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Checkpoint 2020: Operator Strategies for 5G Transport

portrait of Tim Doiron

July 16, 2020
By Tim Doiron
Sr. Director, Solution Marketing

White Box Switching/Routing Plays a Key Role

We recently collaborated with Sterling Perrin, Sr. Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading on the 2020 edition of the Operator Strategies for 5G Transport primary research project.  The research covered a total of 86 service providers across 42 countries.  In case you missed it, we held a webinar on June 16, which is now archived and available for viewing any time, that discussed the project’s findings. You can also read the full report here, but for those of you on a tight schedule, here are some key highlights:

Mobile Transport Upgrades Are Underway

As a vendor of 5G transport solutions, Infinera can attest to the fact that many mobile network operators and wholesale service providers are either in the planning stages or have begun upgrading their transport networks for 5G.  But we’re always looking to move beyond our personal experience and anecdotal information to validate our beliefs quantitatively and scientifically.

In this case, our experiential beliefs are consistent with the quantitative findings.  Over 55% of operators have already begun upgrading their backhaul transport networks or intend to do so in 2020.  48% of operators are doing the same with their fronthaul networks.  As midhaul is new with the introduction of 5G, it remains the least mature, with only 34% of operators upgrading/deploying before or during 2020.  An additional 51% plan to do so between 2021 and 2023.

Operator plans for upgrading 5G transport networks

Service Providers Are Motivated by High-speed Interfaces and Capacity

We are always looking to better understand the key motivations of our service provider customers.  Why are service providers upgrading their transport networks for 5G and what do they hope to achieve in the process?

The top motivations from the research for 5G transport upgrades include deployment of higher-speed interfaces (like 25G radio interfaces or 400G aggregation interfaces), increased overall transport capacity, and, secondarily, increased network reliability and revenue generation.

Somewhat surprisingly, reduced CapEx and OpEx were ranked at the bottom of the motivational scale.  However, in conversations we have had with many service providers, we believe reduced costs remain important but have become expectations for every technology refresh cycle, and thus do not show up as top motivations vs. general expectations. Motivations to modernize transport networks for 5G

White Box Plays a Key Part in 5G Transport

When we launched our disaggregated routing portfolio, we were motivated by helping service providers reimagine routing in their networks.  We want to reduce vendor lock-in and enable greater software and application collaboration while increasing flexibility and scalability.

Our collaboration with the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and Edgecore Networks on initial deployments, including those we have announced with Telefónica, has pushed open, disaggregated routing forward in the market.  It is quite rewarding to see service providers validate the importance of such solutions in the 5G era.  Globally, over 64% of service providers indicated that white box switches/routers were either critical or very important to their 5G transport strategy and deployment plans.

Importance of white box switches and routers in 5G transport networks

The number was even higher in North America, with over 86% of service provider respondents indicating white box switches/routers as critical or very important for their 5G transport networks.  Service providers are clearly looking to transition away from closed, monolithic routing when it comes to 5G transport.

North Amwerican importance of white boxes in 5G transport networks

VPN Technology of Choice for Network Slicing

Because 5G is about providing a host of new services beyond faster internet browsing on your smartphone, we need a way to segment, allocate resources, and overlay the network for different services with diverse performance criteria.  As an example, services like virtual and augmented reality require extremely low latency for a fluid user experience.

With 5G, resource and service separation/allocation is referred to as network slicing.  While there are numerous ways to achieve network slicing, it is clear from this project and consistent with our discussions with service providers that virtual private networking (VPN) technologies will dominate.

As seen in the figure below, Layer 3/2 VPNs and the unified BGP-based EVPN are top technologies for service provider slicing deployments.  Segment routing is more of a technological approach than a service and will also be utilized to provide delivery of L3/L2 VPN services.

Additional technologies that enable hard slicing like wavelength slicing and OTN slicing all show up as lower priorities.  While the G.MTN approach ranked last, this research project did not include Chinese service providers, which have been proponents of this approach.  If they were included, one would expect G.MTN’s ranking to be higher.

Preferences for network slicing in 5G transport networks

That will do it for our highlights from the 2020 Operator Strategies for 5G Transport report.  I personally look forward to this type of research and find it insightful to get a checkpoint on service provider strategies and plans.

At Infinera, we continue to believe that 5G transport requires a toolbox, as a one-size-fits-all approach simply will not work.  That is why our 5G transport solution includes autotuneable pluggable optics, packet-based fronthaul, packet optical transport, disaggregated routing, advanced synchronization, and intelligent software automation.  If you need help transforming your 5G transport network, give us a call.  We would love to discuss how together we can transform your network.