Vodafone sets out 5G plans

Chief Technology Officer Scott Petty and Head of Networks Andrea Dona talked through 5G investment and a new SDN service for enterprise.

Following the launch of the first 5G network last week, it’s fair to say that a gauntlet has been thrown down by BT/EE.

The operator kicked off the 5G era with a boat party and gig on the river Thames to maintain its 100% record to be the first to launch the latest and fastest generation of mobile connectivity.
Since then, Three has also announced it will launch 5G in August but it was Vodafone who announced a hard date for 5G first; come July 3rd, there will be two 5G operators on the market.

Giving an update to the press, Vodafone UK head of networks Andrea Dona said that the decision not to fight to be the first to launch was taken after watching mistakes made by other European operators adding that testing the operator has done is on par with that of its competitor.

“We’ve decided to launch when it is right for our customers to have the best service and best functionality and mobility. Contrary with what happened with 4G where the competition launched a year before, that will not happen this time.”

During the tour of the facility and 5G masts, speeds of over 900Mbps were clocked by tests, before dropping to around 300 to 350Mbps backing up Dona’s claim.

Virtualisation Reality

Dona echoed the announcement from CEO Nick Jeffery nine months ago that Vodafone has spent over £2Bn on network improvements since 2014.

In preparation for launch in seven cities early next month, growing to 19 before the end of the year, 16,000 cites have been modernised and, to fit in with an overall strategy to continue to invest in the network, Vodafone will aggregate 3G signals into 5G and end it’s 3G service in the next two years.

Chief technology officer, Scott Petty said that these updates were necessary, arguing that the narrative around 5G so far has not taken into consideration changes to the core network.

“The core network hasn’t really changed much for 10/15 years but the move to 5G has challenged the way we design a network in a number of ways such as the virtualisation of the core nodes.

“With virtualisation world we are moving to a much more software orientated way of running our infrastructure, using cloud-native technologies and virtualised software nodes that sit on top of that infrastructure.”

According to Petty, as a result of adopting an SDN approach to managing the network the operator can control nodes quicker rather than relying on hardware and customers can benefit from a reduction in latency.

“The Software Defined Networking approach allows us to have intelligence built into the core of the network that make adjustments based on what we see. If traffic load increases in one area, increase bandwidth, it will route traffic to that location. If we see a security, denial of service attack on a particular node, shut that node down, route the traffic around it and instantiate a new firewall.

“We can then benefit from cloud scale and get to horizontally scale our network where as, in the past, the core of the network sat in one or two central locations in the network and we had to bring all traffic back to make decisions around what we would do.

“In a virtualised world we can distribute that much more broadly throughout the network and the impact for users would be, for one, the speed increase as the latency decreases significantly. Most of the latency benefits for 5G come from a combination of the radio but also the ability to distribute network nodes further in the network.”

SDN for Enterprise

Petty went on to say that Vodafone UK is also setting up a new consultancy that will allow enterprises to manage their own network much like the operator itself does.

“We are seeing our big appetite for people to move away from MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) to SD WAN where everything is controlled by software.

“Therefore, we are announcing a new, free consulting service to help our enterprise customers take all the knowledge that we have developed on SDN internally across our network.

“We think that this will fundamentally change the enterprise networking space, it will change the way that enterprises can accelerate their move to cloud and the types of applications they are building from a digital point of view.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine