Why the delay on 5G SA in North America and Europe?

Why is it taking so long for North American and European operators to move to a pure 5G standalone (SA) architecture?

Conversing with Silverlinings over email recently, ABI Research’s Don Alusha, a senior analyst in its telco digitization practice, had some thoughts on the technical issues and customer requirements that are driving 5G SA take-up.

ABI had previously noted that China was ahead of North America and Europe in terms of 5G SA networks deployed for a good reason.

“On the technical front, whether it is [communication service providers] in North America or in Europe, 5G SA adoption is certainly not a straight-line progression from [the] existing packet core,” ABI's Alusha wrote. “For example, deploying cloud-native tooling is harder than the industry anticipated. The physical infrastructure must be cloudified end to end.”

In addition, "The 3GPP [5G] framework must be mapped to a cloud-native environment,” Alusha said. “CSPs will need to introduce new interfaces, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), subscriber databases [and more].”

“It is not a smooth transition from a virtual core network, but a re-architecting of the entire core platform,” Alusha noted. “There are several technical considerations. The packet core handles traffic that is latency-sensitive, jitter-sensitive and demands high packet rate throughput.”

“The [5G core]... is based on a cloud-native construct,” the analyst wrote. “That, in addition to re-architecting the network, also means architectural considerations for cloud infrastructure across three interfaces: 1) between full-stack and decoupled architectures; 2) between packet core workloads hosted on public and private clouds; and 3) between virtualized, cloudified, and network functions (NFs) still in physical form — in that order.”

Network complexity

Plus, a 5G core increases network complexity exponentially.

“For example, it is reported that there are more than 400 network procedures in 5G networks, each of which has its own dedicated key performance indicators (KPIs) and processing algorithms,” the analyst said. This alone can potentially increase network operations cost by 100% to 130%, he added.

"Arguably, an equally significant challenge with 5G SA adoption is on the operating model front,” the analyst noted. “For new value to materialize, CSPs must change the way they operate and that is a transition journey. Working with 5G SA and cloud-native networks will require new processes, new competencies, and new operating models. The tendency is still to apply the existing practices.”

Things are different now, though, he said. "With 3G and 4G, CSPs drove value from core to edge; ‘build-it-and-they-will come’ was the starting point, and ‘what technology CSPs could build’ was the foundation of that model. This is a centralized, top-down approach. With 5G SA, CSPs stand to take a global customer and/or technology view driven by customer requirements. CSPs drive value from edge to core — ‘what customers need’ is the starting point. The business strategy begins to set the technology agenda, rather than the other way around. Learning how to operate in this bottom-up, horizontally stratified ecosystem is a journey for CSPs,” the analyst concluded.

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