4 Barriers Mobile Operators Face on the Road to 5G

What stands between commercial 5G deployments and mobile operators? Four things. 

1. 5G success will be measured by user experience

The 5G dream is a vision of a transformed human society, made significantly more efficient, more safe, and more fun by applications and services used to control every facet of daily life, delivered via a personal network on tap that provides perfect quality of experience (QoE) anytime, anywhere.

This means operators must shift their focus from measuring network performance to measuring the user experience. New processes and technologies are required to understand how network performance affects QoE. Measurement and optimization must take place in near real-time, at a much more granular level than ever before.

Best-effort QoE won’t cut it in a 5G world.

2. Operators lack visibility needed to differentiate 5G services

To achieve differentiated QoE for 5G services, operators must have complete visibility all the way from the end user device to the cell tower to the core network. Without this level of visibility—insight into every network node, for every services—it won’t be possible to rapidly detect and pinpoint issues and quickly resolve them. 

It’s not just user expectations that demand a new type of agile, adaptive architecture for optimizing network performance and QoE; it’s also the types of services 5G will include. Latency is a source of inconvenience, annoyance, and sometimes customer churn for legacy services; it could be a matter of life and death for driverless cars or remote medical patient monitoring. The stakes are very high.

Unfortunately, the required level of visibility is lacking in legacy networks and instrumentation methodologies. In a 5G world, network monitoring and network control and part and parcel of the same system, working at a very granular level in real-time to ensure everything is operating smoothly.

3. Hardware-based legacy networks can’t meet 5G expectations

Transitioning from legacy to 5G is nothing short of a network architecture transformation. That means rethinking the current trajectory of investment in technology to transport the most data possible in the fastest time. 

Yes, data usage continues to grow exponentially. Yes, the diversity of applications is increasing. Yes, operators have to do something to keep up. But, in traditional network architecture, just throwing more bandwidth at the problem is actually exacerbating the potential for bottlenecks (much as interstate highways inevitably fall victim to traffic jams, no matter how many lanes are added), because it results in more and more dense networks that are harder to optimize using a centralized, evolved packet core (EPC) methodology.

To overcome the limitations of traditional monitoring and control—using inflexible and expensive hardware—operators must re-focus on centralization and sustainable scalability.

4. Centralized orchestration exacerbates bandwidth growing pains

Most QoE issues originate in backhaul and radio access networks (RANs). This truth cannot be ignored if operators are to succeed with 5G, even though it means re-architecting networks. 

Centralized orchestration is fundamental to provisioning traditional mobile services, but it threatens the success of 5G. In a successful 5G architecture, network nodes (e.g. base stations, radio air interfaces) will be able to talk directly to each other without involving the EPC.

In a 5G world, decentralized orchestration means combining end-to-end control and performance visibility with user experience context, policy enforcement, security, and fast analytics, empowering operators to optimize QoE in the face of constantly changing conditions, without latency-inducing referral to the EPC.

This will be possible by building a ubiquitous ‘nervous system’ of distributed, virtualize instrumentation through the EPD, transport, backhaul, and RAN layers. Such a system makes it possible to create fully automated networks capable of self-optimizing a plethora of applications, users, devices, and locations. 

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