To the extent that core network principles such as network functions virtualization, big data, information-centric networking, cloud computing and software defined networks are part of the vision for fifth generation mobile networks, it might be argued that the fifth generation is the first to be virtually inseparable from the core network.
That is a major departure. Always in the past, the access or edge networks could be upgraded or rebuilt without necessarily affected the core network, and vice versa.
But 5G is the first network--assuming present thinking accurately reflects the future standard--that eradicates the difference between separate access and core networks.
In one sense, that is clear in the access functionality. New 5G networks will “use any available access.” That includes Wi-Fi, and might also include any other mobile or fixed network.
So 5G is quite different from all prior mobile network generations, and the first of the mobile networks not defined by its air interface.
But 5G might also move value to the core networks, or more specifically, the core networks and the content and app services that use the core network. It is a new kind of network.