March 2023 As 5G matures, 5.5G steps in as the natural evolution and drives the need for a converged cloud-native 5.5G core
Stéphane Téral’s Perspective on Huawei's 5.5G Core evolution
We saw this at Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona: the discussions shifted from 5G to 5G-Advanced, also known as 5.5G. At some point, every G evolves halfway towards the next G. Put another way, now that the 5G base stations are up and running live traffic, it’s time to beef up the core and evolve it to its next iteration, 5.5G core, to address a plethora of new use cases and new opportunities as well as some envisioned a decade ago at the time 5G was being developed.
Now in the 5th year of unabated 5G rollouts (Figure 1), 3 significant trends driving the need for a 5.5G core have emerged:
- Extensive 5G footprint: according to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), as of the end of December 2022, 243 communications services providers (CSPs) in 96 countries have launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services including mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA) services. Also, at least 35 CSPs in 20 countries have launched commercial public 5G SA networks. In addition to these, GSA has identified 77 other CSPs that are currently investing in 5G SA for public networks (including those evaluating/testing, piloting, planning, or deploying).
- Ongoing voice migration: as 2G/3G networks are being sunset, the need to migrate circuit-switched (CS) services to voice over LTE (VoLTE) and ultimately to voice over New Radio (VoNR) has never been greater. The good news is that LTE is ubiquitous, and the universal mobile services foundation and VoLTE enhance the user experience and deliver great spectral efficiencies. However, the migration from CS to VoLTE and to VoNR cannot happen overnight and will be a long journey with serious implications on core networks.
- Ongoing cloud migration: the introduction of network function virtualization (NFV) started a decade ago to decouple hardware from software and run core network functions on virtual machines (VMs), triggering the move from evolved packet core (EPC) to virtual EPC (vEPC). In 2020, containers and micro-services were introduced as key components of cloud-native network design and migration path to 5G core networks with high degree of much needed automation. At this point, intent-driven algorithms are used to automate large-scale cloud-native 5G telecom networks, and that is just the beginning of a very long journey.
All this means that the need to support voice services and video calling while developing new capabilities to enable all services through an enhanced core that not only simplifies operations but optimizes monetization, has never been greater.
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Stéphane Téral, Chief Analyst
Developed in cooperation with Huawei Technologies