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5G/F5G Cloud Announcements: NFV Game-Changing Confirmations

Over the past few days, Microsoft made two major announcements. One was a “playbook [for] providing a carrier-grade platform for edge and cloud computing to help network operators realize the full potential of 5G technology” using its it Azure cloud data centres. The second announcement was a new platform that enables satellite-based access to those same cloud data centres designated Azure Orbital. Coupled with these announcements was another one by Samsung to collaborate with Microsoft “to advance the virtualization of 5G solutions, which will include the deployment of Samsung’s virtualized RAN, virtualized Core, and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) technologies on Microsoft Azure.”

Microsoft was not alone here. Amazon Web Services over the past few weeks released AWS Wavelength “to deploy applications and services at the edge of a mobile carrier’s 5G network.” Alibaba Cloud also made a similar commitment, albeit no specific services, as did Google Cloud in the Spring with its Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy. Indeed, the topic of next generation satellite service providers entering the 5G marketplace has been extensively discussed over the past year. In 3GPP—which it the principal home for the massive 5G global standardisation work today - there are no less than six related work items.

From the outset of the developmental work, the real game-changer of so-called 5G and its non-radio based cousin, F5G, was virtualisation. It comprises virtualisation of everything—devices, protocols, network architectures, and services; and represented the most profound change in the 182-year history of electronic communications.

The virtualisation foundation for 5G emerged within the pioneering work of ETSI’s open, global industry specification group NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) and its hundreds of participants worldwide beginning in February 2012. The meetings hopscotched all over the world. The NFV work was coupled with work on Software-defined Networking (SDN) begun about the same time in the ITU-T and vendors which focused on the devices themselves. NFV became conceptualized as a signaling and services infrastructure above SDN network devices.

After several years of intense collaboration—especially dealing with NFV security—the foundational work was shifted to other industry bodies for implementation. The most significant body was 3GPP which moved it forward as 5G through several generational “releases” of its global mobile platform. However, because NFV is medium agnostic, the CableLabs standards body took up the work, and ETSI itself created other groups to provide feature sets such as Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and Experiential Network Intelligence (ENI) for computational and content distribution capabilities on demand. OASIS created the TOSCA group for orchestrating the NFV virtualisations initially led by IBM and Huawei. Even the International Union of Railways has instituted standards initiatives. Last, but not least, the rapidly emerging next generation satellite industry has become part of the 5G NFV ecosystem through both 3GPP and ITU-R activities.

The latest announcements of Microsoft and its partners firmly establish the NFV paradigm that enables a new world of diverse networking protocols, architectures, addressing, and services on demand to support a “NFV of things,” both mobile and fixed. Almost certainly, other major cloud data centre providers will follow leveraging new satellite-based infrastructures. While some vendors may be able to gain niche footholds with proprietary offerings, obtaining any kind of significant worldwide market necessitates the use of global standards in the principal bodies such as 3GPP, ETSI, ITU, OASIS, MEF, and CableLabs. One initiative is also underway on Guidelines for extraterritorial 5G systems (5GET).

The Microsoft announcement may also alter the U.S. domestic political scene. Washington—which has long been driven by lobbying rather than strategic knowledge—headed off into a 5G wild blue yonder of hyper-cluelessness over the past four years, ignoring the real security challenges and unlawfully targeting China vendors to further a dysfunctional President’s political gambits and pander to lobbyists. A recent FCC Workshop, as well as some USG agencies finally attending 5G industry forums, portends of a realisation that they do not exist in the 5G/F5G real world.

In the final analysis, however, the recent announcements of cloud data centre based 5G/F5G capabilities underscore the vision and power of NFV instantiations and the millions of hours of work and ideas contributed by industry worldwide that remain alive and well moving forward.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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