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What is Kubernetes and what does it mean for 5G?

Kubernetes is cloud software container management that can help carriers with 5G Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

Containerization is essential to getting cloud software and services to operate at scale. Kubernetes, or K8s, is a broadly used container management system available as open source and foundational technology at Google. With the 5G’s core network’s cloud-native environment, Kubernetes can help carriers deploy and maintain services using agile DevOps principles.

Software containers enable application code to operate independently of the hardware, operating system or operating environment. A container comprises application code and its dependencies, libraries and configuration files. Containers are inherently portable, can be run anywhere, and are lightweight. Containers only operate when needed and use system resources more efficiently. App code inside a container operates as a microservice, which can be scaled up or down to meet demand and to suit available system resources. 

“Containers are packages of software that contain all of the necessary elements to run in any environment,” explains Google

“Kubernetes […] is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications,” explain the Kubernetes Authors.

“With modern web services, users expect applications to be available 24/7, and developers expect to deploy new versions of those applications several times a day. Containerization helps package software to serve these goals, enabling applications to be released and updated without downtime. Kubernetes helps you make sure those containerized applications run where and when you want, and helps them find the resources and tools they need to work. Kubernetes is a production-ready, open source platform designed with Google’s accumulated experience in container orchestration, combined with best-of-breed ideas from the community,” explain the authors.

Google developed Kubernetes to deploy, scale and maintain its services for years. Kubernetes made its public debut in 2014, and has since seen broad adoption in enterprise.

Kubernetes and 5G Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

5G Standalone (SA) networks sport a Service Based Architecture (SBA) to help carriers flexibly deploy, scale and maintain the myriad services enterprise users will demand. The 5G SBA also enables the disaggregation of network hardware and software, central to vRAN and OpenRAN efforts. 

The 5G Core Network supports Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) at various levels throughout the stack, depending on the carrier’s needs. So, container orchestration is an obvious and pressing need for carriers and other 5G stakeholders alike, and Kubernetes is already being offered as part of NFV solutions.

Kubernetes’ dominance in enterprise cloud software management notwithstanding, the orchestration software faces headwinds in broad carrier adoption, beginning with the industry transition away from 4G LTE. Kubernetes critics note practical implementation problems, such as the industry’s transition from siloed network functions to VNFs and Cloud-native Network Functions (CNFs). In more broad strokes, carriers will need broad internal culture changes to adapt to the agile DevOps principles that already guide cloud services deployment.

Kubernetes is emerging as a popular framework to help carriers and enterprise customers manage 5G services within a containerized framework, regardless. It’s already being used in telecom products. Nokia’s Kubernetes-based Telecom Application Server (TAS) has been available for VoLTE networks since 2018, for example. AT&T and Google Cloud began collaborating on 5G and Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) solutions in March 2020. In July 2021, they expanded their partnership to include AT&T Multi-access Edge Compute and AT&T Network Edge with Google Cloud.

Wind River and Intel jointly developed 5G vRAN “review evaluation packages” for CSPs which use Kubernetes. The packages comprise Intel’s FlexRAN reference software and Wind River Studio intelligent edge systems management package, which uses Kubernetes for container orchestration.


Peter Cohen
Peter is a Technology Editor for RCR Wireless News whose coverage areas include hyperscalers, telco cloud, edge computing, and data centers. Before joining RCR, Peter was a freelance writer with a background in tech journalism. He worked as a senior editor for Macworld magazine, editor at and has contributed to many other tech publications. He and his family live in Massachusetts.

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