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What is the 5G Core and Why Does it Matter?

5G has many components, one of the most important being the 5G Core. We explain what the 5G Core is, how it works, and the network functions that comprise it.

What is 5G Core?

5G Core (5GC) is the heart of a 5G network, controlling data and control plane operations. The 5G core aggregates data traffic, communicates with UE, delivers essential network services and provides extra layers of security, among other functions.

What Does a 5G Core Do?

The 5G core is responsible for a variety of functions within the mobile network that makes communication possible. Authentication, authorization, and data and policy management are just a few services that run on a 5G core.

Today, many commercial operators deploy 5G in the non-standalone (NSA) configuration. Non-standalone 5G is the first stage of 5G, using a new 5G radio (or 5G NR) access network overlaid on an existing 4G LTE network core. Standalone 5G uses the 5G NR access network on a brand new 5G network core.

In a standalone (SA) configuration, 5G signals are broadcast using new 5G radio access technology allowing the 5G core to perform at a higher standard. 5G SA offers simpler network management, improved network performance, and a more agile environment for both end users and operators.

5G Core vs. 4G Core: What’s the Difference?

The major difference between these two networks is their architecture. 5G uses a higher radio frequency than 4G, and its millimeter-wave spectrum is capable of supporting more devices in a single area. Hence, it offers faster speeds, reduced congestion, and lower latency. This will allow for better video streaming and voice calls  without any interruptions.

5G core is designed to guarantee high speed, flexibility, and power efficiency. The network functions resemble 4G core, with the same features, but are architected using cloud-native technologies and 5G Service Based Architecture. As a result, the 5G Core is capable of co-location with edge data centers to ensure high-speed connectivity– reducing the cost of network infrastructure by leveraging virtualized functionality.

Standalone vs. Non-standalone

Standalone and non-standalone 5G have different benefits and drawbacks. Standalone uses a 5G core network software for mobile network functions, but is not backward compatible with 4G. Non-standalone uses a 4G evolved packet core (EPC) with 5G NodeB, which is popular among mobile operators for deploying 5G quickly. However, it cannot offer true 5G NR features such as multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) and beamforming enhancements, dynamic spectrum sharing and dual connectivity and carrier aggregation. 

The standalone 5G network provides end-to-end high-speed connectivity with service assurance, allowing rapid rollout of new services and shorter time-to-market. Moreover, standalone 5G networks allow mobile network operators (MNOs) to save time and money by allowing them to invest in new services. It also allows operators to unlock new revenue streams and accelerate time-to-market.

In 5G SA, network functions are decentralized. Instead of a single central node, multiple nodes are managed via a multi-core system. The core uses cloud-native technology and 5G Service-based architecture - often making it a more attractive option. The architecture supports a broad range of functions, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Components of 5G Core

Many look at the 5G Core as the brains of the mobile network, as the core manages many different requests and services. Let’s dive into a few of the key services the 5G core provides.

  • Access and Mobility Management Function - The Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF) handles all connections and user equipment sessions as well as mobility management tasks. The AMF exists as a single entry point for all the incoming and outgoing connections.
  • Authentication Server Function - The Authentication Server Function (AUSF) is responsible for SIM authentication and is vital for secure network access.
  • NF Repository Function - This function provides a record of all network functions along with a profile with details in relation to the services they support. This service allows other network functions to receive updates of other network functions within the core.
  • Control Framework - The Control Framework consists of four services: Session Management Function (SMF), the Policy Control Function (PCF), the Application Function (AF), and Unified Data Management (UDM). Together these services work together to apply policies and shape network behavior.
  • Network Slice Selection Function - The Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF) chooses the network slicing instance and determines the allowed network slice selection assistance information. The NSSF is also responsible for setting slices so that the AMF can serve user equipment.

What is Network Slicing and How is it Related to 5G?

Using virtualization technology, network slicing creates multiple logical networks on top of a common physical infrastructure that is shared. In a 5G network, each network slice can be configured to meet the requirements of various applications, use cases, or customers. A smart parking meter, for instance, needs high reliability and security. A driverless car, on the other hand, may need high data speeds and ultra-low latency.

With network slicing, services are isolated based on their requirements, enhancing reliability and security. Each service can have its own network slice, allowing for better management of physical network resources. Though under the explicit control of the network operator, as network slicing becomes more widespread in 5G networks, it will become a key enabler of vertical-market applications, such as smart cities.

How Businesses Can Unlock The Power In The 5G Core

5G packet core software is fairly complex, especially when you start to look at each service in action. The good news is that taking advantage of the benefits of 5G is now easier than ever. In the past, businesses had to sign costly contracts with carriers for the use of their commercial 5G service. While commercial 5G was widely available it left enterprises wanting more in terms of data privacy, resource control, app integration.

With recent technology advances in the area of 5G LANs, enterprises can now design and control their own high speed deterministic and completely private 5G networks that include 5G radio access points, core control software and cloud-based orchestration that allows IT staff to easily manage it all. Just like enterprise Wi-Fi, companies create 5G LANs to meet their own unique use cases and business requirements that conventional wireless technology simply can’t support.

Celona makes this even easier with plug-and-play hardware, virtualized 5G core software, called the Celona Edge,  and application-based controls to guarantee strict performance service levels. Businesses no longer need to rely on commercial conglomerates or hire a team of cellular experts to take advantage of the reliability and coverage that the 5G core provides. Celona Edge 5G software can be deployed on premise, within a virtualized data center, a public or private cloud environment and works in direct concert with all the other essential 5G LAN components to ensure the highest levels of agility and scalability.

5G Core Without The Confusion

Celona gives  enterprise organizations with their own private 5G networks as a seamless turnkey overlay solution. Through a simple, yet powerful, 5G LAN architecture, organizations can easily deploy plug-and-play hardware throughout their environment to have a fully functioning 5G LAN mobile network operational in hours, not days.

Unlike any other market alternatives, Celona’s 5G LAN solution integrates directly with existing enterprise IT architectures and IP domain structures to allow administrators to easily integrate and synchronize QoS across the enterprise from a cloud-based console. Behind the scenes, the Celona Edge provides proactive monitoring and ensures network service level objectives, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.

Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing 5G LANs an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

If you’re looking to harness the power of 5G in your business, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to estimate the size of your 5G LAN on private cellular spectrum, or test-drive Celona’s unique solution for yourself with a free trial.

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