The core network has always been one of the front lines in the evolution of cellular wireless technologies. Every generation has brought us a dizzying array of new acronyms in this space. In 2G there were Mobile Switching Centers (MSC), Home Location Registers (HLR) and Visitor Location Registers (VLR). 3G introduced the IP Multimedia System (IMS) and 4G brought the Mobility Management Entity (MME) and Packet Data Gateways (PGW). This parade of apparently physically independent functionality hides a trend of increasing softwarization that has been accelerating since 2G.
In 5G, this softwarization trend will very likely reach a nexus blurring any remaining lines between hardware and software. Some folks are saying that the core network will disappear into the cloud in 5G. From a certain perspective, I don’t disagree with them. However, from a broader perspective, it still remains a rich and essential area of innovation that will define a continuing key element of the future of wireless.