Press Release

Network Functions Virtualization: Basics to Benefits

Network Functions Virtualization: Basics to Benefits

Network Functions Virtualization: Basics to Benefits

 

03rd of September 2020

 

 

 

With rising competition from operators and OTT players, the major differentiator for telecommunications service providers today is delivering disruptive and innovative services. To support these services, they need a more stable, reliable, and scalable network, such as one enabled by Network Function Virtualization (NFV). NFV has been an industry buzzword for some time now, so is it all that it’s cut out to be? From its benefits to its applications, we break it down for you to decide how to use it for your network.

Key Components of NFV

A modern network architecture technique, NFV virtualizes entire network functions using standard vendor-neutral hardware and IT infrastructure, facilitating improved communications services.

Key components of the NFV framework include:

Virtualized network functions (VNFs) are software implementations of various network functions that are deployed in network function virtualization infrastructure (NFVi), that were historically coupled with proprietary hardware appliances. VNFs run on virtual machines and are hosted on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing devices, network hardware, and storage infrastructure. Common VNFs components include virtualized routers, DPI, firewalls, edge devices, signaling devices, load balancers, network address translation (NAT) services, WAN accelerators, and more. The primary hypervisors are OpenStack and VMware.

NFV infrastructure (NFVi) is the environment where VNFs run and comprises the hardware and software components from different vendors that are essential to successfully run the virtual network.

NFV management and orchestration (NFV-MANO) architectural framework is the key element of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV architecture. It is a collection of all functional blocks, data repositories used by these blocks, and reference points and interfaces through which these functional blocks exchange information for the purpose of managing and orchestrating NFVi and VNFs. NFV-MANO includes the following components:

  • NFV Orchestrator (NFVO): a central component of an NFV-based solution that standardizes virtual network functions to improve the interoperability of software-defined network (SDN) elements. It orchestrates network resources for a broad range of network services, enabling real-time automation, monitoring, and service assurance.
  • VNF Manager (VNFM): responsible for life cycle management, including deployment, monitoring, scaling, and removal of VNFs on a VIM.
  • Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM): responsible for managing, controlling, and monitoring virtual resources and their association with physical resources. It maintains the complete inventory of NFVi.

Together, these components replace traditional architecture to build a high-performing, reliable, and scalable network that delivers low-latency real-time applications while improving the operational efficiency of telecom services.

Top Six Benefits of NFV

NFV enables the swift creation of new services and facilitates rapid deployment in mobile and fixed networks. Its key benefits include:

Hardware flexibility and vendor independence
Legacy vendors offer their network functions on custom and dedicated hardware that is not easy to upgrade and demands a large investment of time and money. With NFV, network functions are virtualized and run on generic commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, enabling service providers to share hardware across multiple network functions, giving them the advantage of software decoupling and building flexible virtual infrastructure that saves space, power, time, and costs. Operators can now mix and match vendors and functions for different features, software licensing costs, post-deployment support models, roadmaps, and more.

Faster service life cycle
Unlike physical hardware, VNFs can rapidly be created and removed on the fly. A VNF’s lifecycle is shorter and more dynamic since these functions are often added when needed and easily provisioned through automated software tools that do not require any onsite activity. In effect, NFV helps network operators commission or decommission services with the touch of a button without the need for physical shipping or delivery truck, dramatically reducing deployment time from weeks to minutes.

Rapid deployment of solutions
With the decoupling of software functionality and physical hardware, operators can deploy new solutions and put features into production rapidly, without requiring lengthy change requests or new appliances from legacy vendors. This expedited deployment process further facilitates NFV’s inherent support to use open source tools and software services.

Scalability and elasticity
Service providers always want to ensure they will be able to meet new requirements as well as scale up their capacity as their network grows. Doing so with traditional network equipment requires time, planning, and monetary investment. NFV eliminates these concerns as it enables capacity changes by offering a way to expand and reduce the resources used by VNFs. It enables scalability and automation, improves the flexibility of network service provisioning, and reduces the time needed to deploy new services. It efficiently ensures elasticity by offloading the VNF workload and spinning a new instance to implement the same network function and sharing the load with an existing VNF.

Lower energy consumption
NFV helps reduce energy usage by exploiting the power management features of standard servers and storage, as well as workload consolidation and location optimization. For example, based on virtualization techniques, it is possible to focus the workload on a smaller number of servers during offpeak hours (such as nighttime) so that all other servers can be switched off or put on energy-saving mode.

Operational efficiency and agility
NFV is inherently automation-friendly and can maximize the benefits of using Machine to Machine (M2M) tools. For instance, a device management automation tool can be used to determine the need for more memory in a network function. NFV helps reduce downtime and also assists operators with various network maintenance activities. It helps temporarily reduce and free up existing VNFs for maintenance activities by spinning to a new VNF. This helps achieve In-Service-Software-Upgrade (ISSU), enables 24x7 self-healing networks, and minimizes operational loss of revenue due to network outages.

Leading NFV Applications

The benefits of NFV can be realized across a variety of network functions that can operate almost entirely in the cloud without the need for physical hardware. Some of its most popular applications include:

Virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC)

Virtualized EPC helps deliver superior quality of service (QoS) by dynamically scaling to meet the growing traffic. vEPC ensures lower OPEX and TCO while ensuring faster services to the market, consistent service availability, and improved network efficiency. Deployed in independent slices of the controllers, user planes, and management planes, vEPC is generally free of the architectural restrictions possessed by the traditional nodes-based EPC.

Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)

MEC is an alternative approach to the cloud environment. It brings data storage and computational capabilities closer to the data source, which is considered as an edge of the network. It enables computing resources to be distributed along the communication path by decentralizing the cloud infrastructure. The source of data or network edge can be the users’ devices, IoT device, router, or CSP’s server infrastructure, which helps reduce latency and save bandwidth. This minimizes long-distance communication between a client and server and most user actions are processed in real-time.

Virtual Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE)

vCPE, or cloud-CPE as it is also called, essentially transforms hardware-based operations like routing and security into virtual software-based operations, delivering them to the branch or edge networks. Traditionally, CPEs are task-specific with one device dedicated to performing one service. This includes VPNs, firewalls, routers, and more, all of which are hosted through a remote service provider or centralized management platform. It offers many benefits, including easier and swifter deployment, scalability, lower investment and operational cost, improved service flexibility, and scope for innovation.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

Also known as a content distribution network, a CDN is a network of proxy servers and data centers, distributed across different locations to ensure high availability and performance. CDN operators enable the distribution of most content available on the Internet today, such as streaming media, web applications, downloadable content such as software, media files, documents, and occasionally security-related applications. While they earn revenue from content owners, CDN operators pay a hosting fee to ISPs and network operators.

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

According to research firm Gartner, over 90% of edge infrastructure refresh initiatives will comprise vCPE and SD-WAN devices by 2023. SD-WAN, as the name implies, employs software-defined means to manage a wide area network. It decouples the control mechanism from network hardware, facilitating simpler management, and more efficient operations. One of its primary applications is enabling the building of WANs with improved performance employing more economically viable commercial Internet access instead of high-cost private technologies.

Virtual AAA (vAAA)

Authentication, Authorization, Accounting (AAA) server can be deployed in an NFVi environment using ETSI-based standard integrations or customized instances provided by the NFVi vendor. Specific and generic VNFs manage the entire AAA lifecycle smoothly. A carrier-grade, high-performing, stateless, and cloud-native AAA (such as Alepo’s) integrates with the 5G core network to perform a host of functions such as slice authentication, authentication and authorization for DNN provisioning, authenticating access from non-3GPP networks, and more.

IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)

IMS enables the delivery of secure and reliable multimedia communications services (voice, video, text) over IP networks. Its 3GPP standards-based architectural framework provides a unified infrastructure to connect various devices and networks, standardizing the implementation and management of next-gen mobile networks. The IMS core includes Call Session Control Function (CSCF), Home Subscriber Server (HSS), Media Resource Functions (MRF), Signaling Gateway (SGW), and Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF), all of which together work together to act as the control layer.

Session Border Controllers (SBCs)

SBCs help control and secure IP communications sessions. While they were initially designed for VoIP networks, they are commonly also used for IP video, text messaging, and more for residential as well as enterprise applications. They facilitate communication between different parts of the network. Along with ensuring seamless connectivity, SBCs enable high quality of service, advanced security to protect against frauds and malicious attacks, statistics gathering, and more.

Network Monitoring

Network monitoring checks networking devices and components such as servers, firewalls, switches, routers, VMS, and more for faults and failures. When any discrepancy is noticed, an alert is triggered to notify the system administrators by email and/or SMS, enabling them to swiftly act to improve or rectify the problem. Part of network management, network monitoring optimizes performance, ensures high availability, and minimizes downtime.

Video Servers

Video servers help deliver video content using a host of devices. Broadly speaking, they are used in two key applications: security surveillance and broadcasting. In surveillance, a video server helps capture video using one or more analog and/or digital inputs, enables network connectivity for the analog components to digitize and stream the video over an IP network, and provides users to access it through a web browser or mobile app. In broadcasting, it offers a bidirectional platform to record video as well as ingest video from external sources, stores this video, and enables editing and transferring the final output to multiple video streams.

Service Delivery Platforms

A service delivery platform helps manage and control the entire delivery life cycle, from creation to execution. It provides the architecture for service providers to swiftly develop and launch convergent internet-based multimedia services such as IPTV, VoIP, mobile TV, multi-player video games, and more. Its telecommunications applications include value-added services (VAS), partner management, converged billing, and more. When used in the enterprise domain, it is especially useful as it lets operators run a dedicated platform for each enterprise, offering increased control to their customers.

Security Accelerator Functions

Over the past decade, the technology protecting virtual and physical tools has considerably evolved, paving the way for virtualizing and, consequently, centralizing security. These network security functions include firewalls, spam protection systems, intrusion detection and prevention systems, virus scanners, and more. Virtual firewalls, for instance, are NFV solutions that protect virtual machines. As technology progresses, more and more of these security functions are expected to be virtualized.

Conclusion

Network Functions Virtualization is imperative for operators looking to transform into digital service providers from mere traditional communications service providers. The next-gen NFV applications and use cases help them become successful in the digital era in the face of competition from innovative OTT applications. Plus, from the network operations perspective, virtualization employs an end-to-end service-based approach to replace traditional function-specific hardware, helping telcos achieve five-nines availability, lower CAPEX and OPEX, and ensure rapid time to market of new services.

Keshav Pareek

Keshav Pareek

Solution Integrator

Keshav is a solution integrator working on DevOps tools and technology, with expertise in virtualization. Over the years, he’s helped facilitate tier-1 telcos to modernize their network functions using NFV-based deployment. Always keeping pace with the latest in the industry and often immersed in reading tech blogs, he spends his free time going on long bike rides in the countryside.

Envisioning Private 5G Success with Compact Core

Envisioning Private 5G Success with Compact Core

Envisioning private 5G success with Compact Core

 

8th of July 2020

 

 

 

5G is set to change the way large and small enterprises operate; from universities, ports, smart cities, factories, farms, and buildings, its use cases can meet all business needs. And the key network component that will enable all the unique features of 5G for these enterprises: Compact Core.

The Compact Core is an industrialized solution designed for enterprises that need carrier-grade network connectivity with a limited resource footprint to deliver services to their users. It is especially useful for those who want private network connectivity, whether it is over LTE or 5G. The deployment involves pre-integrated access and core network components for quick setup and less complex operations.

How the Compact Core benefits an enterprise

The Compact Core is a complete pre-integrated and self-contained solution that includes the network core and other networking infrastructure, which seamlessly works with end devices and the radio access network. It does not impact and is not dependent on external systems or organizations.

Swift deployment
In terms of time, Compact Core deployment is highly efficient. Enterprises can launch a private LTE or 5G network along with mobile broadband and voice services in a single project, saving on the time they would otherwise need to deploy these services individually. Since the solution is pre-integrated, no extensive development, customization, or testing is needed to go live.

Cloud-native benefits

The Compact Core is a modernized software solution that leverages the power of cloud, abstracting the underlying complex functionality. It is the smartest choice when upgrading from legacy telco infrastructure to modern, web-scale, 5G architecture. Capable of serving multiple enterprises, it uses SaaS-based multi-tenant architecture. Each tenant has a dedicated configuration, user management, and can self-service through web portals. This setup offers automated, cost-efficient, and hassle-free operations with dynamic provisioning of core capacity based on individual business requirements.

Flexible footprint
Whether the enterprise wants to deploy securely on-premise or on the public cloud, the modern compact core solution has a small resource footprint and flexibility of deployment modes. An in-memory database and ability to scale up and down sets it apart from legacy telco core solutions.

Role of Alepo’s Compact Core in private 5G enablement

Alepo is a software company that offers Subscriber Data Management and policy network functions for the Compact Core. It manages subscriber identities, service subscriptions, and is responsible for authentication, authorizing secure access to network services. It also includes the web-based Enterprise Self-Service (ESS) Portal that enables enterprises to self-manage SIM cards, end-to-end subscription and device lifecycles, and real-time connection and usage monitoring. Alepo’s pre-integrated partners bring the RAN, end devices, and other infrastructure needed to flip the switch and turn on the 5G network.

Ready for real 5G launch

The Compact Core equips an enterprise to launch its private LTE or 5G services. Essential services include enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), voice calls, and video calls. It can also include services such as push-to-talk or walkie-talkie. Further, users can get 5G benefits such as ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC) for M2M and IoT applications.

Most existing 5G networks are powered by 4G core/EPC and 5G RAN (non-standalone 5G). They are dependent on the 4G core and therefore are not end-to-end 5G networks. Alepo’s new-generation Compact Core, along with the ESS Portal, is 5G-compliant. All elements are pre-integrated to rapidly enable enterprises to set up a new standalone 5G network with zero dependence on the 4G core.

Nitish Muley

Nitish Muley

Senior Engineer

Nitish has spent years building mobile apps for technologies like VR, AR, IoT, and is currently working on Alepo’s newest products. Always up to speed with the latest in the industry, Nitish is a voracious reader – and fervent writer – about all things related to tech and wireless standards. After hours, he wears a traveler’s hat, pursuing his love for photography as he explores different countries.

Role of AAA in 5G and the IoT Ecosystem

Role of AAA in 5G and the IoT Ecosystem

Role of AAA in 5G and the IoT Ecosystem

 

24th of June 2020

 

 

 

Evolution of the Mobile Network

According to a report from the GSMA, the number of fifth-generation (5G) users worldwide is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2025, which is 15 percent of the global total. 5G means a significant upgrade from the last generation of mobile networks. With its higher bandwidth, low-latency, and virtualization capabilities, it has unleashed a massive IoT ecosystem, and this is expected to rapidly boost the number of devices and users on the data network, making proper IT planning imperative. As the mobile network evolves, the AAA will play a key role in acting as a bridge between devices and networks, ensuring operators are able to maximize ROI on their 5G investment.

AAA Evolution

AAA is an important service and policy control framework, enabling CSPs to control how their subscribers access and consume data services over WiFi, FTTx, 5G, and other IP-based broadband networks. It touches a number of areas within the core network and back office, from security and provisioning to billing and, most significantly, customer experience.

Over a decade ago, the core functions of AAA were in line with dialup and, later on, DSL internet networks. Today, the ever-increasing need for improving customer experience, along with rapid growth in subscriber numbers and data usage, has placed new demands on AAA functionalities.

Diameter – the next-gen industry-standard protocol used to exchange authentication, authorization, and accounting information in LTE and IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) networks – provides a generic framework for exchanging AAA messages and defines a standard set of AAA request-and-response commands and attributes. Having evolved from RADIUS, it provides more reliable, secure, and flexible transport mechanisms for mobile data networks. It is used by LTE and IMS network functions, including the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF), Home Subscriber Server (HSS), and Online Charging System (OCS) elements.

In modern networks where CSPs deliver services across multiple access networks such as fixed-mobile convergence (WiFi and mobile), the broadband network requires seamless user experience while accessing services. Within broadband networks, CSPs may have multiple types of network elements acting as service delivery points and policy enforcement points. In wireless networks such as 5G, the technology goal is to expand service capabilities in various industries using high-speed mobile broadband, Internet of Things (IoT), and virtualization by embracing key technologies like RESTful APIs. This ensures optimum performance, stateless and secured network functions (NFs), and a high level of quality of service (QoS) in the 5G Service Based Architecture (SBA).

The 5G SBA’s modular framework comprises components such as AuSF (Authentication Server Function), NEF (Network Exposure Function), NRF (NF Repository Function), PCF (Policy Control Function), NSSF (Network Slice Selection Function), and UDM (Unified Data Management), allowing deployment of diverse network services and applications. A robust AAA (like Alepo’s) facilitates seamless authentication for 5G network services, including authenticating and authorizing device access:

  • To enterprise slices by integrating with an enterprise AAA server
  • From non-3GPP networks such as WiFi and broadband

Top Ways AAA Can Help Telcos

Secure Access Control

The AAA server manages user profiles, holds access credentials, device identifiers, access policies, and so on. This helps enable various access control mechanisms such as barring access for blacklisted devices, allowing limited or walled-garden access. AAA helps implement corporate access control, allowing specific devices to offer connectivity to corporate network resources.

Revenue via Service Differentiation

AAA helps manage access profiles, data caps, time limits, and more, helping launch different bandwidth plans and implement data caps that are integral to driving revenue in broadband networks. Real-time usage monitoring helps control revenue leaks.

M2M/IoT Connectivity Management

Serving an important role in managing device connectivity for M2M or IoT networks, AAA holds device-specific network parameters that allow access to a specific enterprise network. It collects usage or event details from the network and helps identify device cell location and device online status, handles usage alerts, and pushes CDRs to the billing system to charge network usage.

Enhance Customer Experience

AAA helps push changes in service parameters and policies to different subscribers without disconnecting or resetting their connections. Operators can offer better customer experience through seamless session updates whenever a customer:

  • Purchases a turbo boost bandwidth speed
  • Surpasses their fair usage policies
  • Refills balance for a prepaid account

Monitor Usage and Notifications

While monitoring usage and notifications, AAA supports enforcement of fair usage policies on reaching the defined time- and volume-based cap. It also helps standardize customer experience based on usage levels.

Monetize WiFi Access

AAA assists businesses to unlock a new revenue stream using the WiFi hotspot business model. The AAA server helps:

  • Access time- and data-based passes
  • Enable location-based services and offers
  • Allow dynamic redirection to customized captive portals

Role of AAA in 5G-IoT Ecosystem

Authenticating Slice Access

5G and network slicing are often concurrently used, though network slicing is an architectural component that helps operators design and customize different slices that run on a common physical interface. Network slicing supports a multitude of use cases and new services through 5G and also establishes multi-vendor and multi-tenant network models using shared infrastructure. According to ABI Research, network slicing creates approximately US $66 billion additional value for telecom companies.

When a device requests connectivity for a specific slice, besides 5G network authentication, the enterprise or tenant may also want to authenticate the device. This is handled by AAA, which holds the profiles of devices that can connect to the enterprise slice.

5G Slice Authenication

5G Slice Authentication

 

Authorizing Data Connectivity

As a device attempts to connect an enterprise data network, such as a mobile device that accesses streaming services, or a drone camera trying to upload images to the data center, the enterprise or tenant may want to check the device requesting connectivity and restrict access to the network resource to certain devices. AAA authenticates the device, checks whether it is authorized to access the resource, and then provides the connection parameters such as IP address and QoS for data connectivity.

5G Slice Authenication

Authorizing Data Network Connectivity

 

Multi-Service Access

Enterprise AAA plays a key role in connecting and authenticating devices to an enterprise network (slice), authorizing connectivity from non-LTE/5G networks such as WiFi and broadband. When the device tries to connect to 5G networks from non-LTE/5G networks such as WiFi, broadband, AAA plays an important role in authenticating the device, authorizing connectivity to the 5G core network function to allow seamless connectivity for mobile devices from non-5G networks.

5G Slice Authenication

Device Access From Non-3GPP Networks

 

Popular 5G-IoT Use Cases

Smart City

5G rollout will not only deliver high-speed connectivity globally but will facilitate the ability to handle massive network connections and unlock new life-enhancing services. Smart cities will integrate devices over 5G networks to build an intelligent city with smart traffic, smart homes, parking, waste management, public safety, and smart utility facilities. Coupled with enterprise IoT, AI, AR, and VR, 5G will offer maximum potential for service innovations in building smart cities, including use cases (slices) such as healthcare, drone, education, energy, and more. Additionally, use cases like connected vehicles, high streaming voice, and video transmission from crime sites, air pollution monitoring, and surgeries using AR and VR will further enhance lives.

Entertainment and Gaming

In both the entertainment and gaming fields, IoT solutions have played a major role in helping track emerging trends and consumer tastes in entertainment and giving users highly immersive gaming experiences. IoT caters to the entertainment industry’s three major needs: strong knowledge of the latest trends and user preferences, creating immersive content, and targeted ad campaigns. Today, users enjoy a whole new level of user-engaging visual content and gaming procedures with features such as:

  • Visible texts in the screenplay of video games
  • High-level 3D and reporting models
  • Content productions via AR and VR approach

Smart Home and Smart Building

IoT, combined with 5G-enabled tools and technologies, brings more control and efficiency to intelligent buildings and at home. These tools help control the connected home, comprising appliances, lighting, entertainment, safety, security, HVAC, temperature, energy management, and more from smart devices like smartphones, tablets, or laptops over the WiFi network. Smart home solutions leverage connected and automated homes by enabling users to centrally manage all devices from one location and provide device-specific instructions at just one click. IoT-enabled or smart buildings with AI-driven analytics help restructure key aspects of commercial buildings: construction, habitation, and maintenance enhancing the quality of life of occupants and staff. Building automation 2.0 covers smart building solutions covering space management, asset management, cleanliness and hygiene management, and environmental monitoring.

Smart Manufacturing

5G gives manufacturers and telecom operators the greatest opportunity to collaborate and build smart manufacturing units. By truly exploiting automation, artificial intelligence, and industrial IoT (IIoT), manufacturers can change the game of their business and discover innovative ways to adopt industry 4.0 practices. 5G RAN, network slicing, cloud infrastructure, and real-time data collection through AI build a strong vision of fully connected and automated factories. Having broader access to greater amounts of data, this use case revolutionizes the production capabilities of the manufacturing units by enabling manufacturers to generate meaningful data, which can be further used to enhance digitalization, create new revenue streams, identify operational obstacles, optimize industrial processes, and save manufacturing costs. Smart manufacturing has the maximum scope to transform businesses with complex device communications and stringent, costly, time-consuming manual processes.

Steps To Create A Winning Deployment

Virtualization

Virtualization plays an important role in any product deployment as it helps automate product delivery by using the latest NFV technologies. It helps enhance performance as it monitors network resources and can scale and heal automatically. Virtualizing the core network can also bring the benefit of network slicing and customized use cases such as smart cities, autonomous vehicles, entertainment, gaming, and remote healthcare. This helps build networks that boost performance, capacity, latency, security, reliability, and coverage of the application developed.

Open Standards

Standardization like 3GPP and REST APIs are the foundation on which different products and services are developed. They bridge the gap between work processes and deliverables to ensure performance and interoperability across the mobile supply chain. This helps eliminate vendor lock-in as it is always possible to get another vendor to deploy a solution that meets industry standards.

AAA Transformation

AAA Transformation helps CSPs streamline processes and reduce all of their ownership costs. With support for all access technologies, it equips them with a single platform to deliver AAA needs across broadband, mobile, WiFi, and M2M/IoT segments. Operators can boost performance and security by integrating multivendor legacy AAA deployments into a centralized cloud environment.

Digital BSS

A digital BSS stack helps CSPs deliver digital-first customer experience and automate business processes in both 5G and IoT deployments by upgrading their legacy BSS with a new 5G-ready stack. A modular BSS delivers a complete digital transformation that helps greenfield operators with full-stack deployment and replaces legacy systems that operate in a phased approach.

Conclusion

A high-performance and robust AAA Server integrated with 5G and IoT networks can be used for multiple use cases across various industrial sectors. It helps provide cost-saving network optimizations for end-to-end business processes. Advanced virtualized AAA solutions, combined with system integrations and data migration solutions, will deploy market-leading and cost-efficient services without affecting the current system or customer experience.

Rajesh Mhapankar

Rajesh Mhapankar

Director, Innovations

A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.

How operators can leverage network slicing for 5G monetization

How operators can leverage network slicing for 5G monetization

How operators can leverage network slicing for 5G monetization

 

18th of June 2020

 

 

 

Mobile communication technology has been driving digitization and is now an essential pillar across industries such as manufacturing, automobile, retail, supply chain, transport, healthcare, and more. Different business verticals have varying needs: one sector could require high-bandwidth communication, another may demand ultra-reliable communication, while a third needs extremely low-latency communication. The ideal 5G network will fulfill these diverse requirements at the same time, and this is possible through network slicing.

What is network slicing?

It is theoretically possible to build multiple dedicated networks where each is customized to support the needs of one type of business customer, but this is economically unviable. The most efficient approach is to segment a single physical network into multiple logical networks, each catering to unique service needs. This technique is called network slicing.

Network segmentation is available to an extent in legacy networks through Access Point Names (APNs) and dedicated core networks. But it is now more seamless and practical to use with advances in virtualization technology that is adopted by 5G. 5G networks, along with network slicing, allow business customers to enjoy connectivity in line with unique business specifications that are negotiated with a mobile operator in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The parameters of customization include data speed, quality of service (QoS), latency, reliability, security, and services.

A network slice is an autonomous end-to-end logical network operating on shared physical infrastructure capable of providing the agreed QoS. The scope of the network slice could cover multiple parts of the network, such as a terminal, core network, access network, and transportation network. One network slice includes dedicated and/or shared resources, which can vary in terms of bandwidth, storage, processing power, and more.

From the end-user perspective, the network slice serves as a normal mobile network. A slice often offers seamless and uninterrupted service when a device roams outside the home network.

Potential vertical applications

Network slices can be used for many use cases in several industries such as:

Consumer: enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for high bandwidth users.

Automotive: ultra-low latency (1 ms), high-availability, and effective isolation from other services for autonomous vehicles.

Logistics: high availability to track goods.

Healthcare: ultra-low latency and high availability for remote surgeries.

Warehouse: low-latency and high-availability for efficient collaboration between smart robots.

Media (entertainment/AR/VR): high-bandwidth for an immersive and seamless experience.

Smart cities, governments, SOS services: dedicated QoS to ensure connectivity of first responders.

Detailed network slicing use cases

Slices have limitless possibilities for industry, some of which include:

Slice for automobiles
Designed for a modern connected vehicle, it enables a highly versatile network that can deliver ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC) service for self-driving, car-to-car communication, and emergency services as well as high-throughput for in-car entertainment using high-bandwidth.

Slice for industry automation
A smart factory can use the operator’s URLLC slice for industrial automation, allowing monitoring and control of robotic parts. An edge computing data center (as network resource service) is used to deploy the system.

Slice for massive IoT
An operator can deploy a dedicated slice for IoT users to manage the complex network requirements for a massive IoT device ecosystem. It can have lower latency, and a separate charging and control function to simplify network management and speed-up deployment. This slice can support one million devices per square kilometer.

Slice for live broadcasts in AR/VR
A dedicated high-bandwidth slice can be used by an operator to transmit news and events such as sports and concerts. To manage AR/VR video processing, it can support one-to-many downlink connections with high-density computing. The slice will ensure high-bandwidth and lower-latency QoS.

What capabilities do Alepo’s solutions extend?

Alepo’s 5G Core solution offers converged subscriber data management, policy, charging functions, and 3GPP AAA. It empowers the operator’s network team to create and manage slice profiles, their technical attributes, and associate them with subscriptions or group subscriptions. As a device connects to the network, slice profile details are provisioned towards the network to connect the device to a specific slice based on its service subscription. This empowers operators to create, manage, and charge different slices based on each customer’s business requirements.

Nitish Muley

Nitish Muley

Senior Engineer

Nitish has spent years building mobile apps for technologies like VR, AR, IoT, and is currently working on Alepo’s newest products. Always up to speed with the latest in the industry, Nitish is a voracious reader – and fervent writer – about all things related to tech and wireless standards. After hours, he wears a traveler’s hat, pursuing his love for photography as he explores different countries.

How to tackle NFV AAA deployment challenges

How to tackle NFV AAA deployment challenges

How to tackle NFV AAA deployment challenges

 

12th of June 2020

 

 

 

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) helps service providers transform deployment and operational processes. The maturing of NFV means that AAA can now be deployed virtually – a game-changer that optimizes resource utilization and network operations. From our experience in deploying virtualized AAA (vAAA), we’ve noticed there are some frequently occurring challenges. The good news is, we’ve also identified how to address them.

First things first: the most important thing about NFV

Conventional hardware infrastructure deployments mean the installation of application-specific servers or appliances on the customer’s premises. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) technology introduces a well-defined cloud architecture that eliminates the bind between application and physical server by virtualizing network services.

Deploying virtualized network functions (VNFs) reduces the need to maintain vendor-specific or customized physical infrastructure. Applications can now be deployed on standardized and shared infrastructure, significantly reducing operational costs and making it faster to implement.

What objectives do NFV-based deployments meet?

Important outcomes that make NFV software-defined networking (NFV SDN) increasingly valuable include reduced complexity of networks, faster services, and lowered dependence on expensive physical storage. Further, NFV-based deployments aim to maintain a standard-based infrastructure shared by all VNF vendors, keeping OPEX and CAPEX low. Its core objectives include:

Efficiency

The NFV platform must have availability-adjusted NF SLAs that are identical to SLAs offered with dedicated services, specifying, for instance, the average delay, bandwidth, and availability of all services provided to the subscribers. To ensure SLA compliance, it needs to closely track network performance and dynamically adjust resources.

Scalability

The NFV platform should support a large number of VNFs and scale as traffic volumes and application usage increase. The ability to deliver a variety of NFs per subscriber could lead to the creation of new services, opening new ways for operators to monetize their networks.

Reliability

The NFV platform must comply with reliability requirements to offer high service availability, which is defined as end-to-end service availability including end-to-end service elements (VNF and infrastructure components).

How to overcome challenges in NFV AAA (vAAA) deployments

Let’s take a look at the top six NFV implementation challenges and the ideal solutions we’ve developed to address them.

ChallengeSolution
Configuration management

Managing file-based configurations for AAA nodes becomes complex and error-prone when each AAA node runs with its own copy of the configuration and requires syncing as nodes are dynamically added or removed.
Centralized configuration management

This helps manage the configuration changes (scripts or license files) through a web-based configuration portal, allowing changes to every AAA node in real-time. Alternatively, all configurations can be held in a centralized configuration database.
Lack of compatibility for VNF management interfaces

Many NFV infrastructure (NFVi) vendors require a custom interface for VNF management than standard-based, making them incompatible with other vendors.
Flexible VNF management

Selecting AAA vendors that offer flexible VNF management interfaces based on ETSI-compatible interfaces or custom interfaces based on NFVi instances is ideal to expedite deployment.
Vendor-specific user access management systems

Different vendors have their own access management system for their applications. This adds to operational overheads as user logins and access permissions are maintained in multiple systems.
Centralized access management


A centralized user access management system for all vendor applications eases operations, improves control over access controllers, and enhances application security.
Impact of session cache synchronization

In NFV deployment, each AAA node is dynamically added or removed based on traffic needs. This requires each node to replicate the session cache to other nodes, increasing complexity and introducing errors.
Stateless AAA

It is important to externalize application states and stores session contexts in a centralized database that can be shared across all AAA nodes. A stateless AAA ensures any node can process an ongoing user session request previously handled by another node and that simplifies dynamic scaling without having to worry about session cache synchronization.
Low variety of load balancers

For virtualized AAA deployment, load balancers are needed to distribute signaling traffic across multiple AAA nodes. In the NFVi environment, very few software-based load balancers support RADIUS/UDP messages.
In-built load balancer

Software-based load balancer VNFs are part of new-generation vAAA solutions and this helps implement RADIUS/UDP as well as HTTP traffic load-balancing.
Common network interface for all network traffic

AAA deployed with a common network interface for handling applications and database traffic leads to security concerns and also prevents resource optimization based on traffic type.
Multiple networks for different traffic

Separate network interfaces address key security challenges and optimize network resources. Each AAA node has multiple virtual network interfaces to handle different data traffic, applications, and database, making it more secure and scalable.

Conclusion

NFV reduces dependence on dedicated infrastructure. As a result, a vAAA solution enables significant customization and scalability that cuts across the operator’s entire network framework. Operators can, therefore, earn additional revenue without investing in any new hardware.

One of just a handful in the market, Alepo’s NFV- and 5G-compliant virtualized AAA (vAAA) can be deployed in any NFVi environment according to ETSI standards. Manage the entire AAA VNF life cycle with Alepo using its specific Virtual Network Function (sVNF), or integrate with a generic Virtual Network Function (gVNF) from any NFVi vendor. The carrier-grade 3GPP AAA is designed to optimize mobile, WiFi, and fixed network performance. Equipped with a proven and scalable integration framework, it optimizes scalability and resource utilization through orchestration. It can be rapidly deployed and offers quick insights into the way IP data services are accessed and consumed.

Rajesh Mhapankar

Rajesh Mhapankar

Director, Innovations

A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.

Top 5 ways telcos can adapt to the virtual cultural shift

Top 5 ways telcos can adapt to the virtual cultural shift

Top 5 ways telcos can adapt to the virtual cultural shift

 

5th of May 2020

 

 

 

Telecommunications today is more essential than ever. Data and mobility have taken on a pivotal role across sectors like healthcare, education, transportation, smart cities, oil and gas, utilities, and more. Now, there is unprecedented demand on networks with cultural shifts due to the pandemic. Given the unpredictability of the future, and with many companies considering the possibility of permanently adopting remote work, the focus is directed to network contingency plans. One thing is clear: service providers with digitally advanced systems will adapt more easily to this cultural shift. And to enhance their systems, these are the top five factors they need to focus on:

Maintain high-performing and scalable networks

More people around the world are working from home due to lockdowns, and those isolating and in quarantine are spending more time on high-bandwidth streaming services such as Netflix, Youtube, and other entertainment channels, further increasing the network load. To serve this surge in demand and long-term cultural shift, telcos must invest in robust AAA infrastructure that is highly available, scalable, and stateless. Operators facing network challenges can transform AAA seamlessly and virtually, ensuring zero impact on their existing IT systems and integrations.

Automate workflows and processes

As their customers do more from home, telcos should also aim to reduce manual and in-person touchpoints. An advanced digital business support systems (BSS) stack helps automate business processes, including complex and repetitive tasks, freeing up network resources, and minimizing errors. Telcos can create, launch, deliver, and manage communications services entirely through a digital-first customer experience, keeping them ahead of the competition. Operators can introduce innovative plans, bonus policies, cashbacks, and targeted offers on-the-fly as the market evolves. Increased digitalization and personalization keeps customers engaged and loyal to the brand.

Digital transformation facilitates rapid implementation and customization as it possesses the following features:

  • Cloud-native services
  • Open APIs and standardized workflows
  • Automated provisioning, fulfillment, testing, chatbots
  • Microservice architecture

In addition, better internal processes and automated workflows mean higher productivity and efficiency in interacting with customers and vendors, while maintaining high operational excellence.

Deliver a digitally-advanced experience

It is crucial for telcos to adopt a digital-first approach to their business, not only because the majority of young consumers prefer interacting with brands through smartphones or online, but long-term cultural shifts due to the pandemic demand a rapid change to conducting business and serving customers virtually.

For example, customers prefer visual assistance to solve their problems. Vodafone has capitalized on this and uses the power of video to relieve the burden on their call centers that used to receive a staggering 5.2 million calls for technical assistance per year. They are now able to resolve customer issues remotely using AI and AR, helping their agents interpret and visually guide the customer, resulting in faster and more accurate problem resolution.

The main areas of focus for digitalization include:

  • Shift in-store customer experience to a digital channel
  • Reduce physical contact through virtual troubleshooting
  • Automate customer touchpoints to improve customer experience
  • Have IT systems that can support the cultural shift

Provide omnichannel support

With an increasing number of digital channels and a growing focus on customer experience, operators need to adopt an omnichannel strategy to keep pace with the expectations of customers. And its applications are two-fold.

For one, omnichannel engagement options extend a seamless, consistent, and unified shopping experience to customers across all touchpoints, whether they are shopping on the operator’s portal or through an online marketplace, physical stores, product catalogs, social media platforms, or chatbots.

Second, omnichannel self-care plays a significant role in the operator’s customer experience strategy, helping customers to play an active role in managing their accounts. Customers can manage their plans and services, create friends and family groups for special calling rates, and control data usage. The added transparency and increased ability to monitor accounts improves customer satisfaction and helps build trust. Automated and intelligent interactions through the web, mobile, and multiple social media channels further enhance the digital experience and empower customers with:

  • Automated digital onboarding
  • Simplified purchases
  • Automated support
  • Multiple payment modes
  • Swift complaint redressal
  • AGifting options
  • Parental controls

Move to SaaS to relieve IT

With the long-term shift to working virtually, a huge strain is put on a company’s IT infrastructure. SaaS software can relieve a huge burden on the IT infrastructure and ensure connectivity and reliability. One of the top priorities for all service providers must be shifting their infrastructure to the cloud because it lets them focus on digitization opportunities with limited investment. SaaS BSS architecture provides the telco with advanced modules, preconfigured fixed and mobile broadband plans, and 24x7 managed service operations, while a dedicated customer success manager ensures faster return on investment and reduced time-to-market. It also helps with reduced expenditure on hardware, infrastructure, maintenance, and more. The SaaS solution helps operators rapidly transform and adapt their business to modern technology trends that facilitate back-office process automation and digitize customer experience for their staff and subscribers.

Conclusion

To capitalize on cultural shifts and surging demand in data, telecom providers need to concentrate on a digital makeover, either as a complete network overhaul or a phased digital transformation. This includes not just offering better network capabilities but also implementing innovative tools and strategies to enable process automation and enhanced customer experience. Service providers must consider investing in digital technologies to build next-gen offerings and streamline business and IT operations, using SaaS software and agile methodologies to analyze and understand overall market demands, business requirements, customer data, and real-time delivery needs. It’s certain there is opportunity for companies to evolve in these challenging times.

Anand Ramani

Anand Ramani

Director R&D

A senior professional with more than 20 years of experience in the telecom BSS domain, Anand is passionate about adapting newer technologies and building digital products. He heads the company’s R&D activities for core products such as Digital BSS, WiFi, and AAA.