ACM SIGCOMM 2021, virtually (online)

ACM SIGCOMM 2021 Tutorial: 5G-Connected Edge Cloud

Tutorial Program

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  • Monday, August 23th 13:40-17:00 (UTC-4, New York), 19:40-23:00 (UTC+2, Paris)

  • 1:40 pm - 3:00 pm Session I

  • 1:40 pm - 3:00 pm

    5G Basics

    Introduction to the 5G Architecture: Radio Spectrum, Radio Access Network (RAN), Mobile Packet Core.

  • 3:00 pm - 3:30 pm Coffee/tea Break

  • 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm Session II

  • 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

    5G Connectivity as a Managed Service

    Overview of an Operational Edge Cloud: Cloud Native Platform, Local Breakout, Research Opportunities.

Call For Participation

The mobile cellular network is undergoing a radical redesign, with 5G aspiring to adopt best practices from scalable cloud services. This includes the use of commodity servers and switches, a microservice-based implementation of the Mobile Packet Core, and an SDN-based implementation of the Radio Access Network (RAN), all of which is being pursued with open source software. The result is a system that provides a significant opportunity for the SIGCOMM community to innovate. To take advantage of this opportunity, the first step is to understand the internal working of the mobile cellular network, an exercise that is complicated by a long history of acronym-laden standards and closed/proprietary devices.

This tutorial demystifies 5G using a combination of a first-principles description of the technical problems 5G addresses, and open source software designed to address those problems. This tour of the 5G architecture and its implementation culminates in a complete and fully integrated software stack that is available for the research community to download, install, use, modify, extend, and evaluate in their local labs. This system is packaged as a 5G-enabled edge cloud called Aether [Aeth21], a pilot of which currently runs as a managed service at both academic and industrial labs worldwide. Aether also serves as the underlying platform for Pronto [Pron21, Fost20], a University research project that explores how deep programmability can be used to build verifiable closed-loop control into the access network.


Our overall goals for this tutorial are to:

  • Describe 5G, breaking it down into components familiar to the SIGCOMM community.
  • Introduce the available open source software that implements these components.
  • Show how these building blocks can be assembled into a Kubernetes-based edge cloud.
  • Identify and discuss the systems research opportunities such a platform enables.

A rough outline follows:

  • Session I The first session focuses on the 5G architecture—New Radio (NR), Radio Access Network (RAN), Mobile Core—in a way that helps a networking generalist understand important design principles. The discussion includes an overview of open SDN-based implementations of each component [Pete20, Pete21].

  • Session II The second session describes how the building blocks introduced in the first session are assembled into a Kubernetes-based edge cloud, called Aether, that can be deployed as a managed service in your local campus or lab. Most of this session will focus on the research opportunities this opens up for the SIGCOMM community, with an interactive discussion led by notable networking researchers [Aeth21, Pron21, Fost20].

Audience Expectations and Prerequisites

We expect the audience to have a general understanding of the cloud and networked systems, but to have largely viewed the celluar network as the reserach domain of information and coding theorists. The ideal attendee is interested in new systems problems at the boundary of 5G, SDN, and the Cloud.


  • Larry Peterson

    Princeton and ONF

    • Bio:

      Larry Peterson is the Robert E. Kahn Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Princeton University. For the last four years Larry has served as CTO of the Open Networking Foundation, where he has been working to democratize access networks.

  • Nate Foster

    Cornell University

    • Bio:

      Nate Foster is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University. He spends most of his time thinking about how to design better languages and tools for computer networks.

  • Nick McKeown

    Stanford University

    • Bio:

      Nick McKeown is the Kleiner Perkins, Mayfield, Sequoia Capital Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. Nick obsesses about making networks more programmable, from control and management down to how packets are processed on the wire.

  • Jennifer Rexford

    Princeton University

    • Bio:

      Jen Rexford is the Gordon Y. S. Wu Professor of Engineering and Chair of Computer Science at Princeton University. Jen is interested in all things networking, from languages to tools, algorithms, systems, and policies.


[Aeth21] Aether: 5G Connectivity-as-a-Service.

[Pron21] Pronto: The Network as a Programmable Platform.

[Fost20] N. Foster, et. al. Using Deep Programmability to Put Network Owners in Control. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communications Review, October 2020.

[Pete20] L. Peterson and O. Sunay. 5G Mobile Networks: A Systems Approach. March 2020.

[Pete21] L. Peterson, et. al.. Software-Defined Networks: A Systems Approach. January 2021.