The modern economy is gravitating toward a platform economy, where collaboration and agility across verticals are key. The network evolution from EPC to 5G Core plays a central role in creating a powerful programmable network platform, capable of being exposed and automated, for operators to extract more value and become contributors in existing and emerging ecosystems.
This post focuses on how this evolution journey from EPC to 5G Core can be simplified, with a holistic evolution approach towards a dual mode core network operation, to reduce risk, cost and time to market.
Evolving the network to a competitive platform
The digital natives has set a new standard on customer expectations on experience and ease of use, as well as agility, flexibility, OPEX and time to market. To meet these expectations the evolution from EPC to 5G Core plays a central role for the operators to create a competitive platform for the evolving economy of platforms. Enabling functionality from 3GPP release 13 to 16 define a journey from todays EPC to a new 5G Core. Gradually business vital functionality is introduced and enhanced ending up in a cloud native service based architecture capable of meeting the markets high and differentiated needs.
For sure there are technical challenges to address. However, these challenges are not the only ones or even the most complex to address. The new business environment requires new processes, business models and ways to interact with customers and partners. This is why we propose a holistic view on the evolution from EPC to 5G Core with different logical building blocks to achieve a stepwise approach towards a dual mode core operation reducing risk, cost and time to market.
Different roads to 5G
3GPP has defined two main architectural options to introduce 5G New Radio (NR). By end of 2017 the Non-Stand Alone (NSA) alternative was approved as 5G EPC option 3. In essence it could be described as an upgrade to 4G EPC which permits connecting 5G NR to the existing core. The main benefit with this is to enable early launch of 5G NR capacity and build coverage without any architectural changes in the core network. Leading operators are today saying they are planning to launch NSA in some markets end of 2018 beginning of 2019.
The second architectural option, that is now in the final stage of being standardized, is the Stand Alone (SA). This will enable the connection of the 5G NR directly to the new 5G Core (5GC) and the get the e2e benefits from the new 3GPP core architecture. The main three differences with the new 5G Core (5GC) and the 5G EPC is:
- The adoption of a service based architecture (SBA) for agile service creation.
- Completely new interfaces and different functional split between network functions.
- The design is based on cloud native only.
Though the end game of this journey will eventually be SA option 2. There will be many different ways to get there and 3GPP has defined several additional options that can be applied during the journey depending on each operators priorities, timing and conditions.
A stepwise approach to the evolution journey.
Our experience working with many leading operators around the world is that it is necessary to take an holistic view on the evolution from EPC to 5G Core to ensure meeting business goals, while keeping costs and risks under control in your whole 5G program. To start with we suggest looking into the following generic 5 step:
- Virtualize and start exploring network slicing.
- Separate Control and User planes (CUPS) and evaluate early introduction of 5G EPC.
- Optimize with distributed cloud.
- Expand network slicing for further differentiation.
- Evolve to a dual mode core operation (5G EPC+5GC).
At Ericsson we are dedicated to support our customers to a smooth evolution from EPC to dual mode core operations ensuring flexibility, fast time to market and efficiency in operations. Making the wrong choices can result in fragmented core with the opposite results.
At Ericsson we are dedicated to support our customers, even if you do not have an 100% Ericsson core today, to be able to take a first mover advantage with e2e tested and verified solutions available now.
We have released a paper “Evolution from EPC to 5G Core made easy” to give you ideas and support you. The paper will outline further details and alternatives how we believe your journey towards 5G Core, based on extensive experience with leading operators around the world, can be made easy and how Ericsson can support you in overcoming challenges and achieve an optimized journey towards a 5G Core.
If you find it interesting, also listen to this podcast with Dez Blanchfield, where he interviews Peo Lehto Head of Product Line Packet Core at Ericsson:
Thank you for investing your valuable time in reading this post and we hope the paper will bring ideas for further collaboration on how we can support you in finding you’re your best evolution towards a dual mode core operation.