Smoothing the 5G Transition with Traffic Engineering

By: Irit Touitou

Communications service providers around the world have experienced an unprecedented explosion in demand for bandwidth. This is the result of several driving forces, including more video streaming, the growing popularity in areas like cloud gaming, and the increasing move to the cloud, to name a few. The increased demand for bandwidth has only accelerated with the pandemic, which triggered a dramatic increase in the number of people working from home, a spike in remote learning, a surge in video meetings, and other online activities.

In addition, a vast number of current communications networks have physical limitations and just cannot keep pace with the many other bandwidth-hungry demands of today’s consumers and businesses. These communications networks are also often hampered by high maintenance costs and lack the ability to quickly roll out new services to customers.

These challenges—and many others that service providers face—are only magnified with the rollout of 5G networks and the expectation that they will deliver much higher capacity per end-user and lower latency. 5G will enable service providers to deliver highly diversified services, which will in turn introduce diverse and dynamic network utilization patterns and higher timing demands to ensure limited latency. This means these networks will need to be optimized to adjust to increased network utilization patterns and ensure a better end-user experience.

Currently however, many service providers are relying heavily on their 4G networks, with 5G being a part of their future but not necessarily their immediate plans. So how can service providers leverage their existing infrastructure to overcome bandwidth challenges and at the same time ensure a smooth, gradual transition to 5G?

The good news is that service providers can meet these challenges with their existing network infrastructure. They can capitalize on higher capacity and lower latency, making their transition to 5G more gradual and evolutionary. Moreover, they can do this in a manner that allows them to achieve faster return on investments and potentially accelerate their 5G rollouts. By optimizing current network utilization through a process called traffic engineering, and via improved network automation, service providers can extract more resources from their existing network. In addition to providing them with a more efficient network, traffic engineering and enhanced network automation also allow them to create the foundation for a 5G-ready network that will enable a smooth transition to a full rollout.

A primer on traffic engineering

As background, let’s look at why traffic engineering is essential in network performance, optimizing changing network traffic patterns, and supporting 5G rollouts. The concept of traffic engineering is actually not new, but it was less scalable and less effective in previous iterations (pre-IPv6 and pre-segment routing-traffic engineering). As service provider networks have become more complex, traffic engineering has become simpler to implement and is a much more effective tool. Conversely, network resources have become more limited as bandwidth demand has spiked. Dynamic traffic with diverse services only adds to the network complexity.

Service providers run the risk of overwhelming their networks with these spikes in demand, while at the same time underutilizing network resources in other areas. These challenges only intensify with 5G and its special requirements for reserved bandwidth, deterministic latency, enhanced isolation, and ultra-reliable low latency.

For example, for massive IoT use cases like managing irrigation systems or smart cities, bandwidth may be most important. For gaming, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), deterministic latency is important. For defense systems, isolation is expected for maximum security. And for remote surgery, ultra-reliable low latency is


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