The introduction of 5G means that both telecom companies and network suppliers have to make concrete plans for this latest mobile technology. Especially since business applications are still the best use cases for the time being. Juniper Networks works closely with the Swedish Ericsson company and puts a lot of emphasis on the so-called ‘mobile edge’. This was evident during the annual Proof-of-Concept (PoC) event of the network, security and cloud specialist at the European headquarters in Schiphol-Rijk.

The arrival of 5G is keeping people’s minds busy. While telecom operators and service providers were a bit hesitant last year and were mainly thinking about how to use the latest mobile technology, this year the roll-out really took off. Meanwhile, 55 mobile operators worldwide are testing 5G, and about 35 5G networks are already commercially active, according to figures from the telecom industry organization GSA. These often are upgrades to existing 4G (LTE) networks, but at least the start is there.

Despite this increasing rollout, mobile operators and service providers are still very cautious about the rollout. According to Juniper Networks, this is mainly due to the fact that really good use cases must first be found that can justify the often very expensive CAPEX investments. Just spending money on equipment and very expensive spectrum licenses without a really good business model – which was the case with the introduction of 4G or LTE – is out of date.

Not for consumers

The high costs that telecom operators or service providers incur for 5G cannot be recouped from the consumer market, says Chief Architect Mobile Solutions Ian Goetz of Juniper Networks. Whereas at 4G consumers could still be convinced of the added value of the technology and were therefore prepared to pay more for their mobile subscriptions, this is no longer the case, according to him. Consumers are really not going to pay to be able to have 5G for more speed. For them, 4G is still sufficient for the time being.

They also do not need the latest mobile technology to purchase additional services from telecom operators or service providers. These services are now almost exclusively purchased from other Over-The-Top providers, such as Facebook, Spotify, Netflix and other (content) providers. According to Juniper Networks, 5G really lacks a use case for consumers.

Most use cases for the business market

This leaves the business market. It is this market segment where Goetz sees the most opportunities for the new mobile technology for the time being. Especially since applications can be developed for this purpose in order to recoup all investments. Important use cases include Industry 4.0, industrial IoT applications, the automotive sector and smart cities. This mainly concerns services for which low latency, one of the unique characteristics of 5G, as well as greater capacity and higher bandwidth, are important.

Mobile edge cloud

According to Goetz, for these more specific business services, operators and service providers must be able to offer a good network that goes beyond the mere provision of radio connectivity via mobile transmission masts and antennas. It is also necessary to provide some backhaul to third parties’ own data centers or third-party data centers in order to be able to provide value-added services over 5G. They, therefore, need to connect the mobile ‘edge’ to the larger network.

They can do this, for example, by facilitating a so-called ‘mobile edge cloud’. More concretely, this could include a micro data center that is placed close to the mobile transmission mast. This small data center can host applications that are often used by mobile end-users or devices within the above-mentioned business applications. Think of the self-propelled car or robots in factories, but above all of the entire scale of IoT sensors.

Backhaul connections and security

The micro data center is in turn connected to backhaul applications such as switches and routers with the network of the operators or service providers or third-party networks. This, in turn, allows services to be provided in these areas. In addition, security measures can also be applied within this part of the entire 5G business network infrastructure. Goetz expects that with the arrival of 5G, attacks on mobile networks will also increase and become more sophisticated.

5G and Juniper Networks

The backhaul between the mobile edge and the rest of the network of operators and service providers is precisely where Juniper Networks’ products and services come in. This mainly concerns services that enable intelligent transport networks for mobile locations, deliver high bandwidth, offer very low latency and provide the necessary security.

This should reduce the complexity of these networks, from mobile masts to the on-premise data center or to (multi)cloud environments. Ultimately, automation should make these networks much easier to manage and support.

Juniper Networks is working on this with Ericsson. This cooperation roughly boils down to the fact that the network supplier supplies the radio network, the microwave connections and the mobile backhaul and aggregation connections and equipment.

The supplier supplies all connections and equipment from the IP edge to the IP core and on to the on-premise data center or (multi)cloud environments. The network, security and cloud specialist also takes care of all the security around these applications, including firewalls.

Software management

All necessary hardware is provided with software for management and further optimization. Within the partnership, these solutions come from the sleeve of Ericsson. The network specialist makes two different platforms available for this purpose. The first is the Ericsson Network Management System (ENMS) with which all equipment such as routers and base stations such as nodes can be monitored and configured.

The network, security and cloud specialist would not be himself if he also had his own tool, called NorthStar, which can plug into the ENMS of the Swedish network giant. With this tool, administrators need to configure the respective nodes, whether it is a base station or a router, one by one. The tool makes it possible to configure the network in one go, instead of having to do everything one by one.

Roll-out of virtual functions to the edge

There is also the Ericsson Dynamic Software Orchestrator solution. Juniper Networks calls this a high level ‘umbrella orchestration tool’. The solution is particularly suitable for applying, for example, network slicing for the entire 5G and backhaul network. In concrete terms, network slicing ensures that the correct configurations and resources in the complete network infrastructure are used for the relevant services that are delivered via the 5G network.

The network infrastructure is actually specifically divided into separate ‘channels’ with the right settings, such as a certain latency. In this way, a service or certain application used by the network can function properly. Therefore, this depends on the use case for which the relevant 5G network is used.

Juniper Networks’ NorthStar can plug into this Ericsson tool. This makes it possible to implement, monitor and maintain network slices together. In this way, virtual network functionality can be brought closer to the ‘edge cloud’. Again, the edge plays an important role in the strategy of both the network, security and cloud specialist and the Swedish network supplier.

A clear focus on the edge

Juniper Networks is committed to integrating 5G for the entire network infrastructure of companies and organizations, partly due to the close cooperation with Ericsson. Not in the least because it is well aware that the possibilities of the new mobile technology lie mainly in business use cases such as Industry 4.0 and the industrial IoT.

The focus on the (mobile) edge or the cloud edge is very clear. Not only by integrating and linking the right hardware applications, but also at the software level, as with NorthStar. The combination with the management tools of the Swedish network provider makes this even more powerful. We are therefore curious to see how in the coming years – when the roll-out of 5G will really start – this important cooperation will develop even further.