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Network Exposure: Opening up 5G networks to partners

May 21, 2020 - Andrew D’Souza

How to work with partners to offer a wide range of 5G enabled services.

5G offers the opportunity for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to offer a wide range of services to their customers. In order to do this there will be a focus on working with partners to enable them to create their own 5G services ‘on-demand’. This means CSPs will open up their networks to partners, which can create a 5G partner ecosystem.

The initial driver for this opening up of 5G networks will be the new business opportunities enabled by ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC) are expected to transform vertical industries such as healthcare, transportation (including automotive) and manufacturing.  These are where CSPs can expect new revenues to be generated in the short term, with many of the new 5G services targeted at enterprises and based on B2B or B2B2x business models.

The needs and attitudes of enterprises are also evolving rapidly as they evaluate further 5G opportunities, and the ability to address new markets and services beyond faster broadband and lots of new devices is becoming a critical challenge for CSPs.  The current optimism around 5G and IoT in enterprises is tempered with anxiety as they look for support from, and partnership with, CSPs as 5G rollouts advance.

The new generation of telecommunications networks offer a number of services and capabilities beyond providing basic connectivity for data transport – the proverbial “dumb pipe”.  These include: information about the location and reachability of connected devices; the ability to apply specific quality-of-service and charging rules to select data flows; an awareness of network load/congestion conditions; and so on.  In mobile core networks, these capabilities are made available via an “exposure function”.

The 5G Network Exposure Function (NEF) facilitates secure, robust, developer-friendly access to exposed network services and capabilities.  This access is provided by a set of northbound RESTful (or web-style) APIs from the network domain to both internal (i.e., within the network operator’s trust domain) and external applications.  The NEF is an analogous function to the 4G Service Capabilities Exposure Function (SCEF).  A combined SCEF+NEF node is necessary to hide the specific network technology from applications and user devices that can move between 4G and 5G.  Therefore, flexibility on the southbound network interfaces is also an essential feature, for integration with 4G core end-points using the Diameter protocol and with 5G core end-points via the service-based interfaces that are specified as part of the new 5G Core Service Based Architecture (SBA).

Authorized third-party developers and enterprises can use the available northbound APIs to create their own network services on-demand.  Service Assurance and network automation may be further enhanced by application server interactions with policy and charging controls as well as network analytics, edge computing components and network slicing.  The NEF can provide a multi-layer policy framework that enables policy decisions at the application, business and infrastructure levels. 

CSPs, enterprises, device-makers and other players must act in concert to capture business value that may be fragmented across multiple use cases and services, and CSPs can generate greater overall value by playing a supporting role in engagements with the end user, in some scenarios.  As such, service providers become an access platform and enabler for trusted partners. CSPs can leverage network exposure capabilities to build trusted relationships with their industry partners by helping them innovate and deliver value-added services.  These innovative solutions can bring their end-users substantial benefits, such as increased productivity, reduced costs and automated business processes.  This, in turn, can help drive further product and service innovation, and open up opportunities for new business models that transform businesses across different industry verticals.

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