Cellular networks and corporate LANs have existed as separate entities for decades. However, that may soon change. The shared 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum has created an opportunity where a business can now deploy and manage their own private LTE or 5G wireless network. While this is a major leap forward from a wireless connectivity standpoint, this architectural model still suffers from the fact that 5G networking technologies differ significantly from traditional LAN routing/switching counterparts. Thus, the two networks must continue to be managed separately. Let’s look at some of the key performance benefits that 5G technologies possess – and how enterprises may soon be able to take the technological advancements of 5G networking and seamlessly merge them with their existing corporate network.
The benefits of 5G over legacy corporate networks
It's no secret that wireless technologies are taking over the enterprise when it comes to endpoint connectivity. Wi-Fi is being relied on heavily to provide network access to end-user laptops, tablets, smartphones, and autonomous IoT sensors. While Wi-Fi has indeed come a long way from a connection stability and resiliency standpoint, the technology continues to suffer from outdated traffic management and quality of service (QoS) techniques that were brought over from the world of LAN switching. The shortcoming found within Wi-Fi makes it difficult for IT administrators to be able to guarantee service-level metrics (e.g., max latency/jitter, minimum throughput) for mission-critical applications.
A lack of service delivery control is one of the main reasons why some IT leaders are beginning to look at private 5G mobile networks as an alternative or supplement to Wi-Fi. 5G uses the concepts of software-defined networking (SDN) and network slicing to streamline the classification of traffic with the ability to deliver predictable wireless performance for prioritized packet flows. SDN is useful in this situation as it acts as a centralized source of policy enforcement truth for the entire wireless network. The centralized control plane is where network performance policy is created. This policy is then automatically pushed to the entirety of the 5G network. This is contrasted to making policy configuration changes on a hop-by-hop basis, as is the case with legacy LAN architectures.
Next, network slicing technologies within 5G create a virtual end-to-end network for a well-defined group of traffic flows. A "slice" is a way of multiplexing a transport medium – which in this case -- is 5G. Comparing network slicing to traditional QoS that already exists on the corporate LAN, WAN, and WLAN, slicing is superior in two specific ways. First, the types of traffic flows that are placed into virtual network slice groups can be configured to be highly granular. For example, while traffic for an individual application can be placed into a network slice group, that same traffic can be further segmented to only allow network application flows from specific source and/or destination devices. This level of granularity is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve and maintain using traditional QoS methods.
Finally, because network slicing creates a multiplexed virtual network from end-to-end and since 5G wireless allows for complete infrastructure control for traffic transmission scheduling on connected devices, a proper service level agreement (SLA) policy can be imposed across the network slice to guarantee throughput and latency performance numbers. This is opposed to QoS that uses interface buffers to assist with the prioritization of traffic on a hop-by-hop basis. Simply put, network slicing can enforce service-level metrics while legacy QoS only makes a best-effort attempt.
Merging the benefits of 5G into the corporate LAN, WAN, and WLAN
The performance and SLA benefits of 5G are clear. That’s precisely why we’re seeing enterprise IT departments looking into the possible integration of private 5G networks with their existing corporate network.
But while private 5G networks in the enterprise may solve one problem, it creates another. In this case, IT administrators would not only be responsible for maintaining network performance and security policy across the new private 5G network – but also the management of separate policy within their existing corporate network. This situation creates duplicated processes and greatly increases the chance for configuration error.
It’s this problem that Celona, a Silicon Valley startup comprised of former HPE Aruba executives and engineers, hopes to resolve. While Celona will happily help a business design and deploy a private LTE or 5G wireless network, the company is looking at the bigger picture from an enterprise architecture standpoint. Celona’s vision is to overhaul existing approaches to private 5G network integrations with the SDN and performance innovations necessary for its adoption within enterprise environments.
Celona’s platform uses a combination of network overlay software and cloud computing. What you get is a single corporate network comprised of LAN, WAN – and private 5G wireless networks that are seamlessly enabled with common application and device group level policies. The Celona platform comes with complete control on predictable wireless performance for individual enterprise applications with its network slicing technology.
It's an interesting take on 5G, SDN, and the quest to seamlessly merge – rather than bolt-on – new network technologies with old.