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IBM and Cisco Collaborate to Help Enable Orchestration and Management of 5G Networks

By Andrew Coward | General Manager, IBM Software Defined Networking
October 26, 2021

As 5G network deployments ramp quickly, a few requirements are emerging in both the business model and the technical architecture which are leading to a rethink about how 5G networks, and specifically 5G RAN and Cores should be deployed. Historically, we have seen communication service providers functioning by building a single, centralized mobile core for their network, or for at least a very large geography.  Once this was built – at scale for the total expected load of the network, the radio networks were connected, and life was good.

The introduction of 5G appears to have led to a paradigm shift as the sheer number of radio locations required began to out-scale the ability of a single core to manage the very large number of nodes. Perhaps, not surprisingly, a software-powered, virtualized 5G environment is at the heart of 5G core and also RAN (vRAN, oRAN).  As 5G core roll-out progresses, you can deploy at small-scale first and grow compute and virtual core instances as your number of base stations and 5G subscribers grows.

Unfortunately, this fix also creates a new set of challenges – how to manage and coordinate between a large number of 5G core and radio nodes all running as virtual instances across a large national network.

During my decades working in the software industry, I have come to believe that the very premise on which 5G business cases were built – that we could divide-up the network and create slices of the 5G network per enterprise customer, is also being challenged because of the complexity this creates. So, there is an urgent need for an intent-based automation, orchestration and control of this highly dynamic and virtualized infrastructure, which still sits on top of an IP/MPLS and optical network.

IBM has been tackling the virtualization orchestration of 5G networks through the deployment of our Cloud Pak for Network Automation product. By automating and then abstracting the complexity of the underlying virtual radio and core network, we present a simplified approach to building network services, up to and including building network slices from the cloud out to the radio edge.  IBM has been chosen by diverse providers such as DISH and Telefónica.

Unresolved in this solution was the ability to abstract and provision the underlying transport and IP networks – a requirement to build end-to-end SLAs for network slices and to coordinate traffic across the network.

In parallel, Cisco has been addressing the problem of transport and IP network orchestration through Crosswork Network Automation software to manage their network infrastructure.  Adopted by network providers globally, Crosswork has become the market leader for the orchestration and management of connectivity.

We are delighted to announce a new cross-business collaboration between IBM and Cisco which tie our products together to help enable orchestration and management of virtual 5G networks and the underlying optical and IP networks in a single framework, single solution, driven from any cloud.

With this joint announcement, service providers can expect to ultimately tie their customer’s cloud services together with a network slice that provides an end-to-end SLA under a single cross-managed network.  Over the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing how this partnership is translating into real-world deployments and how the original vision of 5G networks is being finally realized.

IBM and Cisco have been helping customers with their digital transformation for over a quarter of a century. With over 20,000 shared customers across 20 industries worldwide, we provide technology, services, and industry expertise.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit us at Booth #1520 and see a demonstration of IBM and Cisco’s combined products working together at Mobile World Congress Los Angeles (Oct 26-28). For more information or to schedule a virtual demo, visit:

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