5G is poised to change the entire playing field for mobile service providers. The technology enables service providers to move away from competing on price to truly differentiating their services.

In Asia Pacific, the Cisco VNI predicts that 5G will account for 1.4% of total mobile data traffic by 2021, compared to none at all in 2016. Globe Telecom has announced a 2019 5G launch[1], while Singtel announced its 5G pilot network would be in operation by end-2018. More service providers in the region are expected to follow suit.

Cisco has been involved in 5G proofs of concept for some time. We know that 5G will demand a lot more from data center infrastructure. The technology requires even lower latency and higher throughputs, the ability to scale quickly, as well as support for multitenancy, virtual machine and container workloads, and policy-driven configuration. The telemetry and security will have to be 5G-ready, too.

The technology will also require different capabilities from the data center as it matures over time. In the early 5G phase, mobile service providers will have to:

  • Create 5G hotspots
  • Shift to the distributed edge cloud
  • Spend more on fiber
  • Ensure 4G-to-5G handoffs are smooth

Mobile service providers will need more flexibility in their data centers to handle the new services that 5G will enable. Each service will have to be properly provisioned and configured with the right service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure an excellent customer experience. Technologies that enable 5G core flexibility, like network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), will be key to succeeding with 5G.

The Cisco Data Center SDN with ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) is ideal for mobile service providers which are planning to hit the ground running on 5G. This solution helps to enable secure, high-performance and scalable data centers across any geographical location. Cisco ACI features NFV, intent-based networking, and support for newer architectures, as well as telemetry, service chaining, and security.

The service chaining feature in Cisco ACI helps service providers deliver services more quickly by bringing physical bare-metal servers together with virtual machines or containers to support different service types. Besides this, the Cisco Data Center SDN extends policy and automation to multiple distributed telco-edge clouds through Cisco ACI  for 5G readiness. Distributed edge clouds would be fundamental platforms for service providers to support new service and applications, opening up new vertical market opportunities along with 5G architecture.

Cisco customer Reliance Jio is well positioned to gain an edge with 5G thanks to the Cisco Data Center SDN-ACI platform. The service provider has been able to deliver new services very quickly with a Cisco-powered, 5G-ready all-IP network. The service provider on-boarded 160 million 4G subscribers in just 18 months and will have scaled to more than 250 thousand Cisco routers by end-2018.

The industry has been discussing the implications of 5G for quite a while. It’s time to talk about next steps now that it’s basically here. By 2022, Frost & Sullivan says there will be 280 million 5G subscriptions in Asia Pacific, with 5G service revenue reaching US$4.5 billion. With 2022 just a few years away, there is no better time for mobile service providers to start thinking about revamping their data centers for 5G. It’s time for mobile service providers to put themselves in the best position to change their game.

[1] 5G: Regional and Global Approaches to a Technology Step Change, Ovum


Rajesh Chainani

Managing Director

Service Provider Network & Cloud APJ