2021 Trends, Part II: Operators Will Continue to Invest in 4G

The following is Part II of our annual Trends blog series.  To read the other installments, see Part I and Part III.

It seems all we hear about these days is 5G. However, the changeover to 5G networks will not happen overnight. It is a long, involved process that includes operators replacing pretty much their entire infrastructure.  The 5G that is being marketed to consumers today is actually still running for the most part on the 4G network and improves on traditional 4G performance by implementing certain 5G protocols and principles.  Thus, many people refer to it as 4G Evolved or 4G Plus.

We know that operators are investing most of their time and effort into planning and beginning to deploy their 5G networks, but that does not mean they are abandoning their 4G networks any time soon.  In fact, according to ABI Research, “4G will carry about 75% of the total mobile traffic in 2021.”

As such, many operators find themselves needing to upgrade their 4G network infrastructure well before they fully commit to 5G. Whether to enable 4G Evolved performance or to improve the cost efficiencies of their existing 4G offering, operators in 2021 will still need to invest in their legacy networks, despite the impending arrival of 5G.

As long as they are spending money on new equipment for 4G, though, it makes sense that operators should consider investing in network equipment that has the potential to also work in the forthcoming 5G network as well. It would be both counterproductive and expensive to install closed, ASIC-based network hardware, only to need to upgrade it again in a year or two when deploying true 5G.

Ethernity Networks has a ready-made solution.  Our ACE-NIC FPGA SmartNICs can provide all the required networking features of 4G, as well as full routing on the NIC, which is ideal for improving 4G performance and efficiency. The same exact card can be used for an instant 5G upgrade whenever the 5G infrastructure is ready for deployment.  There is no need to replace equipment.  A single COTS server with an ACE-NIC100 can easily supply User Plane Functionality (UPF) for 100,000 4G Evolved subscribers, or it can provide the same UPF at higher bandwidth for 10,000 5G subscribers.

The alternatives offered by the competition are lacking.  Current conventional NICs and other SmartNICs do not handled complete switch/routing functions, and they require CPUs.  NFV software running on a CPU cannot handle the increased throughput and latency requirements of 5G without a SmartNIC that offloads forwarding and networking functions. No one other than Ethernity offers Router-on-NIC, so the competition requires external routers to handle forwarding. That means integration with additional vendors and platforms, as well as an additional hop on the data path. The management is simply a nightmare.

Ethernity’s ACE-NIC100 FPGA SmartNIC, equipped with ENET router FPGA firmware, reduces latency to a few microseconds (compared to tens of microseconds on CPU) and saves CPU cores at a 1:20 ratio.

Ethernity offers all the functions needed for upgraded 4G and 5G in the same card, such as:

  • Packet processing
  • DPI
  • Crypto offload
  • Routing and forwarding on the NIC

Operators can move their networks from 4G to 5G with the same server backbone incorporating the same ACE-NIC FPGA SmartNICs, just scaled to handle the proper amount of bandwidth for the current or future network.

Moreover, our FPGA-based solution allows us to charge 4G prices now and scale the price to 5G rates to support the higher bandwidth only when the operator is ready to provide true 5G performance.

This is the concept of Instant 5G Upgrade.

So as operators spend their 2021 planning and deploying their 5G networks, they will continue to spend heavily to upgrade their existing 4G networks.  But if they are smart, they will futureproof their networks by deploying ACE-NIC SmartNICs in their existing 4G infrastructure, so that they can also serve their future 5G infrastructure. By doing so, they won’t need to invest as much in additional servers, external routers, or other external proprietary elements when they are ready for 5G.