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Evolution to a 5G core network

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What is a 5G core network? 

The latest 5G core network may bring questions like: What’s new? What’s the same?

Like previous mobile network generations, the core network provides access to services for devices, while giving the service provider the functions they need to authenticate, authorize, and manage their customers. 

But, when it comes to the extended capabilities of a 5G (fifth generation) core network architecture, it surpasses previous generations. Software-defined and built with a service-based architecture (SBA), this architecture allows the 5G core to be disaggregated, cloud-native, and distributed. 

One of the many advantages of a 5G core is that the location of network functions can be optimally placed to ensure the greatest efficiency, highest performance, and lowest latency, providing the best possible experience. The 5G core network transformation is part of a much larger telecommunications business transformation. Their networks are no longer viewed as a connectivity pipe for service delivery. Instead, they are a service platform providing various opportunities for monetization. 

Generations of mobile networks are defined by several factors including the technology used, the speed of data transmission, and network latency.

The first-generation networks introduced basic wireless voice calling. The second generation introduced short message service (SMS) and multimedia message service (MMS), while the third generation significantly increased data transmission speeds from 200 kilobits per second (kps) to 40 megabits per second (Mbps). The fourth generation introduced new capabilities and more than doubled data speeds to 100 Mbps. Fifth-generation networks will make speeds of 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) possible.


The third-generation partnership project (3GPP) has outlined many options for service providers to transition towards a 5G core network. Option one is the current state for service providers with a 4G network.


Option one

A standalone Evolved Packet Core (EPC) with a Long-Term Evolution (LTE) radio access network (EPC is the industry term for a 4G core). This is the  starting point for the transition from 4G to 5G.

Option two

A new standalone 5G core with a 5G new radio network. Option two is for new network implementations (known as greenfield service providers) and is the ultimate end-game for providers who already have a 4G network in place (known as brownfield service providers).

Option three

Keep the EPC and LTE network and add 5G new radio network technology. 

Option four

Upgrade existing LTE networks to Enhanced LTE (eLTE) and introduce a 5G core as well as 5G new radio technology. The eLTE network forms part of the user plane (an extension of the 5G network) but is not part of the control plane.

Option five

Upgrade existing networks to eLTE and add a new 5G core.

Option seven (Note: there is no option six)

Upgrade existing LTE networks to eLTE and introduce a 5G core as well as 5G new radio network technology. This architecture is similar to option 4, but in this case the eLTE network is also part of the control plane. 


Multiple ways to move to 5G


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Options one, two, and five are part of the “standalone” group of options, where there is only one radio access network. This is considered ideal, however, most service providers have initially chosen a non-standalone scenario to preserve existing investments and curtail the rate of new spending on new network infrastructure. Option two is the ideal outcome with an end-to-end 5G  network. 


A 5G core has a service-based architecture with orthogonal functions that allow for independent scaling, whereas EPC functions have overlapping responsibilities and are based on a point-to-point architecture. The 5G core makes it simpler to integrate new functions using a message bus concept for control plane interactions. It implements representational state transfer (REST)-ful application programming interfaces (APIs) that use hyper-text transport protocol (HTTP/2) inquiries for high-level flexibility. 

The 5G core should be cloud-native, distributable, scalable, and agile. A 4G core simply can’t deliver the same services as the 5G core. Cloud-native, container-based networks are best suited to deliver on 5G's promise. A cloud-native approach to a 5G core involves refactoring existing applications and designing new core network applications to be a collection of microservices using container-based technology.

Using container-based technology means that the microservices that constitute a 5G core application are packaged with everything required to operate. This includes libraries and application-specific dependencies, all within a dedicated and isolated space. Failure of an individual component or microservice will not cause the overall 5G core application to fail. When built in this manner, 5G core applications have more predictable behavior in terms of fault tolerance, scalability, and their use of the underlying cloud resources. 

An open source partner for building a 5G core

An effective 5G core multivendor solution relies upon a cloud-native application platform to bring tools, technologies, and workloads together. An application platform based on open source can support any workload, on any footprint, at any location, and gives service providers the flexibility to build the right solution for their organization.

Red Hat offers a cloud-native application platform that can be deployed in any environment and in any location, providing the flexibility, security, and performance needed to place multiple 5G functions across a network.

Red Hat® OpenShift® is a security-focused and stable telco-grade Kubernetes platform that provides common management and tools across infrastructure. This makes it possible to fully embrace a hybrid and multicloud strategy with confidence and compete more effectively in a market where customers have high expectations for faster innovation.

Service providers can streamline the end-to-end management of their network with Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform and scale with Red Hat Advanced Cluster Management for Kubernetes. With Red Hat OpenShift Data Foundation, service providers get persistent storage to help keep systems running optimally. 

Red Hat's 5G offering combines a proven reference architecture that supports pre-integrated and certified 5G applications. Telecommunications service providers are free to choose from a broad ecosystem of partners with enhanced service level agreements and consulting services from Red Hat that help them deploy faster and maximize their success with 5G.

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