One of the hyped benefits of a 5G Core Networks is that 5GC can be used for wired networks (think DSL or GPON) – In marketing terms this is called “Wireless Wireline Convergence” (5G WWC) meaning DSL operators, cable operators and fibre network operators can all get in on this sweet 5GC action and use this sexy 5G Core Network tech.
This is something that’s in the standards, and that the big kit vendors are pushing heavily in their marketing materials. But will it take off? And should operators of wireline networks (fixed networks) be looking to embrace 5GC?
At its heart, the 3GPP Core Networks (including 5G Core) address one particular use cases of the cellular industry: Subscriber mobility – Allowing a customer to move around the network, being served by different kit (gNodeBs) while keeping the same IP Address.
The most important function of 5GC is subscriber mobility.
This is achieved through the use of encapsulating all the subscriber’s IP data into a GTP (A protocol that’s been around since 2G first added data).
Do I need a 5GC for my Fixed Network?
Wireline networks are fixed. Subscribers don’t constantly move around the network. A GPON customer doesn’t need to move their OLT every 30 minutes to a new location.
Encapsulating a fixed subscriber’s traffic in GTP adds significant processing overhead, for almost no gain – The needs of a wireline network operator, are vastly different to the needs of a cellular core.
Today, you can take a /24 IPv4 block, route it to a DSLAM, OLT or CMTS, and give an IP to 254 customers – No cellular core needed, just a router and your access device and you’re done, and this has been possible for decades.
Because there’s no mobility the GTP encapsulation that is the bedrock for cellular, is not needed.
Rather than routing directly to Access Network kit, most fixed operators deploy BRAS systems used for fixed access. Like the cellular packet core, BRAS has been around for a very long time, with a massive install base and a sea of engineering experience in house, it meets the needs of the wireline industry who define its functions and roles along with kit vendors of wireline kit; the fixed industry working groups defined the BRAS in the same way the 3GPP and cellular industry working groups defined 5G Core.
I don’t forsee that we’ll see large scale replacement of BRAS by 5GC, for the same reason a wireless operator won’t replace their mobile core with a BRAS and PPPoE – They’re designed to meet different needs.
All the other features that have been added to the 3GPP Core Network functionality, like limiting speed, guaranteed throughput bearers, 5QI / QCI values, etc, are addons – nice-to-haves. All of these capabilities could be implemented in wireline networks today – if the business case and customer demand was there.
But what about slicing?
With dropping ARPUs across the board, additional services relating to QoS (“Network Slicing”) are being held up as the saving grace of revenues for cellular operators and 5G as a whole, however this has yet to be realized and early indications suggest this is not going to be anywhere near as lucrative as previously hoped.
What about cost savings?
In terms of cost-per-bit of throughput, the existing install base wireline operators have of heavy-metal kit capable of terabit switching and routing has been around for some time in fixed world, and is what most 5G Cores will connect to as their upstream anyway, so there won’t be any significant savings on equipment, power consumption or footprint to be gained.
Fixed networks transport the majority of the world’s data today – Wireline access still accounts for the majority of traffic volumes, so wireline kit handles a higher magnitude of throughput than it’s Packet Core / 5GC cousins already.
Cutting down the number of parts in the network is good though right?
If you’re operating both a Packet Core for Cellular, and a fixed network today, then you might think if you moved from the traditional BRAS architecture fore the wired network to 5GC, you could drop all those pesky routers and switches clogging up your CO, Exchanges and Data Centers.
The problem is that you still need all of those after the 5GC to be able to get the traffic anywhere users want to go. So the 5GC will still need all of that kit, all your border routers and peering routers will remain unchanged, as well as domestic transmission, MPLS and transport.
The parts required for operating fixed networks is actually pretty darn small in comparison to that of 5GC.
While cellular vendors would love to sell their 5GC platform into fixed operators, the premise that they are willing to replace existing BRAS architectures with 5GC, is as unlikely in my view as 5GC being replaced by BRAS.