Contributed Article

by Blessing Makumbe, Vice President and Head of Digital Services UK&I at Ericsson

UK CSPs, like many the world over, are betting that their investment in 5G will pay off through increased revenue and customer satisfaction, as well as an expansion further into the enterprise space.

However, we are nearly three years into 5G’s launch in the UK and uptake has been slower than hoped. According to Ericsson’s Consumer Lab data, 56% of UK consumers do not own a 5G phone while 24% have a 5G device but have not yet signed up to a 5G subscription.

This was perhaps to be expected, given the nature of the UK’s 5G rollout so far, which has been based on existing architectures and therefore doesn’t yet offer a markedly different 5G experience from the 4G most consumers already have.

This has been an approach most countries took to launch 5G. But we are seeing international operators swiftly leaving this ‘first phase’ of this technology behind, and in the UK there will be increasing pressure for CSPs to evolve their offering and take the next step towards a 5G solution that can support the type of step-change performance and services that will lead to real return on investment.

A critical path to achieving this will be cloud native 5G. The term ‘cloud native’ describes architectures and technologies, including containers and microservices, that optimise the cloud’s scaling capabilities to speed up the introduction of new functionalities and increase automation.

Implementing cloud native 5G networks

While cloud native has been around for a while and has enabled the launch and explosive growth of tech giants like Facebook, Alibaba and Uber, adoption in the telco space is much more challenging than in most industries. Cloud native demands software is both more decoupled from the underlying hardware and decomposed into smaller components. This is a complex task for an operator, given the vast scale and bespoke configurations of the networks we’re talking about.

But the rewards for adopting cloud native are tantalising, particularly the ability to improve operational efficiency, enable faster and more automated upgrades, and support a shorter time to market for new services.

So, what’s stopping UK CSPs from taking their network topologies into the cloud?

First and foremost it is a question of deployment strategy and mindset. Operators in this country have prioritised 5G as a consumer technology, with a focus on achieving as much 5G coverage as quickly as possible. This is understandable given the need to show consumers 5G is available, however it has not properly demonstrated the real power of the technology.

The ‘second phase’ of 5G, characterised by a migration to cloud-native architecture, will unlock one of the most transformational aspects of 5G and a huge potential source of revenue growth – network slicing.

How to make a packet with network slicing

Network slicing is the key to monetising 5G investments. It is needed by 30 percent of use cases and represents a nearly £200 billion opportunity for CSPs globally.

Each slice of a network can have its own logical topology, security rules and performance characteristics and different slices can be dedicated to different purposes, such as ensuring a specific application or service gets priority access to capacity. It can also isolate traffic for specific users or device classes. These features enable network operators to maximise the use of network resources and enhance service flexibility.

These characteristics of network slicing give the potential to transform businesses’ operations by tailoring networking specifications to specific tasks to improve efficiency and performance, while also creating new revenue opportunities. It provides service flexibility and ability to deliver services faster with high security. That’s why a range of industrial applications are starting to take hold, from healthcare to energy generation.

These exciting use cases unlock the most transformative applications of 5G and could transform the UK economy – Ericsson research shows that new use cases enabled by 5G´s unique capabilities could deliver additional economic growth of £15 billion in the UK.

UK operators can deploy cloud native quickly

The good news for UK operators is that they can migrate relatively quickly, using learnings from other international operators that have been on similar journeys.

At Ericsson, we have over 170 live deployments of cloud infrastructure solutions globally. We’ve also played a leading role in developing the new 3GPP standardized 5G Core functions that are cloud native and container based.

Using our technical expertise and extensive practical experience deploying such networks, we have created a set of principles especially for telecom applications based on microservices, containers and state optimized design.

These principles underpin the Ericsson Cloud Native Infrastructure solution: an infrastructure fully optimized for cloud native application.

To learn more about this solution, and for practical guides on how to implement a cloud native 5G Core, visit us here or get in touch.