A new survey sponsored by Ixia reinforces the impression that telecommunications companies around the world are chomping at the bit to deploy 5G technology. The majority of carriers say they have either begun to evaluate and deploy 5G, or will begin in the next year. If there’s a surprise in the survey results it’s that the prevailing rationale for transitioning from 4G to 5G has less to do with 5G per se than it does with creating a flexible network. The trends of software defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and 5G have long been associated with each other. What might be unexpected is how tightly coupled they are in the minds of the industry executives. When asked “What is driving your company’s investment in 5G technologies,” the top response was engineering a flexible and scalable network (59 percent) followed by customer demand (55 percent). Other drivers including capacity management (42 percent), latency issues (42 percent), and slow network speeds (35 percent) were all lower down the list. The 297 respondents were characterized as senior technology leaders and strategists from service providers and technology companies. “It’s a combination of preparing the network, as well as moving into specifics like IoT,” Kalyan Sundhar, Ixia’s vice president of mobility and virtualization products, told SDxCentral. “A lot of people combine 5G and IoT, given the proximity of some of the timelines. SDN, NFV – clearly those are key drivers. The operators want to be in control. They make it clear they want networks that flex with traffic and the types of things that go through the network. Sixty percent of folks say this is what’s driving their companies’ investment. That bodes well for NFV and SDN right there.” Sundhar explained that 5G radio access network (RAN) technology and SDN/NFV are not tightly linked, but there is a direct relationship. “The fact is that 5G does require SDN/NFV to be in place to achieve its full potential. The main thing is that it gives the flexibility to network operators in how they want to divvy up the network for various use cases, whether it’s high-speed or low-latency use cases,” Sundhar said, adding, “You are going to deploy the 5G core in an NFV-type model. There’s no doubt it will all be virtualized.” The desire for more flexible and more scalable networks was reflected in the benefits respondents expect will be most significant. Having a flexible network – one capable of on-demand provisioning, network slicing, etc. – was the second most popular response at 60 percent, trailing only higher reliability and lower latency (68 percent). Other responses included improved spectral efficiency (53 percent), massive MIMO and capacity improvements (50 percent), millimeter wave and wide bandwidths (35 percent), and improved energy efficiency (32 percent). Thirteen percent of the respondents have already deployed 5G technology in their networks, and another 31 percent said they will in the next 12 months. Another 39 percent said they’d start deployments in the ensuing year; only 17 percent plan to hold off for two years or more.
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