How 5G Relates to SDN and NFV Technologies – Part III: Architecture (Continued)

By Javier Guillermo April 11, 2019

In the previous blog, we talked about how SDN and NFV will speed up the roll out of 5G and introduced the concept of network slicing. So, let’s get back to this revolutionary subject and especially the supporting use cases, for what we discussed in Part II would amount to only theory without them.

5G Use Cases

According to most industry experts and stakeholders, all 5G use cases that will be enabled through network slicing and network virtualization, will be based on the three primary use case categories:

  1. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB): eMBB provides higher bandwidth and higher speeds for everything from streaming in 4K definition to handheld devices and infotainment systems to critical real time platforms, smart cities and to fleet management telematics for safety and diagnostics.
  2. Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (uRLLC): uRLLC supports real-time, mission-critical communications such as autonomous driving, industrial robotics and emergency disaster response and location services. We are talking response times smaller than 1 millisecond! Think of what kind disasters could occur with self-driving vehicles driving over 60 miles an hour.
  3. Massive Internet of Things (mIoT): InFocus has many great posts that cover IoT in detail so I won’t cover the subject here. When we talk about MIoT, we are talking about the massive implementation of IoT. MIoT serves billions of low-cost, long-range, ultra-energy efficient connected devices across remote locations, as well as cloud applications not requiring frequent or real time communication.

Source: Qorvo ITU-R IMT 2020 Requirements

5G NR: Faster, More Responsive

Another important section we need to cover for the architecture is the 5G New Radio (NR).

Why am I bringing it up?

Because we have been focused solely on the network core components but we can’t have a fully 5G functioning system without the radio part, which also brings plenty of innovations.

New Radio is the global standard for a unified, more capable 5G wireless air interface. It will deliver significantly faster and more responsive mobile broadband experiences and extend mobile technology to connect and redefine a multitude of new industries.

What are the key cornerstones of the New Radio?

  • New radio spectrum: The introduction of 5G will accelerate this trend with many more applications being accommodated by the technology. Whilst improvements in spectrum efficiency will be made, these will not be able to accommodate the huge increases in usage, so more spectrum is needed on new frequencies.

5G Spectrum: Strategies to Maximize All Bands (Source: Ericsson)

  • Unified design across frequencies: With the 5G New Radio utilizing a wide variety of frequencies, possibly 3.4 to 3.6 GHz below 6GHz and then 24.25 to 27.5 GHz, 27.5 to 29.5 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 57 to 71 GHz range as possibilities for the mmWave radio. It is important to have a common interface across these frequencies. OFDM is used in Wi-Fi, DSL internet access, 4G wireless communications, and digital television and radio broadcast services.
  • Optimized OFDM: Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a method of digital signal modulation in which a single data stream is split across several separate narrowband channels at different frequencies to reduce interference and crosstalk.

Sample Source OFDM Source 3GPP

  • Beamforming: Beamforming is a technology that has become a reality in recent years and it offers to provide some significant advantages to 5G. Beamforming enables the beam from the base station to be directed towards the mobile. In this way the optimum signal can be transmitted to the mobile and received from it, whilst also cutting interference to other mobiles. The move to higher frequencies allows for much smaller antennas and the possibility of programmable high directivity levels.
  • MIMO: MIMO, multiple input multiple output, has been employed in many wireless systems from Wi-Fi to the current 4G cellular system and it provides some significant improvements.
  • MU-MIMO: The downlink significantly improves the capacity of the gNB antennas. It scales with the minimum of the number of gNB antennas and the sum of the number of user devices multiplied by the number of antennas per UE device. This means that using 5G MU-MIMO the system can achieve capacity gains using gNB antenna arrays and much simpler UE devices.
  • Spectrum sharing techniques: Much of the radio spectrum, although allocated, is not used in an efficient manner. One of the techniques being proposed is for spectrum sharing.
  • Small cell: A small cell network is a group of low power transmitting base stations which uses millimeter waves to enhance the overall network capacity. The 5G small cell network operates by coordinating a group of small cells to share the load and reduce the difficulties of physical obstructions which become more important at millimeter waves.


I hope this 3-part blog series helped you understand the main architecture concepts and technologies that enable 5G and how they are tied to SDN and NFV. Within a few years, 5G is going to change the lives of pretty much everyone on this earth.

In case you missed Parts I and II of the series, you can find them here:

How 5G Relates to SDN and NFV Technologies – Part I: Introduction and History

How 5G Relates to SDN and NFV Technologies – Part II: Architecture




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