As an understandable precaution, Mobile World Congress (MWC) was canceled due to the global coronavirus outbreak. MWC is one of the most exciting events of the year for us. I was really looking forward to the energy and meeting many customers face-to-face. Despite the event being canceled, we proceeded with some big announcements.

Most people know that I am a huge fan of football/soccer. While preparing for MWC, I cannot help but think about FC Barcelona and the Spanish National Team, and the way they dramatically changed the game by perfecting the “tiki-taka” style of play. Quick shapes and crisp passing allowed smaller players to compete with technique. There were no forwards. Instead, any one of the midfielders would unpredictably jump into that role. They would dominate possession and be precise and purposeful in scoring.

Tiki-taka reinvented the conventional game of soccer by embracing new fundamentals to achieve phenomenal results. At the club level, FC Barcelona captured three Champions League titles. The Spanish National Team won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012. Teams around the world ranging from professional to youth began to copy them. The Japan Women’s National Team used it to win the World Cup in 2011 in a spectacular upset. Rethink for phenomenal results. This is how I feel about 5G.

The path to profitable 5G requires new thinking. 3G and 4G focused on coverage and subscriber acquisition, which were monetized largely through consumer data plans. The key decisions focused on radio, network, then core (in that order). 5G brings about new business imperatives in massive scale and new experiences, which are largely monetized through enterprise services. The most important decisions for profitable 5G now flip 180 degrees to 5G core, trustworthy IP infrastructure, and an open radio approach. We must reimagine the end-to-end network. A 5G network will require a trusted partner that is a cross-domain leader in Enterprise, Collaboration, IoT, Data Center, Security, AND SP Infrastructure.

Architectural Decision #1: A Cloud-native 5G Core

Service providers need to make a key decision on how to evolve their existing mobile packet core. The existing core architecture has served mobile operators well for decades but has become outdated and ill-equipped to deliver the agility and performance required for new service architectures and monetization models.

Early 5G deployments have relied on a 5G non-standalone (5G NSA) architecture, which leverages the existing LTE Evolved Packet Core to support a new 5G new radio access link. While it helps to bring 5G radios up more rapidly, it is a much harder path for new service delivery. Most operators have realized this and are now looking to evaluate and deploy a true 5G core – called 5G Standalone (5G SA).

Unlike 3G and 4G, consumers are not the main path to profitable 5G. 5G will be the first generation in mobile history to have a bigger impact on enterprises than on consumers. This demands a 4G to 5G evolution strategy that emphasizes agile, business-critical, service-creation first. This new 5G SA core must provide the flexibility, agility, and performance of a true cloud-native architecture combined with the necessary tools to deliver differentiated services. Cisco’s Ultra Cloud Core is the ultimate enabler – built on our market-leading experience building RAN independent packet cores.

This year, the world’s #1 mobile core platform is even easier to deploy with a turnkey solution, Cisco Cloud Services Stack for Mobility. Cisco Cloud Services Stack for Mobility puts Cisco Ultra Cloud Core into a validated design using a proven cloud-based portfolio. Cisco Customer Experience (CX) brings expertise and best practices to accelerate a mobile packet core deployment.

Architectural decision #2: A Trustworthy, Converged Software Defined Transport Infrastructure

At Cisco, we are redefining the economics of mass-scale networking. We improve costs and outcomes by converging infrastructure in multiple dimensions and create the highest performing, most efficient, and most trustworthy IP and optical systems in the world. We call this architecture Converged SDN Transport.


  1. High Performance: For starters, the simplest way to reduce cost is to lower the cost to transport a bit. Cisco’s end-to-end routing portfolio (ASR 9000, NCS 5700 and the new Cisco 8000) offer systems designed to deliver 100G and 400G connectivity at mass scale. Savings improve with fronthaul moving to IP. The new Cisco NCS540 router enables Cloud-RAN architectures for an end-to-end network that is open, software-defined, and cloud scalable.
  2. Simplified: Reducing cost also comes from reducing the number of ‘moving parts’ as much as possible. It starts with the convergence of access networks – residential (xDSL, FTTH, DOCSIS), wireless (4G/5G, Wi-Fi) and business – onto a single IP architecture, a single transport protocol (segment routing), and a single service protocol (EVPN).
  3.  Agile: To meet latency and performance demands, computing resources must move closer to the network edge to host new ultra-reliable low latency communication (uRLLC) and massive machine-type communication (mMTC) applications. Cisco Cloud Services Stack integrates multi-access edge computing to create a service edge for content delivery and more throughout the transport network.
  4. Automated: Modernizing operations will make the biggest difference in lowering costs. Cisco’s Crosswork portfolio offers cloud-enhanced capabilities that improve efficiency, trust, health, and time-to-remediate. Intent-based, closed-loop automation is now even easier than ever before with the new Crosswork Network Controller.

A recent TCO analysis compared the economics of a converged SDN transport network with that of more traditional dedicated networks and the results were impressive! They demonstrated significant TCO savings of 62%, CAPEX savings of 60%, and OPEX savings of 66%.

Architectural decision #3: Evolving to a More Open, Software-based Radio Access Network

Radio (RAN) systems are the last hold-out of closed, monolithic hardware-centric elements. Arguably the most significant outcome associated with open vRAN is the improvement in overall operations, increasing the profitability of mobile services. Cisco was one of the early leaders to open and software-based RAN solutions when we launched a new software-defined mobile network architecture and formed our Open vRAN ecosystem in February of 2018. Our mission is to accelerate the viability and adoption of open, virtualized RAN solutions, and ensure their extension into a broader software-defined network architecture.

Momentum is increasing. Operators around the globe are investigating, trialing, and requesting bids for these revolutionary systems. We’re working with many of them to evaluate, design and implement this new open vRAN architecture as one of the foundational elements in their transformation. While there is great progress, there is still tremendous inertia in the way mobile networks have been built for decades. This is not just a technology question. Business and operational models are transforming along with the RAN and success requires continued commitment and collaboration from the entire telecom ecosystem.

Cisco is in a unique position to lead this transformation. We are one of the early innovators defining the future. We are investing across the industry. We were the first vendor to help build a full-scale Open vRAN style network with our partners at Rakuten Mobile Network.

Today, we’re expanding upon our Open vRAN ecosystem of trusted partners with 16 involved and growing. Notably, we have signed agreements with Parallel Wireless and NEC to collaborate on customer opportunities and develop a joint architecture. More to come on this and other collaborations will be unveiled very soon.

Transforming Networks for the Internet for the Future

Today, the mobile internet is connecting more people and things than ever before, changing the way we work, play, live, and learn. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will accelerate the digitization of industries. According to Cisco’s Annual Internet Report, by 2023, 92% of the world’s population will be using the internet. It also predicts that by 2023 there will be an average of 3.3 networked devices and connections per person (up from 1.7 in 2018). With this kind of connectivity, industries like mining become safer, agriculture becomes more efficient, transportation becomes autonomous, and healthcare becomes wellness-driven, not crises-driven. The service provider is uniquely positioned to be a catalyst for transforming economies, countries, and the world because at the very heart of this transformation is the network that makes it all possible.

5G will be transformative. Success requires a transformation of thought. These architectural decisions are critical to getting right. Like “tiki-taka”, our 5G strategy is simple, quick, and crisp – drive profitable 5G by focusing on three pillars: grow revenue, reduce costs and mitigate risks.


Jonathan Davidson

EVP and General Manager

Cisco Networking