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5G Analytics Standards: Who Needs ‘Em?

by Andrew Colby, Head of 5G Strategy & Product at Guavus, a Thales company

Voluminous technical standards are the defining characteristic of the telecom industry. Communications system standards are effectively an industry tax that service providers and their suppliers pay to ensure that different players are able to successfully build and operate a global telecommunications network that allows billions of people to communicate instantly with just about anyone on the planet, using a device as compact as a mobile phone that can slip into your back pocket.

Prominent telecom Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) include the ITU, ETSI, TIA, 3GPP, IEEE, and IETF, as well as various industry consortiums, such as the relatively new Open RAN Alliance (O-RAN), which is developing standards for multi-vendor mobile radio access networks. Of all the SDOs involved in standards governing the operation of 5G networks, the 3GPP is naturally playing a leading role, as it specializes in developing standards for mobile networks.

5G Management Plane Standardization

In my last post, I described the critical role that NWDAF (Network Data Analytics Function) plays in the 3GPP’s 5G Service-Based Architecture (SBA), generating real-time operational intelligence to drive network automation and service orchestration. With NWDAF (and MDAF – the Management Data Analytics Function) the 3GPP is breaking new ground, defining standards for analytics processing that have no direct parallels in the 4G/LTE 3GPP architecture.

To date, telecom SDOs have concentrated  primarily on standards governing interoperability in the network user plane (voice and data) and control plane (signaling and session control). Now the 3GPP is extending the scope of its standards to encompass the management plane, and specifically functions integral to network automation and service orchestration that involve monitoring data collection and analytics processing to generate real-time operational intelligence.

Why is this important?

Diverse 5G Supplier Ecosystems 

5G network infrastructure will be built on cloud-native platforms, which are disaggregated, virtualized and based on low-cost COTS hardware. This will allow Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to selectively deploy best-of-breed products, rather than a suite of tightly integrated products, and break out of single supplier operational silos. As a result, 5G will ultimately foster the development of a more diverse supplier ecosystem, compared to today’s 4G/LTE networks.

However, in 5G networks, a diverse ecosystem will require multi-vendor operability that spans not only the user plane and control plane, but also the management plane, which is where 5G data analytics standards such as NWDAF and MDAF play a key role.

NWDAF Drives Network Automation

Automation NWDAF
NWDAF collects different types of data from a number of different sources.

Consider NWDAF, which is a critical cog in the 5G Core network automation and service orchestration machinery. NWDAF collects different types of data from a number of different sources. The 3GPP Release 16 NWDAF standard specifies the data types, semantics and sources that are relevant to the operational use cases that the 3GPP has identified for that release. It also specifies the statistical and predictive analytics data outputs that must be generated and delivered to other network functions in the 5G Core.

NWDAF is a major advance for MNOs. In 4G/LTE, leveraging monitoring and analytics for network operations and orchestration required aggregating and normalizing non-standard and often proprietary data from many different sources, rationalizing the data semantics, and then performing the necessary analytics processing to generate actionable operational intelligence. Due to the lack of standards, this involved complex, costly, custom integration projects that were difficult to develop and maintain. Introducing new suppliers into the 4G/LTE ecosystem was no small matter, which left MNOs locked into supplier silos, unless they were willing to make additional investments in custom development. Not exactly fertile ground for cultivating best-of-breed suppliers.

Enabling 5G Multi-Vendor Interoperability

While cloud-native 5G infrastructure lends itself to multi-vendor ecosystems, we see that without standards for 5G data analytics functions, MNOs will still be restricted in their choice of suppliers.

5G Multi Vendor Interoperability

But by defining NWDAF (and MDAF) as standards, the 3GPP is laying the groundwork for open 5G networks that simplify the integration of best-of-breed products from multiple 5G suppliers.

Starting with NWDAF, the 3GPP is standardizing critical network operations functions in the management plane, will help drive the adoption of automated network and service orchestration in multi-vendor environments.

This combination of streamlined network operations and best-of-breed suppliers is a win-win scenario, enabling MNOs to better serve subscribers while reducing operating expenses.

So, who needs 5G data analytics standards? We all do!

Read more on 5G Analytics & NWDAF:

To learn more about Guavus’ 5G NWDAF approach, schedule a meeting with Guavus today.

Image attribution: iStock