3GPP Standards evolution – keeping on track for your network

3GPP Standards evolution – keeping on track for your network

Are your B2B services keeping pace with the evolution of 3GPP and other standards? As you move towards the next generation of tech, with R17 coming soon, you need to be sure that you can also migrate services to the new architecture and interfaces. At Gintel, we follow the same standards you do – ensuring graceful transformation to the next iteration.

Standards are a constantly moving target – impacting service architecture and integration models

As everyone knows, standards are a moving target, yet they are central to the operation of our communications networks. Of course, it’s easy to generalise and use labels like 3G, 4G and 5G, but we have to understand the differences between generational steps and interim steps – so, just as 4G LTE meant something important as a step to another generation of mobile tech (another ‘G’), we have to supplement our understanding by considering the later addition of VoLTE as an interim upgrade, to give just one example.

We’re writing this, because 3GPP recently announced that R17 has reached completion, news that was picked up by many. It’s exciting, as it brings a number of key performance enhancements. That’s exciting, as the industry has been eagerly anticipating this, since much is riding on future monetisation possibilities for 5G.

And, the work goes on. R17 will be ready for implementation in July, while work has begun on R18, which will drive further enhancements. Why does this matter? Well, operators are obliged to follow a standards-based approach to building networks, so that interoperability and the widest possible stakeholder ecosystem can be supported.

Interim standards can have a huge impact on core services

Not everyone moves at the same pace. Some operators launched VoLTE (to return to our example) some years ago; today, we’re working with operators that are going to launch VoLTE in the coming months or years. Similarly, some networks are at different states – R15 vs R13, for example.

But, transition to the next iteration of the standards is inevitable. It may take time, but it will happen. This is hugely important. It has implications for every service, every network entity and every platform that’s required to deliver services to connected users and devices. If something isn’t compatible with whichever generation of technology is in deployment, or is planned for deployment, then it simply won’t function as expected.

As a result, every deployment we make has the potential to be different, because each operator may be running a slightly different network configuration – the same is true for any vendor of solutions that depend on connectivity to the core network. So, we have to spend a lot of energy in ensuring that our solutions are compatible with the latest generation (and iteration of that generation) of technology, as well as being backwards compatible with previous generations.

It is true that, for example, IMS ISC interfaces are standardised, but this cannot simply be assumed. Yes, it’s very different from a decade or so ago when were confronted with multiple variations in SS7 protocol interfaces (ANSI ISUP vs UK ISUP to give one fun example), but you still have to do due diligence.

Granular evolution of interfaces solves problems but also requires regular upgrades

This doesn’t just matter in terms of 3GPP-based implementations. SIP isn’t just SIP – that’s also a moving target. Recently, we implemented yet another RFC (3326, if you are interested). That’s because SIP is also evolving, partly to add value and partly to address functional limitations (in this case, to do with the Reason header field in certain SIP messages – which turns out to be useful for avoiding spurious missed call notifications in hunt and answer groups.

Of course, 5G Standalone (SA) is coming soon too. Putting aside the benefits this may bring, it is also transformational in the sense that it brings a new architecture. The 5G SA core is based on cloud operational principles, as well as the new, Service Based Architecture and Interfaces. These are based, in the main, on web protocols, such as HTTP, rather than classical signalling protocols found in the control plane. However, alongside these, the IMS can exist as another IP network to which sessions can be directed. This is a bit of a moving target, as it’s likely that core voice services may need to involve both the 5G SA, as well as IMS – which isn’t going to disappear soon.

Transformation to the new core doesn’t mean the end of heterogeneous networks

As a result, we will likely find yet another complex environment, in which multiple generations of technology co-exist and are necessary for service delivery – a topic we’re exploring with research partners, so we can understand what this means from a future operational perspective.

So, the bottom line is that everyone has to keep pace with changes to specifications, both at a macro (3GPP Release version x or y) and a micro (for example, RFC specific, or interim 3GPP extensions) level. As operators, you have to follow such evolution paths closely and with great care. A transition to a new major release has implications (irrespective of new CI/CD release practices), as does the release of a new capability for a specific interface and protocol.

Consequently, that matters to us, too. As a solution provider and partner to operators, we’re absolutely committed to following the same evolution path as your networks. This means we adhere to the same standards that you do, both at the macro and micro level. So, when you are looking at future service strategies, you also need to consider how they will be deployed and interconnected with the evolving core – and that’s where we can help.

As you plan the evolution of your network, you need solution partners that truly understand what this means for the implementation of standards, the interoperability between different generations and versions of standards, and for the seamless delivery of services. So, are you plan transformation, why not talk to our experts? We’ll help you prepare your core business voice services for the next generation – and the ones after.


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