Was 5G overhyped? Reaching 5G’s promised potential will require greater network visibility (Reader Forum)

When 5G was first introduced, communications service providers (CSPs) promised to deliver better network speeds, with reduced latency and increased reliability to enable new services to enterprises. Although 5G has been increasingly adopted, CSPs are noticing a lack of killer use cases, and there’s a perception that 5G isn’t living up to its potential. Additionally, international regulators are paying increasing attention to network speed claims that have not yet materialized. If 5G performance continues to disappoint, overall business adoption may never reach past projections.

At the same time, as CSPs increasingly migrate their 5G networks to the cloud, operations and engineering teams face visibility challenges, inhibiting their ability to operate the network and ensure the delivery of high-quality services. Challenges include reduced visibility into the applications, services, and devices running on their 5G standalone (SA) network. Furthermore, the interconnected 4G network makes it harder for engineers to monitor, manage, and secure the network.

It’s becoming clear that to overcome enterprise doubts and improve services, CSPs need greater end-through-end visibility that extends from the 5G radio access network (RAN) to the edge of the access layer and into the core network infrastructure. CSPs can then achieve pervasive monitoring in real-time with actionable insights from anywhere, any cloud, with any application, in any infrastructure at every phase of the 5G life cycle management. Network performance capabilities will then be improved to ultimately deliver better enterprise customers’ experiences that fulfill the promise of 5G. 

Anticipate service issues and security concerns with real-time insights 

Migrating 5G to the cloud has been slower and more complex than CSPs anticipated. When CSPs drop in new network functions from different vendors, spinning up new functions as needed, the resulting multi-cloud architectures become increasingly difficult to manage. 

The deployment of 5G breeds greater innovation. However, the increased complexity can make it more challenging for network operations and engineering teams to manage and ensure that different elements can interoperate efficiently, reducing visibility. Additionally, gaining visibility into “East-West” traffic is no longer as simple as putting a physical tap or packet broker in place in order to share control plane and user plane traffic with a service assurance solution for monitoring. 

Legacy approaches using physical devices are not cloud-native, and they lack the dynamic elasticity required for future 5G SA networks. To gain critical insights into service issues such as call drops, handoffs between 4G and 5G networks, radio interference, and congestion issues, CSPs must deploy methods that provide deep visibility into the RAN and across the core network infrastructure. 

Overcoming such visibility challenges is critical to providing continuous latency measures from the core out to the multi-access edge computing (MEC) layer while offering KPI measurements for each element in the 5G non-standalone (NSA) and SA network, and guaranteeing that service level agreements (SLAs) of network slices are being met. 

In addition to service issues, security is another concern that comes with the adoption of 5G SA with its expanded cyber attack surface. To ensure a secure network, CSPs need an early warning of anomalous behavior capable of distinguishing between human error and human malintent – and offering threat mitigation that constantly guards against persistent threats. 

Bridging visibility gaps spanning the entire 5G SA infrastructure 

There are various connection points across today’s multi-domain networks – including where 4G connects to the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), how 4G connects to 5G, where radio access links to the core network, and where the core network connects to the cloud. Additionally, proprietary software and tools put forward by different vendors are causing additional fragmentation. Even the open-source orchestration landscape has competing options for CSPs to select, adding to the complexity they must manage. Unfortunately, many CSPs are essentially operating blind without complete visibility across these borders.

Indeed, the migration to a cloudified 5G SA network is moving slower than initially projected. Few carriers globally are operating true 5G SA networks, and the switch from 4G to 5G, and 5G NSA to 5G SA has been more complex and challenging to manage than past network evolutions. Legacy monitoring solutions lack visibility into cloudified networks, and without it, carriers are finding it difficult if not impossible to live up to the stated goals and vision of 5G. Thankfully, in part due to collaboration between equipment makers and service assurance companies, it is possible to anticipate service issues with next-generation applications and services that will give enterprises and developers confidence to adopt 5G. However, doing so will require that carriers pair the billions spent on bandwidth and infrastructure with solutions that enable true end-to-end observability across the entire cloudified network.  

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