ Q&A
In the Q&A session, questions about vendors' opportunities in 5G and potential 5G markets were asked and answered.
Q1) As in the case of SDN/NFV, software matters more than anything in 5G. But, South Korean network vendors will still have to rely on hardwares in seeking business opportunities, won't they?  
(Most global vendors, who had secured key 5G HW technologies (e.g. time-sensitive network, mmWave and ultra-high speed), have been attempting to have the HW technologies perceived as SW to meet the needs and expectations of mobile telcos who now add more weight to SW-centric solutions. So, if telcos now say they would prioritize SW, wouldn't it be misleading local vendors into believing 5G is all about SW, and not about HW at all?) 

A1) SK Telecom - 5G, an opportunity for those with specifically-purposed SWs

SK Telecom shared the changes it has experienced while building HW/SW, and predicted specifically-purposed SW will rule the 5G communication market.


According to SK Telecom, local telcos have so far simply used equipment, HW or SW, supplied by leading global vendors like Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia, whether they liked it or not. But, once SDN/NFV begins to prevail as predicted, these vendor-specific HWs will be replaced by universal HWs. For this reason, SK Telecom is aiming to develop SW with high inter-operability that are compatible with HW from any vendors. For example, previously SK Telecom had no option other than to use base stations (HWs and SWs) from Samsung, but now it can buy HWs from either Samsung or other vendor and SWs like RRC, RRM, O&M, etc. in unbundled packages.


SK Telecom, skeptical about the chances of South Korean vendors' beating Chinese vendors who supply low-priced, white-box-type, high-performance servers, chose to target SW market rather than HW market.


In some locations, the company already began operation of SDN/NFV-based, commercial LTE base stations that feature x86 servers and SW stacks from a SW developer in Silicon Valley. 


It argued that these new SDN/NFV solutions can bring more business opportunities in the 5G market to South Korean vendors who have specialized protocols or specially-purposed SWs. It also predicted that, considering the fact that local telcos have a lot shorter time-to-market compared to their global counterparts, local vendors will have a higher chance of entering the global market once they can prove the excellent performance of their solutions in the local market first through partnership with a local telco. 


A1) KT - Inter-operability, the key to success in 5G

Previously, dominating markets with out-performing solutions has been the key to success in the market so far. However, in 5G, cooperation with vendors in 5G ecosystem is becoming a more important factor than ever, argued KT. It is not whether it is a HW or SW solution. It is now a matter of whether the solution can inter-operate with those from other vendors or not. Any vendor, small or big, equipped with a solution with better inter-operability can gain a competitive edge in the market. 


Q2) What matters most in the 5G market? In which market will 5G service be launched first?


A2) SK Telecom - Mission-critical service and network slicing

SK Telecom named mission-critical services and network slicing as the two key 5G services.

  • Mission-critical service - For mission-critical service, Mission Critical Computing (MCC) products as well as a platform that supports 'ultra-real-low-latency' required by the industries must be in place. 
  • Network slicing - Networks should be optimized to satisfy different services and subscribers.


A2) KT - Enterprise services

KT believed enterprise services will be the first service sector in the 5G market as they can start from edges. These kinds of services can be offered through a central office, like an EPC that runs as a SW in the central office.


A2) Ericsson-LG - High-performance, low-latency IoT (automobile and health care)

Ericsson-LG predicted automobile and healthcare industries that require high-performance and low-latency will become key sectors in the 5G market. They certainly see markets and needs for LPWA (LoRa, LTE-M, etc.)-based, massive IoT, but chose high-performance, low-latency IoT, like self-driving and health care, because of its relatively higher profits.



The Q&A session that followed revealed a clear difference in view between those who asked questions, hoping the local telcos to be interested in helping local vendors to raise their competitiveness in the 5G HW market, and the local telcos who answered saying having a competitive edge in the global 'HW' market is challenging for them. Another difference in view was that, no matter how open the telcos believe their networks and interfaces to be, the networks have remained siloed from the perspective of local vendors. Also there was a widespread concern that vendor lock-in issues will become only worse as the openness being pursued gets way more complicated than expected, which will make it even harder for small and medium size enterprises to enter the market.


Throughout the discussion today, the telcos made it clear that they will shift their focus away from vendor-specific, HW-centric solutions to SW-centric solutions in response to the imminent global transition to softwarization and openness in the 5G market. The telcos have been actively introducing and developing more software-centric networks and services that meet their unique needs and replacing vendor-specific HWs with universal ones by separating HWs from SWs with the aim of taking the lead in building networks and developing services away from equipment vendors. 


The telcos also predicted that, as universal HWs gain more popularity, local vendors will face tougher competition in the HW market. This, on the other hand, can create opportunities for SW developers who have unique, specialized features to offer. Apparently, the telcos are now seeking SW solutions than HW solutions. 


These changes required in the coming 5G era are signaling major challenges for the local vendors who have enjoyed profits generated from operator-specific, HW-centric solutions that they offered. It is time to decide whether to begin a battle with global and Chinese vendors in the universal equipment market, or to transform into a more SW-centric solution developer (and find out how). Although not joined by many vendors, the discussion clearly revealed the vulnerability that South Korea is or will be experiencing in the SW sector.


mutatioconstans 2017-01-04 21:40:18

Thank you, this is an excellent summary of the steps KT is taking towards 5G and the issues they and their partners have to overcome. The next forum promises to be very interesting.

The key takeaway for me is that early moves to 5G will involve compromise, particularly with a move to open source & the complexity this brings in operation. As a consequence of this complexity, intelligence & automation in operation & orchestration will be required to meet the myriad demands of these new services speed, particularly enterprise and mission critical services.

You cannot operate or orchestrate these services at speed by simply involving more people; it requires fewer, highly skilled people working with AI, Machine Leaning and Cognitive Computing technologies to do this.

Telco's traditional vendors and partners simply don't have the skills to deliver on some of the key technologies needed by Service Providers such as AI, Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing; they are still struggling to be relevant in Cloud, IOT & getting a handle on Cyber Security.

In addition, these traditional vendors & partners are not players in  Mixed Reality (360, Virtual & Augmented); addressing the challenges delivering MR experiences will test their appetite for what, in my humble opinion, will be the high margin, niche services.

This creates a dilemma for Service Providers that may only be solved either by doing more in-house or identify new partners, which is high risk; or encouraging vendors to bring niche, highly specialised technology partners in as partners or acquisitions. This approach pits the Telco players, even the so-called Digital Telcos, against the likes of Google or Apple; who are already active in these technologies, have deeper pockets, more freedom to pursue these areas and their own value propositions. 

Cahit via LinkedIn 2017-01-09 20:53:08

Security ,which was not discussed in the panel, will be one of the main issues besides latency and speed, even more with distributed architecture

and with virtualization

Thank you for visiting Netmanias! Please leave your comment if you have a question or suggestion.

[HFR Private 5G: my5G]


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