ETSI group sets out to define alternative to TCP/IP for 5G

private network
ETSI expects the work of the new group will be applicable initially to private mobile networks such as factory automation. (Getty Images)

ETSI created a new Industry Specification Group (ISG) designed to find alternative technologies to the 1970s-era TCP/IP-based networking protocols deemed inadequate for today’s 5G networks.

The group intends to develop standards that, when all is said and done, should lead to more efficient use of spectrum, better security and lower latency.

Asked about implications for current remote work and learning triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, ISG Chair John Grant said via email that it will provide a better service for applications such as video conferencing and remote medicine, avoiding delays and drop-outs.

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According to ETSI, with the increasing challenges placed on modern networks to support new use cases and greater connectivity, service providers are looking for candidate technologies that may serve their needs better than the TCP/IP-based networking used in current systems.

In 2015, several mobile operators identified problems with the TCP/IP-based technology used in 4G. These included the complex and inefficient use of spectrum resulting from adding mobility, security, quality-of-service, and other features to a protocol that was never designed for them, ETSI explained in a press release.   

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TCP/IP-based technology was originally designed for communication between mainframe computers and to allow people with teletype and similar terminals to run programs on them, according to Grant.

“Computers were identified by their point of attachment to the network, which never changed, whereas mobile devices move from cell to cell; this means packets have to carry one set of addressing that identifies the device and another that identifies its point of attachment,” he said. “Security wasn't an issue, because only trusted people had access to the terminals. Quality-of-service is mainly an issue for traffic such as audio and video, which the communication links (and the computers) were too slow to carry.”

ETSI expects the work of the new group will be applicable initially to private mobile networks such as factory automation and then expanded to public systems, both in the core network and eventually, end-to-end, including the radio elements.

First on the group’s agenda will be a report detailing the shortcomings of TCP/IP and how the new alternative system would overcome those shortcomings. The group also plans to work on specifying how the new technologies will form the basis of the new protocols, as well as creating a framework for testing the efficiency and effectiveness of the new protocols, including over radio.