A new network topology

The digital transformation of network infrastructure through network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) is anticipated to play a pivotal role with the respect to the commercialization of 5G. There are several major architectural obstacles facing 5G networks, which can only be overcome leveraging NFV and SDN. This article explores some ways NFV and SDN technologies are expected to address those challenges.

What is 5G?

5G stands for fifth generation and represents the next mobile wireless standard. It is intended to keep up to pace with the flood of devices that require a mobile internet connection. Based upon the foundation laid by 4G LTE, 5G will enable people to send messages, make phone calls, download videos and surf the web, while significantly increasing the speed that data is transferred across the network. Major telcos are working to create global standards for 5G, which is expected to be commercially available by 2020.

The role of NFV

Although still a budding technology, the basic idea behind NFV is to decouple software from hardware. With NFV, service providers can deploy various network functions, such as firewall or encryption, on virtual machines (VMs). Whenever a customer requests a new network function, service providers are able to spin up a VM for that function automatically. Leveraging this technology, network administrators do not need to invest in high-priced, proprietary hardware to set up a service chain of network-connected devices. And unlike proprietary hardware, these network functions can be installed in weeks instead of months.

With respect to 5G, NFV will help virtualize multiple appliances in the network. Specifically, NFV will enable 5G network slicing, allowing various virtual networks to run on top of a single, physical infrastructure. Moreover, 5G NFV will allow a physical network to be divided into various virtual networks capable of supporting multiple radio access networks (RANs). NFV can also address barriers to 5G by optimizing resource provisioning of the virtual network functions (VNFs) for price and energy, scale VNFs and ensure VNFs consistently operate properly.

The role of SDN

SDN is an intelligent, network architecture intended to minimize hardware constraints. The purpose of introducing SDN is to abstract lower level functions and move them to a normalized control plane, which manages network behavior through application program interfaces (APIs). From a software-based, centralized control plane, network administrators can provide services through the network despite the connected hardware components.

With available spectrum, 5G is going to push the limits of what is achievable. This is where SDN fits into the 5G picture. SDN can be used to provide an overall framework to enable 5G to function across a control plane. It can provide better data flows as data moves across the 5G network. In addition, SDN architecture can minimize network bandwidth and boost latency. Finally, since SDN can be used in 5G networks, it provides a way to manage and automate network redundancy from a centralized control plane, circumnavigating major outages by determining optimal data flows in real time.

To learn more about the role of NFV and SDN in 5G, check out the video below.

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