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5G core tech leadership race a close-run thing

What is said to be the first competitive landscape assessment of the 5G Mobile Core arena shows the market is still very much up for grabs

Many would expect the likes of Huawei and Cisco to be leaders in 5G mobile core (5GC) infrastructure solutions core technology, but according to what is said to be the first competitive landscape assessment of the arena, they are very much not alone.

GlobalData’s 5G Mobile Core: Competitive landscape assessment study evaluated the 5G mobile core portfolios of five key suppliers: Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE.

It examines the details of each portfolio in the context of key criteria important to mobile operators, including solution architecture; market momentum, standards and leadership, and support for voice and video, 5G services, migration to 5G and webscale and automation.

While the user benefits of 5G networks are developing, the 5G mobile core market is just entering its commercialisation phase, and as a result, said GlobalData, portfolios are rapidly evolving – but the stakes are high for operators.

“The gap that distinguishes leaders from the rest of the pack is very small, and the market is likely to evolve significantly over the next several years,” said Glen Hunt, principal analyst at GlobalData.

“However, operators’ 5GC decisions today will direct the next decade of global telecom investment and ultimately usher in fundamental changes to the way we live and work.

The first wave of 5G deployments, known as “non-standalone 5G”, relies on existing 4G LTE infrastructure for certain functions. So in the race to win 5G deals with operators, each supplier has a strong advantage with operators that already use their 4G mobile core solutions.”

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In the study, Huawei earned an overall co-leadership position, with leader rankings across all the evaluated criteria, earning plaudits for the number of mobile core contracts it has and for its NFV OpenLab initiative.

Swedish rival Ericsson earned an overall co-leadership position based in part on mobile core contracts, NSA deployments and early SA trials in addition to its full stack and CI/DI model and standards leadership, while Nordic neighbour Nokia showed leadership in supporting operator lifecycle management through the transition to 5G, early SA trials and a host of 5G migration services.

ZTE ranked very strongly overall, with strength in converged core support for LTE and 5G New Radio. ZTE’s CloudStudio delivers CI/CD, AI with automation and service assurance capabilities. Cisco’s portfolio was also ranked very strongly overall, showing leadership in early adoption of cloud-native technologies and support for multi-supplier interoperability.

Yet the 5G Mobile Core: Competitive landscape assessment report also stressed that this was all very much the here and now, and that the supplier landscape was likely to face changes as well.

“Standalone 5G requires a 5G core, and will give suppliers – both traditional core suppliers as well as upstarts such as Mavenir and Affirmed – a better chance to penetrate new operator accounts, support a broad range of deployment options and new use cases,” said Hunt.

“We expect the standalone 5G mobile core market will start ramping up in 2020, following the latest specifications from 3GPP,” he concluded.

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