What is network transformation?
Joining the 5G revolution is about more than devices: Its arrival will require a change in mind-set. Networks will need to become more agile so that communications service providers (CoSPs) can quickly launch new services, add, or redistribute compute and storage resources, and optimize network traffic.
Over the last five years, CoSPs have been preparing for 5G deployments by modernizing their networks. The recent wave of network transformation is all about gaining the ability to reach a level of agility, flexibility, and scalability that has never before been possible.
Why is network transformation important?
The combined resource demands of 5G and IoT network traffic will require a different architectural approach. First, networks will need to accommodate the massive growth in high-bandwidth content, such as video and cloud gaming. They’ll also need to handle a growing number of IoT use cases, in which sensors and other devices collect small packets of data that need to be continuously analyzed. Finally, networks must be easy to upgrade and manage so that CoSPs can keep up with evolving demands.
Creating an agile, software-defined network
Building an agile network to support 5G starts with software-defined infrastructure (SDI), a concept that moves control and management of resources to a software layer—similar to how data centers are managed today.
SDI enables dynamic resource configuration and can be implemented using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware. As a result, SDI-based architectures can help alleviate challenges for both real-time and future upgrades associated with hardware-specific infrastructure. These modern 5G infrastructures are also simpler to upgrade since a new feature is just a software download away.
Network functions virtualization (NFV) makes use of SDI by managing and provisioning network capacity using a range of networking function “apps” called microservices. This approach helps achieve “network cloudification,” the process of extending cloud platforms, technologies, and virtualization capabilities throughout a communications network to make it more agile, flexible, and scalable. With SDI and NFV, the hardware is separated from networking services running on software, so that each individual function of the network (like load balancing) can be managed independently.
The principles of SDI and NFV are also being applied to the radio access network (RAN). CoSPs need architectural flexibility and supply choice for 5G RAN deployments, from traditional distributed to virtualized configurations. Intel® technology-based RAN solutions offer CoSPs choice for 5G RAN deployments to fulfill the promise of virtualized, software-defined networks.
Leading CoSPs have created the O-RAN Alliance to provide an open, interoperable architecture for virtualized RAN (vRAN). Solutions based on this architecture are being developed by a broad, diverse ecosystem of hardware, and software vendors running on Intel® architecture-based servers.
Network transformation expands possibilities
Along with the network transformation that’s being accelerated by 5G comes an opportunity to deploy new edge servers and storage resources in the network. With cloudification, servers that traditionally power the data center are now running networking workloads. Extending those servers to run cloud applications at the edge is an easy upgrade.
Optimizing traffic with network slicing
5G networks will need to accommodate a variety of use cases. Some will require ultralow latency, like machine-to-machine communications in a manufacturing environment. Others, like streaming video, will demand maximum bandwidth.
Increasingly divergent use cases mean that as 5G develops, the concept of network slicing will become more important. Network slicing creates isolated end-to-end virtual networks tailored to fulfill diverse requirements for industry-specific applications. Using network slicing, businesses will benefit from a better ability to meet customer requirements, improved security through isolation, and minimized operational expenses.
Charting a path to transformation
With 5G deployments already rolling out, network operators need to accelerate their path to transformation. Their dilemma: How to invest in network upgrades that preserve current investments while helping prepare for future revenue-generating services.
Some operators, especially those involved in greenfield deployments, have invested in rapid transformation. Others, looking to maximize ROI on existing technology investments, will pursue a more gradual approach. Intel® architecture is designed to enable an easy transformation from 4G to 5G networks, regardless of which path operators choose.
The new world of virtualization-driven architecture allows network operators and CoSPs to adapt to transformation on a time scale that makes sense for them. In this way, they can adjust to a new generation of cloud-native technology one function at a time.
Explore Intel® technologies for 5G
There are many paths to network transformation. Intel® 5G technologies can support all of them. Intel® architecture powers network transformation from cloud to core to edge, providing peak performance for the agile networks of today and tomorrow. In addition, Intel’s broad ecosystem expands 5G core readiness across industries and applications.
From providing virtualized, NFV-compatible solutions for mobile networks to enabling the evolution of 5G infrastructure, Intel® technologies act as a foundation to enable the network transformation journey—no matter how you choose to get to your destination.1
Cloud-native, software-based architectures that use commercial, off-the-shelf servers will power the future of 5G.