By Tim Doiron, Principal Analyst, ACG Research
Many service providers and vendors have tied their future to the successful commercial deployment and evolution of 5G mobile networks and services. Unlike prior generations of wireless technology, 5G is designed to support new applications, services and industries. Mobile consumers will benefit with enhanced mobile broadband, but more importantly 5G will facilitate the launch of fixed wireless services, massive Internet of Things with billions of connected devices and ultra-reliable, low-latency services like augmented reality and remote surgery. To support these diverse use-cases with diverse performance and reliability requirements, 5G will introduce network slicing that will enable operators to create logical or virtual network partitions. While mobile dedicated resources like the 5G New Radio (NR) and 5G Core (5GC) will be directly impacted by network slicing, it is the transport network that will connect the physical and virtual infrastructure pieces together to create an end-to-end network for each slice.
Figure 1: 5G Use-Cases and Attributes
With the backing of our sponsor, ECI, ACG Research conducted an independent primary research project to identify the trends, opportunities and challenges in 5G mobile transport. We gathered 5G global transport results from leaders in mobile, wholesale and fixed-mobile converged service providers. While the full results of the research are not yet published, there are two findings that I thought our OFC audience would appreciate thinking about as we approach the upcoming 2019 OFC Conference in March.
FlexE is one of the top technologies that service providers intend to test and utilize to implement transport network slicing. FlexE was a top technology in all regions – listed as #1 in North American and #2 in EMEA. The OIF is conducting FlexE demonstrations at OFC again this year and I already have an appointment scheduled to check it out. While FlexE is still early in terms of commercial availability or deployments, the ability to map IP/Ethernet mobile traffic to underlying optical transport via channel bonding and sub-rate multiplexing offers a flexible option for service providers to separate and slice their IP/Ethernet traffic while also maximizing utilization of the underlying optical transport.
Figure 2: Top Transport Technologies to Implement Network Slicing
How will 4G and 5G transport networks coexist?
In another finding, we identified that there are diverse views about how 4G and 5G transport networks will coexist – both initially and over time. While everyone appreciates that 5G transport solutions will need increased capacity and faster port speeds to support 5G networks, the debate is about how we get there. At 41%, the largest percentage of respondents in our research believe that 5G transport networks will initially be deployed as separate and distinct from existing 4G transport solutions with 4G networks migrating/converging with 5G over time. However, fully 36% of participants believe 5G and 4G transport networks will remain fully separate and distinct. 13% of participants think 5G will initially be deployed on 4G transport networks, but that 5G will separate and become distinct over time while 10% believe 5G will initially deploy on 4G transport infrastructure and remain converged throughout the deployment lifecycle.
Figure 3: 5G Transport Evolution and Existing 4G Networks
We believe this diversity of views represents an opportunity for vendors to sharpen their message and tailor their solutions to individual service provider needs. Service providers have daily networking, economic and operational challenges and need the help of vendors to evaluate and select the best 5G transport deployment model and migration strategy. As an example, the right initial deployment strategy that focuses on rapid time-to-market may not be optimal in the medium term where capabilities like network slicing will become increasingly important to support the range of 5G services and use-cases.
Please reach out to me via email or Linked-In if you would like to catch up at OFC 2019 to discuss the results of our 5G transport research or any other challenges you might be facing. I look forward to seeing you in sunny San Diego.
Tim Doiron, Principal Analyst, ACG Research
Posted: 15 February 2019 by
Tim Doiron, Principal Analyst, ACG Research
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