Updated: 11 January, 2018
5G is some years away from commercial deployment and standards are still in development. In January 2016, the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre published a whitepaper proposing the Flat Distributed Cloud (FDC) as an architecture for next generation cellular networking.
For the reader’s ease, we’ve used present and future tenses (“does” and “will”) in this guide. The Flat Distributed Cloud (FDC) is at present a DRAFT next generation network architecture proposal. The 5GIC has simulated and analysed “most” of the fundamental principles of the architecture (with “encouraging” results), and has implemented some key aspects on its testbed. The architecture builds on currently used technologies and principles and extends those that are currently standardised functions to add 5G functionality. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Flat Distributed Cloud (FDC)?
The FDC is an architecture proposed by the 5GIC for 5G cellular networks. However, the FDC goes beyond cellular networks in that services are provided wirelessly to the end device via a converged fixed and mobile infrastructure that works anywhere, from rural to dense urban areas.
FDC uses both fixed and wireless bearers and will interconnect with wireline, internet, cloud and content delivery networks (CDNs). In fact, the 5GIC believes the opportunity exists to make FDC the de facto communication network architecture for the next generation of communications.
What’s in a Name?
The FDC is flat as its architecture is flatter than previous generations reducing the number of network layers from three in the Long Term Evolution (LTE) network to one for 70% of use cases and two for the remaining 30%. The aim is to reduce latency and improve security.
It is distributed in that it is physically distributed in different resources according to mobile demands, and intelligently distributed to keep user data close to where it is needed. With this architecture it is possible to slice the network elements according to user’s needs.
It is cloud – or rather cloud-based – so that it is scalable and not solely reliant on local physical resources.
What will FDC do?
The FDC has been designed to always make the best uses of the resources available – at the time of each new communication request and in the context of the user at the time of the communication request. It will use network and spectrum resources to deliver “always sufficient” data at minimal latency. The quality, speed and predictability of the experience will give the user the impression there is infinite capacity available.
The key attributes of the FDC are the same as in other new and emerging technologies: it will be efficient, flexible, scalable, agile and dynamic.
How will it do it?
The FDC network is arranged in dynamic virtual cell clusters overlaid onto hardware clusters located in data centres of varying sizes. This horizontal cell clustering makes the network flexible. The clusters will be able to be easily reorganised to meet changing service and load requirements.
Vertical network slicing will make multiple slices of the network available to different users and/or different services for the same user.
The FDC employs network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) techniques – essentially using software to automate, manage, configure and optimise the network, make the network intelligent and dynamic, and enable the rapid launch of new services. SDN will separate the user and control planes to minimise the setup time for each new connection or communication request.
The 5GIC is proposing a new Meta-Data Protocol (MDP) that will deliver a context-aware user plane control.
The 5GIC also envisages a new SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition)-like framework for the internet of things (IoT) that will support evolving mobile IoT uses such as driverless cars and drones. LTE is not cost effective or agile enough for such applications.
What is the context?
The FDC context enables the network by employing a context information management system that drives the 5Ws (what, where, when, why, who) principle into the network and uses network, user and device profiles to provide contextual information to service the communication request – at the time of the communication request. Such information may include the user’s location, location type (at home, work, on the move), device, device type (corporate, personal, BYOD), connection type (fixed, mobile), etc. The user profile will also support frequent and recently used lists to optimise the cloud over 5G experience.
The FDC architecture uses learned intelligence over time to round out and build on that context.
The new Meta-Data Protocol (MDP) protocol enables contextual information to be exchanged by and between the network and different users of the network in an efficient, scalable and secure manner. The user can selectively (but securely) share information with the network and other third party stakeholders that the user enables in order to improve the users experience directly or as a result of empowering the access network to better support the user request with priority information from the user.
FDC is context aware, in that it can identify common events, common usage patterns and short-term trends. For example, it can identify and predict popular content that will be simultaneously watched by multiple users, and dynamically collapse a number of identical unicast streams into one multicast stream.
FDC builds in content caching and pre-fetching at the edge of the network, in order to speed up delivery of popular content. This is an area that is currently underdeveloped in mobile networks, and methods that are available are proprietary.
It uses location and user profiling for predictive signalling and signalling optimisation to reduce signalling load, such as minimising mobility updates and paging, and reducing measurement reporting.
- READ THE FULL WHITE PAPER HERE.
The 5GIC will continue to develop FDC and move from simulating the key tenets of the architecture to emulating them in its campus-wide testbed.
In October 2016 the 5GIC successfully performed the world’s first full demonstration of an orchestrated, virtualised 5G architecture, using its FDC architecture. The next step is for 5GIC to demonstrate FDC-based network slicing, a timetable for which has not been given.