With explosive traffic growth on the horizon, the industry is working hard to develop high-capacity 5G networks. For equipment manufacturers, this means delivering improved performance scalability, better security, and more flexible services deployment. They also need to make the transition to 5G without increasing complexity or operating costs for service providers. To accelerate network transformation, Intel is helping to advance two complementary industry initiatives:
Network functions virtualization (NFV) aims to convert hardware-based networking appliances into software-based network functions that can be consolidated onto virtualized, high-volume servers.
• Increases infrastructure flexibility
• Lowers infrastructure costs
• Simplifies the deployment of new services
Software-defined networking (SDN) separates the data path (e.g., voice call, streaming video) from the control path (e.g., management).
• Gives operators more control over the network
• Enables more efficient load balancing
• Fosters new, innovative services
From Black Boxes to Virtual Appliances
SDN and NFV help address a fundamental problem with today’s networks, i.e., they are overly complex. Networks comprise of a huge variety of proprietary, fixed-function appliances that are rather inflexible. With SDN and NFV, these appliances are replaced with software running in virtual machines (VM) on Intel-based servers, as shown below. This allows network functions to be deployed with a simple software download, which gives network operators greater flexibility and agility.
NFV Is Field-Trial Ready
At Mobile World Congress 2015, Alcatel-Lucent, China Mobile, Intel, and Telefónica showcased an NFV-based virtualized RAN (vRAN) that will allow operators to optimize network performance and enhance the consumer experience.1 The solution demonstrates how next-generation technologies can be used to meet demands for greater capacity, performance, and efficiency stemming from the growth of new wireless devices. The vRAN comprises a virtualized baseband unit (vBBU) that uses general-purpose servers with Intel® Xeon® processors to deliver cost savings and increased network performance. It will be available for customer trials during 2015 and for commercial operation in 2016.1
Virtualized Air Interfaces
The vRAN offers service providers a great deal of flexibility since it can be reconfigured simply by loading different network functions and services into VMs. This capability can reduce infrastructure cost in a number of ways, such as enabling one piece of equipment to serve different types of customers by supporting multiple configurable software-defined air interfaces.
For example, instead of having separate pieces of equipment to support 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, a single high-volume server could handle all of them simultaneously. This model could be applied to the various types of usage models found in the Internet of Things (IoT). Those with low bandwidth, low-performance requirements, like vending machines, could be supported over 2G, 3G, or 4G (often referred to as massively-connected IoT), while those requiring real-time performance and guaranteed bandwidth, as in avionics, could be supported with 5G (also known as mission-critical IoT).
Flexibility and Cost Advantages
NFV and SDN are expected to play a major role in the creation of flexible 5G networks that can adapt to the dynamic nature of mobile traffic. This move away from expensive proprietary solutions to software running on high-volume servers is expected to provide operators with more flexible network equipment, lower hardware and support costs, and perhaps more importantly, a way to provide IaaS.
To learn more about Intel’s leadership in 5G, visit www.intel.com/wirelessaccess.
1 Source: Alcatel-Lucent, “Alcatel-Lucent demonstrates how its virtualized radio access network technology will transform ultra-broadband mobile access,” March 2, 2015, https://www.alcatel-lucent.com/press/2015/alcatel-lucent-demonstrates-how-its-virtualized-radio-access-network-technology-will-transform-ultra.