A Pervasive Software Environment
“Softwarization Sustaining a Hyper-Connected World: en route to 5G” is the theme of IEEE NetSoft 2017 Conference, 3-7 July 2017 at the School of Engineering and Architecture at Italy’s University of Bologna. The IEEE Software Defined Networks (SDN) Initiative event will draw world-leading service providers, vendors, research institutes, open source projects and academia to examine the developing 5G transformation. Here, Enrico Bagnasco, head of innovation with Telecom Italia Mobile, looks at some of the issues to be explored at IEEE NetSoft 2017.
In what ways do you see 5G being a systemic digital transformation?
Differently from the previous mobile generations, 5G is not just a new generation of radio access and core but a complete, end-to-end network and service platform for the digital society and the digital economy. In fact, we are witnessing today the convergence of an innovative set of technologies tailored to cover the need of a widespread number of future scenarios and use cases: enhanced Mobile UltraBroadband and fixed wireless access, Industry 4.0, massive machine-type communication and Internet of Things (IoT), ultra-reliable and low-latency communication for vehicles and humans and any sort of future information and communications technologies (ICT) services. So, 5G will be will expression of a systemic digital transformation, capable of morphing telecommunications infrastructures from a fabric of interconnected closed boxes (today’s nodes—switches, routers, middle boxes, etc.) into a pervasive software environment executing millions of software processes.
How is softwarization in forms such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) redefining the 5G network and service architectures?
It is well recognized that SDN and NFV, and also cloud and edge Computing, are enabling technologies allowing a complete re-design of 5G and future network architectures. The traditional distinction between the fixed network and the mobile network is going to disappear, with software becoming dominant. The decoupling of software architecture from the hardware and the introduction of virtualization of resources and services will make 5G a flexible execution and communication environment. In order for these new technologies to catalyze investments and, subsequently, innovation, it is paramount that all stakeholders work together to create viable ecosystems for development and growth.
What are a couple of major challenges facing the evolution toward 5G?
5G becomes an enabling network and service platform for the consumer and business markets, serving all vertical markets shaping the advent of digital society and economy. A major challenge is the design and exploitation of a management, control and orchestration system capable of taming the complexity of a pervasive and softwarized infrastruture as 5G. A sort of operating system for 5G is needed, capable of automating the network and service operational processes.
Another key challenge is cybersecurity, which should be approached by design. If, on one side, SDN and NFV will make 5G more flexible but add typical IT vulnerabilities, on the other side, the increasing pervasivity of the network—just think about IoT applications—will increase the number of points of potential attacks.
What are you personally most excited with 5G?
As Mark Weiser said, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear.”1 Personally, I look at 5G as a highly flexible and pervasive “nervous system,” weaving into our future society and economy. In fact, it is exciting to think how 5G will ease our daily life activities, allowing us to both do better what we already do today and do new things, thanks to ultra-low latency connectivity and an overwhelming number of services produced and consumed through smart objects and innovative terminals.
What might industry and academia do today to prepare for the skills revolution that 5G will demand?
Sofwarization and 5G will have far reaching socio-economic impacts on the future digital society, including education and cultural implications. New skills will be required, with joint efforts from industry and academia; in fact, the future of digital society may depend on younger generations being taught skills for mastering the software, just as they are taught foreign languages, mathematics and science.The development of open innovation ecosystems, based on deeper and deeper collaborations between industry and academia, will also help in preparing for the culture shift and reaching the global open standards needed to avoid fragmentation, ensure interoperability and enable economies of scale for 5G. For example, we work with leading universities to promote a “5G Campus” paradigm that encompasses not only technology but students and researchers in use cases.
1 Mark Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st Century,” Scientific American (1991). Retrieved 1 June 2017 from