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Initiative to develop communications technology for the new decade to be launched in Cambridge

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless), under 5G, Regulatory / Policy / Standards

John Grant from Nine Tiles has authored this guest blog introducing the ISG Non-IP Networking (NIN) Working Group which has been formed by ETSI and which will have its inaugural meeting in Cambridge on 25th March (registration closes 19th March).

Registration is via the ETSI portal

In 2016, mobile operators were finding a number of problems with the TCP/IP-based technology used in 4G. These included the complex and inefficient use of spectrum that resulted from adding mobility, security, quality-of-service, and other features to a system that was never designed for them, with overlays and workarounds incurring cost, latency and energy to realise, meaning TCP/IP is unsuitable for some of the new services that are proposed for 5G. An Industry Specification Group on Next Generation Protocols (ISG NGP) within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) was created to analyse the problems and suggest a way forward.

Performance issues that were identified include:

  • Lack of native support for continuous/time-sensitive media such as live audio, video, and tactile.
  • Addressing is applied to network interfaces (‘how you get there’, i.e. the path) rather than network processors (‘the location of what you want to communicate with’). Hence if the network interface changes then the address is required to change as well – meaning mobility and multihoming are not natively supported.
  • Addresses are repeated in every packet of a flow, bloating the headers.
  • Reaction to congestion occurs at the furthest point from the source of the network congestion; and requires round-trips to react to (possibly stale) network conditions.
  • Connections involve round-trips (SYN/SYN-ACK/ACK) to set-up.
  • IP has no quality of service.

Security issues include:

  • Well-known ports mean attackers know to target ports 80, 443, 53, etc.
  • Globally-significant identifiers that also act as locators.
  • Layer-violation to check integrity: the IP address is used in the TCP checksum

Of course, there are workarounds to some of these issues, for example:

  • IPsec can provide security
  • TCP optimisers in access networks can better react to network congestion
  • Diff Serv CodePoints (DSCP) in IP headers can request a (coarse) quality of service
  • GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) provides a mobility wrapper
  • Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) provides a flow-label for fast routing
  • Network Address Translation state-maintenance at firewalls.
  • Header compression can reduce bytes transmitted over-the-air.

However, these workarounds share the following characteristics:

  • They are expensive to integrate and operate
  • They involve additional encapsulations, complexity, compute, latency, and energy.
  • They do not tackle the problem at the design level, but at the patch level.

ISG NGP identified technology that would address the issues directly, dramatically reducing header sizes and per-packet processing as well as the latency experienced by live media, while remaining compatible with the current Internet and with newer technologies such as SDN and MPLS. It has also published a set of Key Performance Indicators that allow an objective assess­ment of the ability of networking protocols to meet operators’ needs.

Thus there is the opportunity to develop a system which will serve the new applications proposed for 5G as well as being more efficient and easier to manage (with lower CapEx and OpEx) when used for current applications. It is expected to be used first in private mobile networks, for instance for factory automation, and then in core networks of public systems, from which it can expand to the RAN.

Rather than continue in NGP, which also studied possible enhancements to Internet Protocol, it was felt that NGP should be terminated, having done its work, and a new group focussed on the alternative technology be started. ISG Non-IP Networking (NIN) has now been formed and will have its inaugural meeting in Cambridge (covid-19 permitting, otherwise on-line) on 25th March (registration closes 19th March).

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