Creating Interoperable 5G Networks

Carl Weinschenk

Mobile carriers want to be able to use equipment from multiple vendors in their networks. An attraction of open source and standards-based approaches is the promise of this capability.

At least two groups are trying to establish ecosystems of vendors to create standards-based 5G networks. One of them consists of Samsung Electronics America, Cisco and Verizon. Yesterday, the trio announced what it said is the successful deployment of a multivendor, end-to-end 5G trial network. The trial occurred in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Ann Arbor test is part of a broader, five-city customer trial that is expected to lead to fixed wireless 5G rollouts in five markets this quarter, followed by pilot trials by the middle of the year. The Ann Arbor trial focused on the interoperability issues, and includes a 5G virtualized packet core within Cisco’s Ultra Services Platform. The vendor also contributed its Advanced Services platform to the trial. Samsung offered its virtual radio access network (vRAN), 5G radio base stations and 5G home routers.

The statement positions the tests as a key enabler of 5G rollouts:


This trial highlights the readiness of key 5G technologies, paving the way for deployment of commercial 5G networks. This also demonstrates that service providers can deploy 5G networks specialized to their unique market needs by selecting individual network infrastructure components from a selection of multiple vendors.

Deutsche Telekom may take exception to the claim that the Cisco/Samsung/Verizon group was the first. In late February, the carrier announced that it, with the help of Huawei, Samsung and Stanford University, had set up an interoperable 5G network capable of a number of cutting-edge tasks and functions. Indeed, the press release contains a blizzard of buzz words. The bottom line claim is that the E2E network will provide extreme levels of functionality and flexibility:

The integration of all critical 5G technology enablers into one concept in a multivendor environment gives DT and partners a valuable first experience. They learn more about requirements on interface specification and implementation for 5G utilizing end-to-end network slicing capabilities. The development of an E2E 5G design is an industry effort. So the partners will feed the experience from multivendor integration into the 5G standardization process on the way to developing a truly global 5G.

Faye Ly, a senior product manager for Radisys, addressed the issue of how the industry will create interoperable 5G networks in a blog post focusing on her participation on a networking conference last year. She focuses on two interrelated issues: Will setting a standard or simply using open source actually guarantee interoperability? Are vendors and not service providers the keys to creating a functioning interoperable environment?

When it comes to 5G and deploying an open multi-vendor mobile network, standardization including open source and interoperability are the bases on which these deployments must be built. However, one of the main topics that came out of this discussion was whether or not defining a standard or using open source technologies will actually guarantee interoperability. And with the lack of interoperability for open source and with standards developing at a slow pace, we also discussed how communications service providers are turning to vendors that can provide open source software and hardware that are ready for deployment.


The first point is that which group achieved interoperable 5G networks first doesn’t matter to anyone beyond the marketing department of the various companies. More importantly, there is recognition of the need to create networks that freely welcome a variety of vendors, and work is ongoing to make it a reality.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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