The Future of 5G is Open and Software-Defined

Imagine what an open, software-defined model will do to help IT managers meet the need for faster, more flexible, and more secure systems and platforms for 5G.

Tom Canning

August 8, 2019

3 Min Read
The Future of 5G is Open and Software-Defined
(Image: Pixabay)

5G, with its faster speeds and more reliable connections, has been hailed a new era for mobile communications. No wonder America’s wireless companies are betting big on 5G, investing an estimated $275 billion into building 5G networks so far.

For IT managers, the 10-to-20-times higher data speeds that 5G promises over 4G/LTE is an opportunity to benefit from innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and connected cars that require faster, lower-latency connections for the massive amounts of data they produce.

According to a new IDC forecast released in mid-June, there will be 41.6 billion IoT devices by 2025, generating 79.4 zettabytes of data. To support and leverage this boom in internet-connected machines, sensors, and other devices, IT managers face an imperative to add functionality and flexibility while also driving down the costs of deploying and managing the network infrastructure.

 It's important to remember that 5G isn't just a new wireless protocol but, under the covers, a variety of technological advances like new antenna designs and radio access networks to improve the way networks are designed, manufactured, and managed.

For many years, the telecoms industry was dominated by proprietary technology models, and IT managers had to live within those confines. But the need for more capable, agile, and flexible networks demands a different way of thinking. That means embracing the open-source approach that has transformed the tech industry at large in recent years and applying it to wireless infrastructure.

5G’s future rests on software-defined networking (SDN), whose main concept is to decouple the infrastructure of wireless networks from expensive, closed hardware and shift it to an intelligent software layer running on commodity hardware.

As a result, 5G and open source have become a hot combination in the telecoms industry of late, with major operators worldwide pioneering new technologies and use cases and collaborating with each other in myriad standards organizations.

This democratization of wireless network infrastructure is integral to helping IT managers power the automation of functions needed to support the high speeds and low latency of 5G and the huge number of endpoints in IoT.

Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and China Mobile are among the major global operators recognizing that this paradigm is the only way to win in the new 5G world. And AT&T is close to achieving its goal of having 75 percent of its network virtualized by 2020

Vodafone had a goal to extend coverage and add additional services to the 4G network it offers its corporate customers. Working with Lime Microsystems’ CrowdCell, a network-in-a-box solution that runs on commodity hardware, Vodafone was able to deliver IT managers a significant capability:  cloud-based applications in remote areas of poor or no connectivity, giving customers reliable and secure service locally, without having to depend on major cloud providers.

A key component of open source’s success in any area of tech is the global community development model in which developers collaborate on innovations and improvements to the software, with vendors building value-added products on top of those advances, and this is no less true for 5G.

Within the increasingly open wireless infrastructure world, IT managers can tap into private 5G application stores that operators set up, containing only applications tested and verified by them – the network infrastructure equivalent of application delivery to a smartphone.

Think about it: Disruptors like Netflix, Facebook, and WhatsApp almost certainly would not exist in a proprietary-only world. Imagine what an open, software-defined model will do to help IT managers meet the need for faster, more flexible, and more secure systems and platforms for 5G.

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About the Author(s)

Tom Canning

Tom Canning is Global Vice President, Devices and IoT at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.

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