5G FAPI suite continues to evolve to meet industry needs

SCF has updated its 5G FAPI suite, and released a new specification SCF229 5G FAPI Operations, Administration and Maintenance (OAM) Protocol For Inline High-PHY, bringing to Open RAN fuller virtualized support of inline High-PHY implementations in O-RAN Alliance architecture. These latest releases are further indication of the FAPI suite evolving and meeting industry requirements, and it demonstrates SCF’s commitment to consistently updating and expanding the APIs.



Sustaining private networks momentum: 5G must be part of the IT platform

Private cellular networks have been one of the main sources of growth for 5G in general, and small cells in particular, in the past two years.

In a period where economic pressures and immature business models have slowed the progress of macrocell roll-out of 5G Standalone, small cell networks have often led the way in roll-out of new architectures and use cases. However, to deliver the maximum benefits for enterprises, service providers and vendors, there needs to be far greater scalability in this sector, based on common platforms that can make private or hybrid 5G accessible to organizations of all sizes.

Enterprises increasingly see the value of cellular connectivity to enable advanced digital processes and applications, either to complement WiFi or in environments where WiFi is not adequate. Large sites in the latter category, such as seaports or mines, have often been the focus of early private network deployments. These projects test the limits of performance, deployability and manageability for small cells, and contribute significant knowhow into the ecosystem. However, they tend to be expensive and complex roll-outs with considerable customization.

To ensure the momentum behind private networks continues, it is essential that these self-contained systems – which can run on their own 5G core and be fully managed by the enterprise IT systems – are affordable and deployable by enterprises of all shapes and sizes. Small cells need to look far more like enterprise WiFi in TCO and simplicity, but they also, in many cases, need integration with public networks.

That raises two essential requirements if the business is to scale, and both will be discussed in depth at Small Cells World Summit on May 24-25 in London. One of the six session topics will be ‘IT platforms for scalable models for private networks’. This title points to the emergence of tools and processes that will allow private small cell RAN and core to be managed by enterprise IT platforms in the same way as other corporate communications.

This can span anything from simple IT management dashboards, to transparent security access systems, to management of network functions as microservices, as enterprises and their networks embrace cloud-native technology.

The concept of network-as-a-platform is just emerging, but is considerably driven by the move towards 5G Standalone. Eventually, neutral hosts and cloud operators expect to develop platforms that will support large numbers of enterprise or service provider networks on an as-a-service basis from the cloud.

From adapting common IT platforms that are in use for other networks today, to moving towards full cloud platforms, there is clearly potential to drive significant scale into the sector by lowering the cost, complexity and management barriers dramatically for enterprises and their partners.

These will be among the issues discussed by the speakers in this session, led by Qualcomm’s keynote on ‘5G private networks – moving to deployments at scale’. Enterprise neutral host Freshwave will examine the evolution of private networks while

small cell technology provider Airspan will discuss the impact of computing on private networks models, especially as deployment of edge compute and private 5G look set to go hand-in-hand in many organizations.

The other challenge is to address different balances between private and public 5G access, which will vary between organizations depending on their use cases and geographical reach. The panel that will conclude the session is sure to be a lively one – debating ‘emerging use cases for private networks’.

This is a topical subject, which addresses current needs – for seamless user experience as people or robots move outside the enterprise site, for instance – but also points towards future decisions about the role of private networks versus virtualized ‘slices’ of the public network. Enterprises and their providers generally do not envisage a firm either/or choice but want to be able to combine private, public and slices in the optimal way for their business.

Support for national or international roaming emerges in enterprise surveys as a significant benefit of private cellular over WiFi, and in SCF’s upcoming Market Status report, a survey of enterprise stakeholders revealed a growing requirement for hybrid networks (fully managed private local RAN and core with full interworking with the macro network and the MNO’s core). Currently, the majority of enterprise small cell networks are fully private – whether provided by an MNO, neutral host or private networks specialist, they are run entirely within the enterprise’s own IT environment. But the survey shows that an estimated 65% of enterprise private cellular in the coming 2-3 years want a hybrid system.

Hybrid networks potentially add another layer of complexity to the planning and operation of an enterprise small cell RAN, and may require new relationships between MNOs and private network specialists or neutral hosts. However, development of hybrid options will expand the market for all these stakeholders, and will be significantly enabled by the evolution of IT platforms.

These will encode many of the relationships between different connectivity types, and the providers of that connectivity, bringing a new level of automation and flexibility to the configuration of cellular networks. That, in turn, will future-proof deployments and enable enterprises to deploy a wide range of applications simply, in the same way they roll out apps onto PCs.

If private networks become part of broader IT platforms, that will encourage adoption of new cloud-based architectures and of new deployment models, which should ensure that the early progress in private small cells can be accelerated in the years ahead.

Register for SCWS here.