Verizon readies shift to 5G standalone core after successful trial

Verizon has completed the first data session on its new 5G standalone core and plans to start shifting mobile traffic over later this year.

All U.S. carriers have deployed 5G networks in non-standalone (NSA) mode, which relies on a 4G LTE anchor. With 5G standalone that’s no longer the case. Once implemented, a 5G core means Verizon can start introducing key 5G technologies, like network slicing to enable new use cases. Verizon still has some virtualization work to complete, but is on track to start moving some initial traffic over to the new core by the end of 2020, a Verizon spokersperson said. The carrier expects full commercialization of its 5G standalone core in 2021.

“The 5G standalone core is critical for unleashing the most advanced benefits of 5G technology including remarkable levels of programmability to manage the advanced solutions and exponential traffic that 5G will bring,” said Bill Stone, Vice President of Planning for Verizon, in a statement.

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Instead of running on virtualized machines, Verizon is changing its underlying software architecture to cloud-native container-based technology. It views container-based architecture as a much more efficient way to deliver operational applications that run the network.  

“By building this 5G core with cloud-native containerized architecture, we will be able to achieve new levels of operational automation, flexibility and adaptability,” Stone’s statement continued.

Verizon’s been working with container technology for some time. Roughly a year ago it had the first deployment of container-based wireless Evolved Packet Core technology in a live network in a proof-of-concept trial with Ericsson.  At the time, Stone told Fierce Wireless Verizon’s plan was to use the cloud-native containerized tech for the 5G core “from Day One.”

While that trial was with Ericsson, a Verizon spokesperson said the carrier has several infrastructure vendors on the core side who are “all working together for the new core,” and did not call out a single specific supplier today.  

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Verizon’s infrastructure vendors also include Nokia and Samsung, though reports surfaced this week that Nokia could lose out on the carrier’s business.

Verizon said its 5G standalone core, which is comprised of software applications, compute, networking, and storage, also combines built-in artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Alongside the webscale software architecture, those technologies will let the carrier allocate network resources for applications as needed (network slicing) and automate network configuration changes. That includes scaling up or down network function capacity, so it can provide specific services and resources to different users or use cases depending on their requirements.

Certain quality of service elements or network resources could be applied to enterprise applications, for example, that might need a higher level of reliability.

In terms of needs for different combinations of network capabilities, Verizon called out things like the massive number of IoT devices that don’t need a lot of network resources, as well as more data-intensive smartphones, and complex applications like AR/VR and mixed reality “that will require massive computing capabilities on the edge of the network.”  

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Other benefits Verizon cited of its new 5G standalone core include a scalable, more cost-efficient architecture, real-time resource management of the RAN and virtual network functions, as well as advanced network data analytics for improved performance.

Ericsson this week announced general availability of its standalone 5G NR software for low- and mid- band spectrum, supported by the Ericsson 5G Core. T-Mobile has trialed the software on its commercial network in the U.S.

Standalone 5G-capable devices are expected to be available later in 2020, according to Ericsson.