What is 5G disaggregation?


by UfiSpace

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The presence of 5G will mean different things to different mobile network service providers. For some it is a new opportunity to implement new services and attract new customers. For others it may be a way to stay ahead of the competition by introducing more efficiencies into their mobile network architecture. Whatever the meaning, one thing will be certain when it comes to 5G, and that is network operators will need to upgrade their cell site infrastructure. One of the solutions that's available to allow network operators to implement efficiencies and remain flexible to accommodate future services is by deploying disaggregated cell site gateways.

What is a disaggregated cell site gateway?

A disaggregated cell site gateway (DCSG) is a full featured cell site gateway utilizing merchant silicon and open standard network operating systems. This type of architecture enables network operators to upgrade their cell sites to aggregate legacy and 5G traffic in an efficient and economic manner.

Unlike proprietary cell site gateways, the DCSG adopts an open network architecture, where the hardware white boxes are capable of running any type of operating system. This means network operators will have more freedom of choice when it comes to who they want to work with. The separation (disaggregation) of the hardware and software also allows for picking and choosing the best of breed hardware to match with the service features that bring the most value to their network.

What are DCSG's benefits for 5G?

Enable open networking architecture
Open is the key to a flexible and inexpensive networking system. An open architecture brings in a whole ecosystem of hardware, software and solution vendors to foster optionality, innovation and new service models. This allows the telecoms to build up their networks with a system that best fits their needs and reduce dependency on a single vendor. With more choices for vendors, solutions, and business models, the network operator will be able to remain flexible and agile in an ever-changing environment. They will be able to adapt their network to any new developments or technologies that will stem from 5G technologies.

Rome wasn't built in a day and the same can be said for the transition to 5G. With 5G still in its infancy, many new developments will be coming in the future. These uncertainties make it difficult to invest in infrastructure now for fear of missing out on future services. The open networking benefit of DCSG enables service providers to upgrade their cell sites to be 5G ready by providing the necessary interfaces and timing features while maintaining an open platform to adopt new features such as SDN or SRv6 as they become available.

Furthermore, by disaggregating hardware and software, future development can be separated as well. Typically, software development will come in stages while hardware has a longer development cycle. The disaggregated nature of DCSG allows for upgrades to be done separated, reducing unnecessary upgrade costs.

Flexible business models
One question that is often brought up by network operators interested in adopting an open and disaggregated network architecture is: "How am I going to manage all these vendors?"

In the past, there was one throat to choke when a problem arises, so who's throat should you choke now? And the answer to that is, whoever's throat you feel comfortable choking. This is where the network operator can choose the business model most suitable for them.

There have been many use cases where open network architectures are being successfully adopted. The business models will vary depending on the technical know-how, resources available, and the relationships the network operator has with certain vendors. Some network operators choose to work closely with the hardware vendor as their main contact, some choose the software vendor, others prefer to work with a pure system integrator. There have even been cases where the operator works with all parties involved at the same time to have more transparency. Yes, there are vendors out there who are willing to take you along the solution development process.

In most cases, there will be a system integrator as the main contact and will manage the partners to fulfill the service contract. The collaboration of the vendors happens in the background so that the service provider only sees a cohesive solution. With an ecosystem working with open networking standards, it will be easier to have second sources readily available in case one vendor is unable to meet deliverables, providing a more seamless service to the network operator.

Long-term cost optimization
Building out a 5G network infrastructure will take significant resources. Between investments for new 5G spectrums and new radio equipment, additional costs will be needed to increase network capacity to meet the coming data surge. Not to mention 5G will most likely co-exist with 4G for the time being, so additional management resources will be needed to maintain these two networks.

The disaggregated cell site gateway was a solution introduced by the Telecom Infra Project with the support of major network operators. So, the core concept of DCSG was developed by network operators for network operators to help them along their journey to deploy 5G in an efficient and economic manner.

Multi-vendor support of an open networking platform gives network operators more negotiating and pricing power. It also fosters faster features development and reduces time to market for new services allowing for more opportunities to increase ARPU.

The DCSGs compatibility of 2G/3G/4G and 5G technologies also allows network operators to better utilize their network equipment. A single DCSG can aggregate multiple generations of data traffic with the capacity to migrate as 2G and 3G are phased out, making the operating expenses of transitioning to 5G much more efficient.

The multi-functionality of a DCSG is fostered by different software vendors developing various applications on top of the platform. Eventually, the DCSG can be implemented in more than one part of the network such as fronthaul aggregation or metro aggregation. This means more opportunities to reduce capex with bulk purchasing or acquiring less variations of spare parts. Also, more opportunities to reduce opex with a more streamlined service and maintenance routine.

What's new in disaggregated cell site gateways?

The open design cell site gateway has been around for a while now with the first known live traffic deployment in 2019 by AT&T. Since then, the disaggregated cell site gateway is still evolving.

When it was first introduced, the DCSG came with a variety of RJ45 and SFP (1G), SFP+ (10G), QSFP (40G) and QSFP28 (100G) Ethernet interfaces. Although this was to allow a smooth transition from legacy networks (using RJ45 and 1G) to 5G (using 10/40/100G), the DCSG use case was very one-dimensional. It was for all intents and purposes a cell site aggregation router.

Recent developments paint a different picture. The innovation-fostering nature of open networking has pushed DCSG past the cell site. By implementing new technologies such as Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), OpenZR+, Flexible Ethernet (FlexE), the DCSG can be used for fronthaul aggregation as well as converging IP and Optical for the long haul.

UfiSpace: the cell site gateway provider you should consider

Selecting the right cell site gateway provider for you may depend on many things such as the technical resources available, experience with open/disaggregated systems, knowledge base or how far along the disaggregation process you are.

As a rule of thumb, a disaggregated cell site gateway provider with actual deployment experience would be recommended. This way you know they 1) are capable of working with other vendors to create a total solution that will bring value for network operators; 2) have the experience and knowledge to integrate, deploy and maintain the DCSG in a live network; 3) can share with you their experience to help you deploy more efficiently; and 4) have a field proven solution that is meeting the standards of other network operators.

Another thing to keep in mind are the options available from the cell site gateway provider themselves. Certain scenarios may require different port variations to better optimize the DCSG for certain cell sites. Planned service deployments, cellular activity, and network topology may all have influence over the type of functions and features needed for the DCSG. A solution provider that can provide you with more options, allows for more flexibility when deploying DCSGs and more opportunities for further cost efficiencies.

As a leading enabler of open and disaggregated network solutions, UfiSpace's DCSG solutions have been at the forefront of open architecture development and deployment.

Our DCSGs were one of the industry's first to be deployed into a live network environment. They are field-proven with both tier-one global network operators and regional operators. We continue to collaborate actively within the open network ecosystem to partner up and continuously develop solutions and create more synergies that will benefit our customers.

We offer the widest selection of DCSGs that will enable network operators to maximize deployment efficiencies and total cost of ownership. Check out all the DCSGs options we have available and contact our sales team to book a presentation or receive samples.

In this Article: 5G Aggregation Cell Site DCSG