The Multi-Vendor 5G Core – Does Disaggregation Equal Irritation?

How Telenor is proving that multi-vendor 5G core solutions are here to stay

For mobile operators, disaggregation, or separation and componentization, sounds like nirvana: a bigger, deeper field of vendors to choose from, innovative new architectures from the IT world and the ability to plug and play solutions from disparate suppliers.

“We believe that such a multi-vendor environment will stimulate innovation, reduce cost of the infrastructure, increase competition and accelerate the development of an open 5G-ecosystem which in turn will enable a range of new services for Telenor’s consumers, industry and government customers,” says Patrick Waldemar, Head of Technology, Telenor.

But for some, disaggregation has turned out to be an irritation. One big hurdle is incumbency: most operators have a 4G core from a major vendor that, naturally, doesn’t want to make it easy for rivals to come in with their own 5G SA solution. A related hurdle is that 3GPP standards were late to define 4G-5G interworking. This increases the operator’s dependence on their incumbent vendor, making it difficult to introduce 5G solutions from other suppliers.

“You can’t let them get away with that because you are basically elongating the vendor relationship from 4G to 5G forever,” Enea VP of Technology Oliver Korfmacher recently explained to TelecomTV.

Telenor agrees.

“Unfortunately, most 5G core deployments are still single vendor dependent, with strong dependencies on that vendor’s underlying proprietary architecture,” Waldemar says. “This single-vendor dependency can be a killer for innovation. It restricts open collaboration from the broader 5G ecosystem of companies developing new technology, use cases, and services that the market expects.”

The Future is Now

But Telenor isn’t letting those roadblocks stand in its way. Instead, it’s currently testing a multi-vendor 5G core environment running on a vendor-neutral platform. For Telenor’s peers and the rest of the industry, the trial is a portal into the disaggregated future.

Enea is part of Telenor’s initiative, which includes a proof of concept (PoC) for a fully secure, cloud-native 5G core for network slicing. Telenor is using Enea’s:

  • Cloud-native 5G data management solution, including a telco-grade, fully secure Unified Data Manager (UDM) that can support up to 10 billion data entries at a rate of 1 to 500,000 transactions per second. Enea’s solution also provides automated, end-to-end encrypted communications from the core to the edge.
  • User Data Repository (UDR) and Authentication Server Function (AUSF) to support 5G data management capabilities. Benefits include greater data security, increased uptime via automated end-to-end testing of the 5G core, and five-nines reliability.

Telenor has proven that operators can break vendor lock-in and in doing so, accrue significant advantages. The key is to choose suppliers that are committed to openness and can demonstrate this. For example, although Enea provides both front ends and back ends for 5G, it supports interoperability with all major vendors. This philosophy means operators can choose what they want from Enea instead of the traditional vendor model of forcing customers to buy the whole package.

Leading analysts say that Telenor’s initiative shows what’s possible — and provides a roadmap for getting there.

“Enea and Telenor’s innovative collaboration demonstrates the service flexibility 5G SA can offer with end-to-end network slicing and seamless UPF assurance,” says Sue Rudd, Strategy Analytics Director of Networks and Service Platforms. “Enea’s rich heritage of developing truly open, interoperable technologies and vendor-independent 5G data management solutions embody the benefits of virtualization and the security of network slicing to unleash the economic potential of 5G for operators and enterprises.”

Finally, all of this work will also help ensure that 6G is truly open from day one.

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