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Interview with Ronan Kelly, ADTRAN

Ronan Kelly is Chief Technology Officer EMEA & APAC at ADTRAN. In this interview, Ronan talks about some of the underlying technology that underpins network sharing and why it no longer makes sense to build overlapping networks.

CMS: Network slicing allows multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. How does this relate to 5G and how are operators going to take advantage of the opportunity?

RK: The concepts behind network slicing are not new, but augmenting them through automation increases our ability to differentiate or discriminate different traffic types. Automation allows telecom operators to reserve network resources more dynamically, and for shorter durations, permitting greater statistical reuse of finite network resources. By identifying a user or application type at the edge of a network, and rapidly reprogramming the behaviour of network devices to it, operators can use techniques like software defined networking to create network-wide traffic policies to optimise the conditions for that user or application. In this way, a user can access a “slice” of the available capacity and resources.

Slicing applies to 5G as well as fixed infrastructure, which forms part of the backhaul, giving operators the ability to monetise their networks in new ways.

Consumers and enterprises will be able to purchase a higher quality of service, lower latency and more secure data paths through a monthly subscription or a variable usage-based model. Because the service is dynamic, different users can access the higher priority service at different times. Automation will make it easy to create and delete the slices required for each use case in each location, using any direction of traffic, meaning the network assets will be used more efficiently.

Customers could include digital asset providers such as ultra high definition (UHD) video content or games, in stream or download form, or companies offering UHD remote first-person experiences like emergency telemedicine or remote site surveys, which would benefit from lower latencies and higher bandwidth.

Operators could offer a profit share model, or bundle in the cost with the product or service. 

CMS: What are the implications of ADTRAN’s technology for network roll-out?

RK: We have used software defined networking to modernise traditional broadband access equipment architecture, enabling it to facilitate network slicing. Now, programmers at telecom operators can easily manage network elements virtually using their existing knowledge base. By leveraging the latest packet forwarding chipsets and transceivers, we can leverage extremely high speed network element programming protocols that can allow real-time traffic flow classification and network element reprogramming.

CMS: What are some of the security challenges in these structures?

RK: As networks become more automated, security is paramount in preventing traffic from being steered through any compromised locations - by accident or by bad actors. Similarly, users must only be able to access the relevant resources.

CMS: If operators do not share, how much additional equipment must be installed for an operator to provide 5G services in cities, and what are the consequences?

RK: The industry is increasingly moving towards fixed and mobile network sharing. With so much capacity and the ability to harness that through automation, it no longer makes sense to build overlapping networks.

Furthermore, as towers fill up with 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G equipment, the relevant power facilities are facing expensive upgrades, without the construction of greater mast capacity, it may in some areas not be possible for all the MNOs to add their 5G infrastructure.

If a network does not offer an operator an opportunity for differentiation because all the competing networks have comparable capabilities that satisfy user needs, it may not make sense to invest in it.  

Ronan Kelly, Chief Technology Officer EMEA & APAC at ADTRAN