Press Release

Why 5G standalone core needs to be on every operator’s roadmap

Why 5G standalone core needs to be on every operator’s roadmap

Why 5G standalone core needs to be on every operator’s roadmap

22nd of October 2020

By now we all know that 5G’s ultrafast speeds, high bandwidth, and low latency will open a world of opportunities, its advanced applications transforming virtually every industry. From manufacturing, healthcare, and the Internet of Things (IoT), to AR, VR, and gaming, the possibilities are endless. Service providers have two ways of transitioning to a next-gen network: 5G NSA (non-standalone) and 5G SA (standalone), with SA being the end-goal. 5G NSA (4G LTE EPC plus new RAN) remains the strategy to quickly launch high-speed 5G broadband, yet lacks the new architecture and functionality that will allow 5G to fulfill its visionary use cases.

Unlike 5G NSA, which reuses the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), 5G SA uses cloud-based and Service-Based Architecture (SBA) that optimize network infrastructure with virtualized network functions (NFs), enabling operators to launch differentiated services, ensuring a high quality of service.

5G NSA: step one in 5G launch

The most popular choice of service providers to deploy 5G is 5G NSA, which is 5G radio using an existing 4G EPC. This option is considered the most viable and cost-effective. The only condition is that the 4G EPC needs to be 3GPP Release 15-complaint with additional functionalities to support dual-radio connectivity. This will enable operators to seamlessly launch 5G services and offer high-speed internet and improve access capacity.

5G NSA focuses on offering higher data speeds and improved radio coverage in densely populated areas, helping CSPs rapidly market 5G to gain a competitive edge. However, it does not offer many of the advanced use cases possible with 5G SA, such as ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC).

5G-SA: the path to full 5G benefits

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has revamped core network architecture, having moved away from traditional telecom protocols to more open, modern SBA. The 5G Core comprises multiple NFs, each responsible for specific core network functions. These NFs use REST-based APIs to interface with each other over HTTP/2 protocol, which is collectively referred to as the Service-Based Interface (SBI).

5G SA key components

5G standalone core network architecture

5G SA key features and components

With the sheer number of use cases it supports and the forecast for devices, traffic is far more dynamic in a 5G network. And so a robust underlying core network is necessary for the network to swiftly respond to demands. 5G SA enables just that. Some of its key features:

Multi-vendor ecosystem opens the doors for new vendors, who are not just restricted to the telecom sector, or in the legacy core. The adoption of new technologies that are in-line with modern infrastructure such as REST-based (HTTP/2 or Open APIs) widens the scope for innovative vendors to contribute and revolutionize network operations and processes.

Service-Based Architecture defines key 5GC components as NFs that integrate with each over modern APIs that support multiple varied core network functions.

Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) enables independent scaling between the control plane and user plane functions, facilitating flexible network deployment and operation. For instance, if the data traffic load increases, more data plane nodes are added without affecting the functionality of the existing control plane.

Network function virtualization (NFV) allows virtualizing entire network functions and appliances using standard vendor-neutral hardware and IT infrastructure in the 5G network. It helps operators achieve a faster service life cycle, rapid deployment, scalability, operational efficiency, agility, and more.

Network slicing enables operators to build multiple dedicated networks to cater to different business verticals with diverse requirements of high-bandwidth, ultra-reliability, low-latency communication, and more.

Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) distributes computing resources along the communication path using decentralized cloud infrastructure. MEC brings data and computational capabilities closer to the source and network edges such as users’ devices, IoT devices, vCPEs, and more.

Some key components include:

Unified Data Management (UDM) enables managing all subscription-related data for authorization and access services.

Unified Data Repository (UDR) stores all structured data on a flexible and highly available platform, enabling the network to readily respond to critical demands in real-time.

Policy Control Function (PCF) is evolved from the PCRF of legacy networks, providing policy assets to handle access mobility related to policies, as well as handling data- and application-related policies. It enables advanced plan and policy customization for 5G use cases.

Network Repository Function (NRF) keeps a record of all network function instances in the network and helps automate the functioning of NFs.

Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF) plays an essential role in network slicing, dynamically selecting slices based on real-time information.

Network Exposure Function (NEF) ensures information is securely translated and communicated from external applications. It is fundamental in the authorization for any access request received outside of the 3GPP network, thus ensuring the network supports use cases like cellular IoT, edge computing, and more.

Business benefits you can derive with a robust 5G SA solution

A 5G SA solution is meant to enable service providers to adapt to key technological changes like a cloud-native and microservice-based architecture, helping achieve operational excellence while maximizing ROI. It can facilitate:

  • Rapid introduction of new services without interfering with existing services
  • Scaling to support changing network demands and growing subscriber bases
  • Offering differentiated services with high QoS
  • Automating functions like network slicing
  • Lowering operational costs

Alepo’s role in your 5G journey

Alepo offers core network solutions and a digital business support system (BSS) to support unified 4G management (EPC, IMS), C-IoT, and non-3GPP networks (such as WiFi).

Alepo’s 5G Core solution includes AUSF, subscriber data management (SDM), UDM, UDR, EIR, PCF, and Charging Function (CHF). It also includes a unified and highly scalable subscriber repository that holds identities and subscription profiles for both 4G and 5G. The 5G Core employs cloud- and PaaS-agnostic microservice-based software architecture and supports public, private, and hybrid deployment options. And it supports both containerized and NFV-based deployment.

Alepo also supports operators who are not yet ready to move to 5G, bridging the gap by creating a modern next-gen omnichannel experience for subscribers by adding WiFi offload into the operator’s network as well as enabling unique and advanced IoT offerings on the legacy network.

Tell us your business needs, and we’ll help design network innovations to drive ROI. Connect with an Alepo expert today.

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Rajesh Mhapankar

Rajesh Mhapankar

Director, Innovations

A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.

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5G SA vs 5G NSA: What Are The Differences?

5G SA vs 5G NSA: What Are The Differences?

5G SA vs 5G NSA: What Are The Differences?

19th of October 2020

Introduction

For leading mobile network operators (MNOs), 5G is mainly about offering high-speed connectivity to consumers, on devices that support fifth-gen network services. To smoothly transition from the existing legacy core to 5G, MNOs have two pathways: Non-Standalone (NSA) or Standalone (SA) architecture. And while they are both means to the same end, NSA and SA are structurally and functionally different.

NSA allows operators to leverage their existing network investments in communications and mobile core instead of deploying a new core for 5G. 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) can be deployed and supported by the existing Evolved Packet Core (EPC), lowering CAPEX and OPEX. To further lower network operating costs, operators can adopt the virtualization of Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) along with software-defined networking (SDN). These initial steps will help quickly unlock new 5G revenue streams and offer faster data speeds.

5G SA is a completely new core architecture defined by 3GPP that introduces major changes such as a Service-Based Architecture (SBA) and functional separation of various network functions. Its architecture has the definite advantage of end-to-end high-speed and service assurance, particularly useful for MNOs who are set to commence new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities, smart factories, or other vertically integrated market solutions. The deployment model enables the rapid introduction of new services with quick time-to-market. However, it means additional investment and complexities of running multiple cores in the network.

Architecturally, NSA includes a new RAN, deployed alongside the 4G or LTE radio with the existing 4G Core or EPC. 5G SA, on the other hand, includes a new radio along with the 5G Core (5GC), comprising completely virtualized cloud-native architecture (CNA) that introduces new ways to develop, deploy, and manage services. 5GC supports high-throughput for accelerated performance than the 5G network demands. Its virtualized service-based architecture (SBA) makes it possible to deploy all 5G software network functions using edge computing.

5G software network functions using edge computing

An overview of 5G SA and 5G NSA deployment options (Source: GSMA)

5G Standalone (SA) vs 5G Non-Standalone (NSA)

5G SA Architecture

According to a survey, 37% of MNOs will deploy 5G SA within two years; 27% of operators plan to deploy 5G SA within 12 to 18 months with an additional 10% increase within 24 months. 5G SA architecture will allow operators to address the fifth generation of mobile communications, including enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-to-machine communications, massive IoT, and ultra-low latency communications.

Standalone 5G NR comprises a new end-to-end architecture that uses mm-Waves and sub-GHz frequencies and this mode will not make use of the existing 4G LTE infrastructure. The SA 5G NR will use enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and huge machine-type communications (mMTC) to implement multi-gigabit data rates with improved efficiency and lower costs.

5G SA also enables more advanced network slicing capabilities, helping operators rapidly transition to both 5G New Radio (NR) and 5G as the core network. Network slicing, URLLC, and mMTC bring ultra-low latency along with a wide range of next-gen use cases like remote control of critical infrastructure, self-driving vehicles, advanced healthcare, and more. However, the NR advanced cases are not backward compatible with the EPC, which is the framework that provides converged voice and data on a 4G LTE network. The level of reliability and latency that 5G provides will be indispensable for handling smart-grid control machines, industrial automation, robotics, and drone control and coordination.

5G NSA Architecture

NSA 5G NR is considered as the early version of SA 5G NR mode, in which 5G networks are supported by existing LTE infrastructure. It fundamentally concentrates on eMBB, where 5G-supported handsets and devices will make use of mmWave frequencies for increased data capacity but will continue to use existing 4G infrastructure for voice communications.

NSA helps MNOs launch 5G quickly for eMBB to get a competitive edge in the telecom market. NSA also helps leverage its existing LTE/VoLTE footprint to maximize the LTE installed base and boost capacity while increasing delivery efficiency. It will not support network slicing, URLLC, and mMTC, but its higher broadband speeds will enable services such as video streaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and an immersive media experience.

Non-Standalone 5G NR will provide increased data-bandwidth by using the following two new radio frequency ranges:

  • Frequency range 1 (450 MHz to 6000 MHz) – overlaps with 4G LTE frequencies and is termed as sub-6 GHz. The bands are numbered from 1 to 255.
  • Frequency range 2 (24 GHz to 52 GHz) – is the main mmWave frequency band. The bands are numbered from 257 to 511.

Technical Differences between 5G SA and 5G NSA

The main difference between NSA and SA is that NSA provides control signaling of 5G to the 4G base station, whereas in SA the 5G base station is directly connected to the 5G core network and the control signaling does not depend on the 4G network. In simple terms, NSA is like adding a solid-state drive to an old computer, which can improve the system’s performance, while SA is like replacing it with a new computer that has newer technologies and optimum performance.

Some benefits include:

  • NSA is extremely low in cost compared to SA.
  • NSA eases 5G network deployments as it reuses existing 4G facilities, thus allowing rapid time to market for 5G mobile broadband.
  • With NSA, the deployment is faster and time-to-market is lower, as 4G locations can be used to install 5G radio. SA requires building 5G base stations and the back-end 5G core network to fully realize the characteristics and functions of 5G.
  • SA involves a 5G core with SBA for scalability and flexibility to deliver a superfast network with ultra-low latency for advanced 5G use cases.

5G Usage Scenarios in NSA and SA Operation

The requirements of 5G NR for the SA provide a complete set of specifications for the 5G core network that goes beyond NSA. The three major usage scenarios defined for 5G by the 3GPP and GSMA include:

  1. Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB)
  2. Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC)
  3. Massive machine-type communications (mMTC)
Enhanced Mobile Broadband with 5G

Major 5G usage scenarios

The Future of 5G Includes NSA and SA

Early adopters of 5G primarily focus on NSA deployments as they compete to deliver 5G speeds with a quick time to market. These MNOs can move to SA-based architecture over a period of time, which most plan to do. NSA deployment remains a mainstream solution given its ability to handle both 4G- and 5G-based traffic, keeping these early adopters ahead of their competition as they undertake their network transformation. 5G devices are not widespread so the need for SA-based architecture is still nascent.

In the future, the convergence of NSA and SA will help operators move to a full 5G network. A complete virtualized 5G architecture will allow MNOs to migrate and choose varied functionalities of their existing NSA solution to the 5GC platform, as new 5G services are launched, allowing them to monetize their investment gradually rather than move all at once and enabling them to recover their costs over time.

Although SA is a more mature network architecture compared to NSA, NSA will continue to be the more commonly chosen path to 5G. All NSA single-mode 5G phones launched this year or early next year will be valid for a decade, and as SA architecture permeates, more and more 5G SA devices will be in our homes and businesses.

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Rajesh Mhapankar

Rajesh Mhapankar

Director, Innovations

A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.

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