Industry Specification Group (ISG) Non-IP Networking (NIN) Activity Report 2021

Chair: John Grant, BSI

Focusing on candidate network protocol technologies that could present alternatives to TCP/IP for tomorrow’s private and public mobile networks.

Mobile operators are increasingly challenged by the limitations of decades-old TCP/IP networking protocols. Security, quality of service and other aspects have triggered fixes and workarounds: these have themselves incurred penalties in terms of greater cost, latency, and power consumption.

As long ago as 2015, a number of 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 to support them. In today’s 5G world, network owners and service providers are therefore exploring new technologies that can serve their needs for advanced services better than the ageing TCP/IP stack.

ETSI’s Industry Specification Group on Non-IP Networking (ISG NIN) is standardizing protocols that will provide better support for 21st century use cases than that provided by the TCP/IP-based networking used in current systems. The title ‘Non-IP Networking’ emphasizes that this new technology is not dependent on IP packet formats or protocols; however, it supports the TCP/IP suite as well as other systems such as Information Centric Networking and RINA (Recursive InterNetwork Architecture).

ISG NIN is dedicated to the specification of alternative networking protocols to support 5G applications, as well as being more efficient and easier to manage with lower capex/opex in current applications. The group thus intends to develop standards that define technologies to make more efficient use of capacity, have security by design, and provide lower latency for live media.

The outputs of ISG NIN will be initially applicable to private mobile networks such as factory automation. It is anticipated this will expand to embrace public systems, both in the core network and eventually radio elements.

ISG NIN’s first suite of Group Reports was published in March 2021.

The first [GR NIN 001] is a problem statement, detailing the limitations of TCP/IP for today’s mobile networks and how an alternative system could overcome those shortcomings.

The second [GR NIN 002] offers guidelines for testing and implementing non-IP networking on 3GPP cellular access networks, specifically LTE and 5G. 

The third [GR NIN 003] illustrates how the technology initially identified by ETSI’s previous Next Generation Protocols Industry Specification Group (ISG NGP) can form the basis of a ‘Flexilink’ networking model that will support both new and existing protocols.

Work is meanwhile in progress on two new Group Specifications.

The first [to be published as NIN 004] specifies procedures and packet formats for the carriage of Flexilink flows (both basic service and guaranteed service) over the DECT 2020 New Radio interface.

The second [NIN 005] considers signalling messages and protocols, specifying procedures and packet formats for network functions. These include setting up packet flows; modifying, re-routing and clearing down; exchanging information on timing and synchronisation; and conveying user messages that are not part of a flow.

See all ISG NIN Work Items currently in development here.

Since ISG NIN launched in January 2020, 25 companies have joined the group (11 ETSI Members, and 15 Participants).