The battle of 5G “firsts” continues, with Verizon claiming today that its completion of a successful end-to-end fully virtualized 5G data session is a first. An end-to-end fully virtualized 5G network will be critical to network slicing and mobile edge computing (MEC), the company said.
Verizon said last month that it had successfully completed an end-to-end data session over its new 5G standalone core network, onto which the company expected to start moving traffic. Today’s news adds a virtualized radio access network (RAN) to the mix.
As a press release about the Verizon virtualized 5G end-to-end data session explains, virtualizing the RAN “decouples software and hardware functionality, enabling the network to be built on general purpose hardware.” This approach gives network operators “greater flexibility and agility in the introduction of new products and services” and makes networks more scalable and cost-efficient, Verizon said.
Another advantage of this approach is that it will “lower the barrier to entry for new vendors in the ecosystem,” according to Verizon. New vendors, in turn, should further accelerate innovation, further reduce operating costs and add further flexibility, the company said.
A key goal of virtualizing 5G is to achieve “single digit latency,” the company said, in an apparent reference to latency measured in milliseconds. An important characteristic of 5G is the ability to support lower-latency transmissions, but to achieve optimum impact, the 5G network must be supported by mobile edge computing, which moves cloud functionality traditionally housed in remote data centers closer to end users.
Verizon Virtualized 5G
As a Verizon spokesperson explained in an email to Telecompetitor, network virtualization will be important to mobile edge computing because “Moving services around from historical locations to edge locations cannot be done without the ability to orchestrate and automate software. Thus, virtualization is essential to moving operations around the network (in the case of MEC, this would allow the cloud to be deployed all the way to a cell site).”
Another potential differentiator for 5G is network slicing, which will give network operators the ability to offer services with parameters tailored to the needs of individual customers. As the Verizon spokesperson put it:
“Network slicing requires a programmable network. When you consider the variety of use cases that run on networks – everything from massive numbers of IoT devices that do very little networking, to smartphones with infinite opportunities to use data, to more complex solutions such as AR/VR [augmented and virtual reality] that will require massive computing capabilities on the edge of the network, each of these requires a different set of networking capabilities.
“Today, we define many of those network parameters manually by class of devices. Using orchestration and automation software, we will be able to automate network configuration changes, including [scaling] . . .network function capacity [up or down] based on demand. But to do that, our network needs to be fully virtualized to enable dynamic allocation of the appropriate resources to meet our customers’ needs. That is, in essence, one of the greatest benefits of the work we have been doing over the past several years to virtualize our network. We have essentially built –and continue to build- programmability into our network.”
It’s worth noting that Verizon’s 5G footprint currently is smaller than that of other major carriers because of the company’s decision to deploy 5G initially in the millimeter wave band, which supports the highest speeds but over relatively short distances. The company plans to address that limitation by deploying 5G in lower frequency bands, however, and as a result, expects to have nationwide 5G this year.
According to today’s press release, the Verizon virtualized 5G end-to-end network is targeted for “full commercialization” in 2021.