5G industry news

Packet routing for the other two corners

  • 2 minute read
  • Published by John Grant on 17 May 2018
  • Last modified 6 Jul 2018

The first implementations of 5G are concentrating on the "enhanced mobile broadband" corner of the 5G triangle, using new radio with the existing TCP/IP-based core network technology. But to serve the other two corners, and also address problems operators have had with the current system, a radical change to the way packets are routed is needed, and a group in ETSI, the Industry Specification Group for Next Generation Protocols (ISG NGP) is working on new technology targeted at 3GPP Release 17.

Many of the design decisions made when TCP/IP was first developed, some forty years ago, are no longer appropriate. Memory is no longer a scarce resource, so more per-flow information can be kept in the network. Switches now have a data plane, implemented in hardware, to forward the packets, and a separate control plane, implemented in software, which makes the routing decisions; the forwarding process is controlled by a "routing table" which is written by the control plane.

There are two main features of the new technology that are different from the existing system. Firstly, packet headers are greatly simplified, containing only the packet size and a "label" which is a reference to the routing table entry; all per-flow information is carried by control plane messages. Where the Sockets API is used, these control plane messages are exchanged when the connect() call is made; with the more modern API proposed by the IETF TAPS group, it is when the Initiate or Rendezvous call is made. Secondly, there is a separate service for continuous media including audio, video, and new services (such as tactile) proposed for 5G. This is synchronised so that it easily delivers the lowest possible latency, and on wired links the two services are multiplexed together.

More details of ISG NGP and its technology are available here. The next face-to-face meeting is on September 6th and 7th at ETSI headquarters in Sophia Antipolis, near Antibes; send an e-mail to the chair if you would like to attend. The following meeting is on December 4th and 5th at BSI, Chiswick. We also have an informal group within UK5G; click here to request access to its on-line Basecamp project.