Industry Blog

Time to refocus – it’s all about the subscriptions to the network

Time to read: 3 minutes

In the race for 5G deployments we have spent a lot of time focused on speed and latency and rollout. Rightly so, as these have retail value in the market and demonstrate the clear differentiator between 4G and 5G. When we look at the use cases in their diversity and the richer set of users and devices this will create, it is important to look at how these subscriptions to the network are managed. After all, getting the right data to the right part of the network at the right time will enable proper authentication and management of resources consumed – which will in turn realize the revenue potential of 5G in the first place.

Subscription is often an overlooked part of the mobile core network. It has always been an afterthought as operators have dedicated their focus primarily on coverage and network performance. Subscriber management has been viewed as a repository for subscriber data with its role limited to managing the subscriber’s authentication and their service profile. This role has been fulfilled by HLR in 2G and 3G, and by HSS in 4G.

Getting the architecture right…

Architecturally these have been monolithic functions and what concerned operators most was their availability in the network, making robustness and resilience their key attributes.  Beyond that, isolation due to the closed architecture of mobile networks provided little motivation to invest disproportionate effort on the subscriber management domain.

With increasing performance of mobile broadband and the proliferation of OTT (over the top) applications, operators realized the implicit value of their subscriber data as an asset. In a consumer centric ecosystem they had a natural role in areas like identity management, subscriber data consolidation and exposure. However, the network technologies in use limited their capabilities to securely integrate and share data due to domain specific protocols and a lack of security frameworks to protect networks against malicious actors.

With 5G, 3GPP adopts several innovations to the mobile network, including:

1- Cloud native infrastructure

2- Service Base Architecture (SBA)

These focus on building consumer centric networks where cloud native network functions can be dynamically deployed at the edge, closer to the customers where it is needed and scaled based on demand to ensure optimum performance.

The SBA adopts the use of industry standard protocols like HTTP/2 and the use of RESTful APIs across the network, removing earlier siloing due to different protocols at different interfaces. This also allows networks to introduce enterprise grade security across all network functions. This implicitly allows operators to expose different data sources to external partners, enabling service innovation and creating more value for the end users.

Subscriber == users & devices

Another aspect inherently addressed in 5G is the varied nature of subscribers. The system is not specifically designed for person-to-person communication only but looks at connectivity in a broader sense by enabling anything to connect from anywhere. This means there are additional requirements for managing identity, security and services for this broad variety of subscribers.

Enea’s Subscription Manager and Stratum provide a subscription data management solution that has identity management, subscriber data and exposure as its fundamental building blocks. It has been specifically designed with CSPs’ ambitions in mind, with full compliance to 3GPP specifications.

For the foreseeable future it is an imperative business need for operators on their 5G journey to interwork their existing 4G, 3G and 2G operations. The Subscription Manager provides multiple options to interwork with existing HSS infrastructure – and it is future-proof.

The 5G network is still in its early stages of evolution, but this time there is a key difference from previous generations. Subscriber identity and security have assumed a central role and complement the exposure capability of the operator’s network. Therefore subscription management needs focus when setting its foundations if it is to effectively serve new business needs.