It’s increasingly clear that a new standalone core will be a catalyst for delivering 5G’s most important capabilities.
The new core’s ability to leverage software and open APIs lowers the barrier of entry for new vendors to join 5G’s burgeoning ecosystem. Its cloud-native architecture powers agility critical to monetizing and differentiating services. It also brings higher performance at lower costs.
Importantly, software-based disaggregated architecture will provide a foundation for next-generation capabilities that will benefit the industry for at least a decade to come.
Yet, standalone (SA) 5G remains in its infancy. As of Q1 of this year, just 25 mobile network operators (MNOs) completed deployments, many of them limited. Growth, however, is persistent. In the latest “Ericsson Mobility Report,” the company notes expectations for 40 such deployments by end of this year.
While we anticipate a long road to mass adoption, let’s explore why the journey is worth the effort and what to expect along the way.
The new 5G core is a pivotal development
The 5G core offers much more than traditional network policy, authentication, and mobility functions. It provides automation capabilities needed for dynamic services and real-time, autonomous network operations. That real-time automation framework is essential for future vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications and is a fundamental building block for 6G.
Whether by combining network slices and private networks, supporting 5G and Wi-Fi convergence or integrating with time-sensitive industrial communication systems, the 5G core unlocks a multitude of enterprise and industry use cases that open newfound vertical market opportunities for service providers.
Yes, the 5G core brings low latency and new levels of agility to services and operations. But its long-term value is based in the enablement of what we understand the broader industry is eager to achieve over the course of the next five years and beyond.
The potential is substantial.
In its “Digital Ambition 2030” report, Vodafone estimates that the difference between a good investment environment for full 5G and a poor one is worth as much as £2.6 ($3.03) billion per year by 2025 and £7 ($8.15) billion per year by 2030 in terms of economic output. It cites South Korea as an example of a global leader that is successfully rolling out 5G and driving uptake among citizens and businesses alike.
A catalyst for the future
As the road to 6G becomes clearer, the core is becoming as critical—if not more so—than radio networks. Once the radio is disaggregated and open, its software stacks and separation of control and user planes mimic the core’s architecture. 6G standards are poised to converge radio and core planes. Doing so would not only alleviate complexity but introduce a more seamless, cost-efficient, and faster network.
The 5G core network is a prerequisite to a true multivendor environment that embraces new and established vendors alike. Theoretically, this enables providers to mix and match best of breed solutions. Open RAN is also hot on this trail.
A bridge between public cloud and telco architecture, the 5G core enables the earliest opportunities for MNOs to host mission-critical functions on a public cloud infrastructure outside the traditional telco network.
We see our customers taking 5G core implementations as an opportunity to introduce DevOps and CI/CD/CT (continuous integration, development and testing), a requirement for next-gen mobile network capabilities. They are creating processes that will enable real-time, automated closed-loop operations in the future.
Security planning and testing is critical
With so many important innovations impacting other areas of the network and big business model bets, it’s critical to get them right the first time.
That means it’s also time to consider the potential of newly introduced vulnerabilities, such as security risks, and to plan for them now, as early as possible in the development process, not after the fact.
What areas pose potential risks?
The service-based architecture and its multitude of cloud-native functions
Existing and new entrant vendors learning how to develop the new architecture
Open source and multivendor software; open APIs
Volume and velocity of continuous updates
Service mesh layers controlling service-to-service communications
Private networks integrating with 5G
Public-key infrastructure platforms
As service providers begin thinking about moving to the 5G core, incorporating new vendors and developing a DevOps pipeline, the security implications must be understood.
This new real-time, continuously changing network requires continuous security testing, mitigation, and risk management. Mechanisms should be put in place to continuously validate and test the security of the core against the 5G Security Assurance Specification (SCAS) test requirements as it is deployed in varying use cases and environments. Continuous Security is the next evolution of CI/CD.
Plenty of security issues have already been identified. At Spirent, we recently performed lab testing of a multivendor core network and found nearly 100 security gaps across authentication, authorization, encryption, and system hardening. These could have resulted in unauthorized access, insecure transmission, service exposure and unauthenticated access to network functions. All have a direct impact the business.
Testing early and continuously while letting automation take the strain is critical as the 5G core is deployed.
We look forward to sharing additional insights, data, and key takeaways from our work with customers as more 5G SA deployments get underway.
In the meantime, learn more about how to jumpstart your 5G core test, vendor-agnostic validation and security testing with Spirent’s library of automated test cases today.