Insights Gleaned from 5G SA Rollouts: The Journey Thus Far

Contributed by Senthil Kumar Dhandapani, Global Client Strategy Director, VMware by Broadcom.

The ongoing transition to 5G technology marks a pivotal moment for telecommunications, with numerous 5G Standalone (5G SA) networks already operational and many more slated to go live in the near future. For service providers navigating this transformative journey, the landscape has shifted from theoretical planning to tangible implementation, drawing insights from real-world deployments rather than relying solely on technical specifications.

One of the fundamental considerations facing service providers embarking on their 5G transformation is the choice between traditional network equipment providers (NEPs) and open platforms. NEP solutions offer simplicity and familiarity, bundling software, storage, and networking into pre-integrated packages. They also provide the reassurance of support from established telecom suppliers, ensuring a single point of contact for troubleshooting and maintenance. However, this convenience comes at a cost; NEP solutions often create vertical silos, limiting interoperability and hindering the flexibility promised by cloud-native architectures.

Senthil is joining the FutureNet World Panel Session – 5G SA: Realising the potential of 5G networks and driving value.

In contrast, embracing an open horizontal platform represents a departure from the traditional model, necessitating a more substantial initial investment but offering greater long-term benefits. By adopting an open approach, service providers can leverage interoperable solutions from multiple vendors, avoiding vendor lock-in and fostering innovation. Although implementing an open platform may require more effort upfront, partnerships with vendors offering pre-integration services can ease the transition, facilitating system validation and testing and alleviating some of the burden on service providers.

Another crucial decision for service providers is whether to deploy a prepackaged telco cloud product or build a custom solution using open-source software. The allure of open-source lies in its flexibility and cost-effectiveness; service providers have the freedom to customize their solutions according to their specific requirements, avoiding the constraints imposed by proprietary systems. However, the path to an open-source solution is not without its challenges. Service providers must navigate the complexities of integrating disparate components and ensuring compatibility and reliability at scale. Additionally, while open-source software itself may be free, the costs associated with customization, integration, and ongoing support can accumulate over time.

In contrast, opting for a prepackaged telco cloud product offers the advantages of validated performance, telco-grade resiliency, and streamlined deployment and operations. These solutions come preconfigured and optimized for telecom environments, reducing the time and resources required for implementation. Moreover, service providers benefit from comprehensive support and maintenance services provided by a single vendor, simplifying troubleshooting and issue resolution. However, the trade-off for this convenience is a potential lack of flexibility and vendor lock-in, limiting the ability to tailor the solution to specific needs and integrate with third-party components seamlessly.

The decision whether to incorporate a hypervisor into the cloud-native 5G environment represents another critical consideration for service providers. Hypervisors provide essential virtualization capabilities, enabling efficient resource management, auto-scaling, and simplified deployment and updates. While some argue that hypervisors introduce unnecessary overhead and costs, independent benchmark tests have demonstrated their minimal impact on performance, particularly for telco applications requiring high throughput and reliability. Moreover, hypervisor-based solutions offer automated deployment and lifecycle management capabilities, simplifying operational tasks and reducing the risk of human error. However, forgoing a hypervisor may appeal to organizations seeking to minimize costs and streamline operations, although it may entail manual processes and increased reliance on software partners for technical support.

Ultimately, the path to 5G adoption is not a one-size-fits-all approach; each organization must weigh the trade-offs and considerations outlined above to determine the most suitable strategy for their unique needs and circumstances. By leveraging the lessons learned from early deployments and drawing insights from industry peers, service providers can navigate the complexities of the 5G landscape with confidence, making informed decisions that position them for success in the era of next-generation connectivity.