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Mobility and SD-WAN: Is SD-WAN the Super Glue That Will Bring 5G and All the Edges Together?

By Derek Granath, Senior Director, Product and Technical Marketing
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5G is a game-changer for an ultra-high-speed, hyperconnected world.

Telecommunications providers are racing to roll out the fifth generation of mobile wireless technology to meet today’s explosive bandwidth and network connectivity demands. 5G is poised to revolutionize several industries by bringing significantly faster connections, shorter delays and increased connectivity for users. It will aid the expansion of Internet of Things (IoT), creating a virtual network of ultra-high-speed connections across multiple devices.

According to April 2021 Markets & Markets research, the enterprise 5G market is expected to grow from $2.1 billion in 2021 to $10.9 billion by 2027, at a CAGR of 31.8%. The research firm projects rapid growth for 5G network and small cells by private enterprises to support business-critical applications, especially Industry 4.0. Hybrid networking is expected to continue, as a full end-to-end deployment will take many more years.

In the near term, service providers have to provide means to enable use cases such as IoT communications, enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless access along with high-performance edge analytics without having the benefit of an end-to-end 5G network. All while contending with sky high user expectations.

SD-WAN is one of those enabling technologies that will help service providers to deliver a higher quality of network experience, tailored to the customer’ needs while managing the transition to a complete end-to-end 5G infrastructure for delivery.

5G is “on the edge” for real

A September 2020 IDC study estimates that there will be 51 billion IoT devices by 2024. IoT connectivity across more and more devices will drive the processing of high volumes of data at high speed (one of the core promises of 5G). This influx of data must be ingested and processed in real time as close to the source as possible, driving the need for edge computing.

While 5G provides higher bandwidth, it is more limited in range. It is anticipated that 5G networks will be powered by hundreds of thousands of small cells. Denser networks of cells will make it more difficult for operators to operate, manage and maintain. The optimization of these networks hence will be key to deliver the best possible network performance and highest quality of experience.

The emergence of 5G will not only change end users’ expectations when it comes to always-on connectivity and low-latency, but also transform the way enterprises are managing their networks. Strong demands on real-time network monitoring across all transports (including 5G) and traffic management optimization will drive the need for automation.

SD-WAN is the glue for the 5G puzzle

An SD-WAN platform that enables automation will help service providers to easily connect to and integrate across all the different compute edges required to optimize the traffic and management of 5G cells. This will enable a seamless transition toward a full 5G infrastructure by managing any transport available across the edge, leveraging 5G transport for those critical applications that require zero latency and higher speeds.

To guarantee the highest quality of experience for users, service providers need to evaluate SD-WAN vendors that are able to offer:

  • Granular, intelligent application-driven routing – Automatically prioritize high-bandwidth traffic (like video streaming) to a 5G cell and manage failovers while lower bandwidth traffic is routed to another transport available (LTE, broadband internet).
  • Centralized management – Facilitate easier operation, management and maintenance of edges and 5G cells (especially in denser areas) by intelligently rerouting traffic during cell provisioning or upgrades. Additionally, enable faster policy-based provisioning of WAN services to support any device connectivity (a must for IoT).
  • Machine learning – Automatically adapt to varying network conditions in real time and provide optimal routing to the edges and the 5G small cells.
  • Security integration with business-intent networking – Enable centralized enforcement of granular, application-driven security policies by automatically steering traffic to the right security services without compromising performance or cost.
  • Virtual WAN overlays – Allow for a more efficient and flexible allocation of network resources to provide the QoS that applications demand. Similarly, 5G networks rely on network slicing, where each slice receives a unique set of optimized resources and network topology. By using both technologies together, service providers can steer mission-critical traffic to the 5G network, where it can be isolated to a particular slice depending on the specific application requirements.

Conclusion

The adoption of 5G and edge computing will drive higher expectations from end users and enterprises for an always-on, high performing network and applications. The initial success of 5G deployment will demand an automated, self-driving wide area network foundation with underlay intelligence that delivers the highest quality of experience for users, like the one offered by SD-WAN.

Additionally, an advanced SD-WAN platform, like Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN, will empower service providers with ways to accelerate new revenues streams from 5G-enabled managed services rather than just commoditizing 5G as a mere transport connection.