How a carrier-grade AAA optimizes the network

How a carrier-grade AAA optimizes the network

How a carrier-grade AAA optimizes the network

 

April 12, 2021

 

 

 

Introduction

Customer experience is the key differentiator for operators today, and while there are several other contributing factors such as automated support and digital engagement, one of the best ways to boost CX is by providing a superior network experience. Though often overlooked, successfully modernizing your network means recognizing the role of upgrading the AAA helps alleviate a host of challenges to boost network performance.

Key carrier-grade AAA features that optimize network performance

A modern and robust AAA and policy framework provides features that optimize network resource utilization and boost performance, even with dynamically changing traffic load. These include: 

High availability

A highly responsive AAA server with failover support helps maximize efficiency and ensure 99.999% availability for carrier-grade performance as the network grows.

Powerful scripting engine

A high-performing scripting engine ensures high performance and sub-millisecond latency, and enables operators to write and implement custom authentication and authorization rules in-house.

Noise management

AAA signaling noise is often produced on wireline networks by repeated authentication failures and errors. A robust AAA efficiently mitigates noise issues, instructing disturbing devices to take corrective measures, keeping network performance high. In addition, an intelligent system also enables service providers to easily identify and block malicious attempts to disturb or overburden the network.

Real-time policy control

A modern AAA lets service providers ensure zero revenue leakage, implement mid-session policy changes, deliver bandwidth on demand, and instantly communicate with customers.

Scalability

A stateless AAA stores sessions and data in a centralized database, ensuring that another AAA node takes over if one is down and enabling dynamic vertical as well as horizontal scaling without network downtime.

Rerouting and offloading traffic

A next-gen carrier-grade AAA enables service providers to alleviate network traffic by authenticating and authorizing mobile subscribers who connect from 3G, LTE, or 5G networks and seamlessly offloading them to services such as WiFi for calling or data sessions.

Emergency mode

The AAA can provide a fail-proof backup system to authenticate users if database connectivity is lost by automatically switching to emergency mode, helping prevent service disruption caused by single points of failure.

Automated service restoration

A AAA that enables rapid recovery from system failures or outages helps minimize strain on resources and optimize performance.

Web-based administrative portal

Operators can monitor and troubleshoot issues from a single interface. They can also automatically redirect customers to a self-care portal.

Interoperability

A carrier-grade AAA server that is interoperable with other networks lets operators deploy a multi-vendor network, not only lowering network costs but also boosting performance.

How Alepo AAA transformation optimizes networks

Ensuring a seamless migration is a major consideration for operators when undertaking a AAA transformation. Alepo provides a proven and scalable integration framework with provisioning support using API Gateway, ensuring a zero-downtime migration that does not impact existing integrations or IT systems. Alepo’s NFV-compliant AAA is stateless, enabling five-nines availability, and has an industry-leading benchmark of 36,000 transactions per second (TPS), supporting horizontal and vertical scaling. The highly stable system increases operational efficiency, with centralized monitoring to reduce on-ground staff dependence. Further, centralized configuration management minimizes errors by enabling operators to rapidly and easily configure changes across all AAA nodes. With automated workflows and web-based interfaces, Alepo’s carrier-grade AAA Server enables service providers to create, launch, deliver, and manage services within hours.

 

Begin your AAA transformation journey now: book a demo.

Gayatri Sarang

Gayatri Sarang

Lead Content and Engagement Specialist – Marketing

Gayatri is part of the content and communications brigade at Alepo. Having locked focus on the telecom domain in recent years, she has vast and diverse experience in writing for leading publications. She moonlights as a volunteer urban wildlife rehabber and is a passionate baker.

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How the AAA server ensures security in telecom networks

How the AAA server ensures security in telecom networks

How the AAA server ensures security in telecom networks

April 5, 2021

Introduction

In 2020, around 22 billion internet of things (IoT) connected devices were in use worldwide, a number that’s expected to reach 50 billion by 2030, according to Statista. As networks become more complex and vast, configuring and controlling access to ensure security in the absence of Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA) is virtually impossible. Put simply, AAA is one of the gatekeepers of the modern telecommunications network. And while we all know that it is integral to every network today, it deserves more credit than its usually given in ensuring the security of a modern network.

Device use continues to surge as 5G and the IoT ecosystem become more widespread. Plus, operators now offer more granular and contextual plans for different customers, as well as advanced billing and charging plans for an ever-increasing array of services. As the number of devices connected to a network as well as the services available to them proliferate, networks are more susceptible not only to accounting errors but also to security breaches and threats such as identity theft. AAA assumes a significant role in ensuring security for these dynamically changing network needs.

How AAA works

The AAA server does just as its name suggests: it authenticates or validates subscribers and their credentials, verifies what services and QoS each subscriber is authorized to access, and ensures proper accounting so that customers are accurately billed for the services they use.

Authentication

The first step in AAA security is Authentication. It serves as the first line of defense in protecting network resources against fraud and identity theft, employing multimodal authentication methods.

Whenever anyone tries to access the network, the job of the Authentication function is identifying whether they are meant to be granted access, and also ensuring that the user is in fact who they claim to be. It does so by ensuring the user enters valid credentials, such as username, password, biometrics, or any other security measures that have been implemented by the operator. These credentials are stored in the operator’s database, against which the Auth server verifies the input given by the user. This database is constantly updated and monitored by network and system administrators.

If the user’s credentials are valid, they are granted access. Those with fraudulent or erroneous credentials are denied access. All network use of verified users is monitored and logged for future reference.

Authorization

Once authenticated, the next step for the AAA is determining what policies apply to the user. These policies will govern the user’s authorization levels, defining what resources, services, and QoS the user can access.

AAA policies can be defined on a host of parameters, such as the time or day, the user’s location, how often they’ve logged in, how much bandwidth they’ve consumed, fair usage, and so on. These policies can also restrict certain actions, such as retrieving and/or changing passwords.

Accounting

The final step for the AAA server is to take stock of the network resources accessed by the user, such as data consumption and duration of their session.

These usage details serve two purposes. One, they ensure the user is accurately invoiced for their consumption. Another important aspect of accounting is to enable administrators to access audit logs to review how and by whom the network was accessed. This usage data is useful to gain valuable insights into customer behavior, usage patterns, and more. These business intelligence (BI) insights help operators create more contextual offerings and enable them to anticipate network use.

Benefits of AAA security

AAA offers a host of technical benefits for operators in implementing network security:

  • AAA forms a multi-layered security barrier to secure, measure, and monitor how the network is accessed and by whom, thwarting malicious attempts by cybercriminals to steal and misuse data.
  • As cases of data breaches such as identity theft continue to increase, telecom AAA assumes a vital role in strengthening a telco’s data assets by enabling sound practices in identity and access management.
  • With AAA, controlling access does not require a statically configured network, pre-defined connectivity modes, fixed or immovable systems, or even fixed IP addresses by enabling operators to secure the network using more granular techniques such as integrating user directories to provide access to specific groups of users. This dynamic approach is especially relevant given the growing number of devices accessing the network through various means.
  • It grants operators more control and flexibility in configuring network access, and also lets operators implement multiple standardized authentication methods.
  • It employs several back-up systems to ensure redundancy if one security server is down or there is excessive network congestion.
  • A centralized security database grants specific access to each user using their unique credentials, enabling easy and swift access termination for inactive or banned users.

How Alepo AAA can help mitigate network risks

Alepo’s modern and scalable AAA Server enables flexible configuration and control over how network resources are used. It provides failsafe systems to ensure that there are no lapses in security even during network outages.

The NFV- and 5G-compliant AAA overcomes the previous limitations of physical hardware. With its evolved architecture, Alepo’s future-proof virtualized AAA (vAAA) helps operators optimize infrastructural resources and ensure the network remains secure even when traffic increases. (Also read the whitepaper: The Evolution of AAA Infrastructure For NFVi Compliance.)

The stateless AAA stores sessions and application states in a centralized database, distributing the transaction load for faster response times while ensuring high levels of security.

The dual-stack AAA supports RADIUS and Diameter protocols for full convergence, enabling a single system to enable secure access to services across all networks (fixed, wireless, and mobile). This includes modern services such as IoT, WiFi calling and offload, and more.

With five-nines availability, Alepo AAA Server ensures network performance is always high while keeping the network safe from external security threats.

Alepo has regarded AAA as a crucial network function and has been at the forefront of AAA innovation from its inception. Today, Alepo AAA Server is at the heart of operations for some of the largest telcos in the world, with millions of subscribers benefiting from its capabilities. The cutting-edge solution is high-performance, self-healing, open (via REST and API gateway), and highly configurable, serving diverse use cases. Its AAA Transformation enables even large operators to seamlessly replace the core network functionality without impacting existing systems, ensuring transparent integration with other core components such as BSS and CRM.

Gayatri Sarang

Gayatri Sarang

Lead Content and Engagement Specialist – Marketing

Gayatri is part of the content and communications brigade at Alepo. Having locked focus on the telecom domain in recent years, she has vast and diverse experience in writing for leading publications. She moonlights as a volunteer urban wildlife rehabber and is a passionate baker.

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Top six ways AI and CX automation revolutionize telcos

Top six ways AI and CX automation revolutionize telcos

Top six ways AI and CX automation revolutionize telcos

14th of December 2020

The evolution of CX

It’s no secret that customer experience (CX) is emerging as the key differentiator for service providers: a Gartner study reports that over two-thirds of marketers say their companies compete primarily on CX. And two modern technologies are facilitating richer and more advanced CX than ever before: artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

AI is used to mimic human intelligence in responding to situations and conversations. Automation, on the other hand, enables repetitive tasks to run with limited to no human intervention through preset programming. AI and automation, along with customer insights, enhance a telco’s capability to deliver an intelligent customer experience. This powerful combination also revolutionizes the way telcos interact with customers, facilitating them to monitor, track, and manage the customer experience 24x7x365. Artificial intelligence helps operators analyze complex customer behavioral patterns and offer contextual services, plans, and content, whereas automation accelerates these personalized offerings.

Customer care processes have drastically eased with the help of modern, automated, AI-based omnichannel self-care, enabling instant query redressal anytime, anywhere, and on a host of convenient platforms. NLP-based bots and emotional AI can even gauge customer emotions and moods in real-time, enabling personalized support that mimics human responses.

How AI and CX automation transform a telco’s offerings

1. Automated support

A telco’s support and self-care offerings are a major factor in influencing CX. Customers today are less inclined to contact call centers or visit physical stores for support. Instead, they prefer having more control over their accounts to resolve their own issues – using the platform and language of their choice. More telcos are turning to AI technology to improve customer engagement by automating self-care and support offerings. In fact, Servion predicts that, by 2025, AI will power 95% of all customer interactions.

AI chatbots are available for a host of platforms, including web and mobile apps, voice assistants such as Alexa and Cortana, and social platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Having steadily gained popularity, they offer a direct and instant link between customers and the operator. Available round-the-clock, they help customers bypass long wait times to speak with CSRs and avoid lines at physical stores. AI chatbots mimic the experience of interacting with a human agent, understanding the customer’s sentiments and responding accordingly.

Chatbots also offer many benefits to service providers. They reduce burden on support staff at stores and in call centers. All interactions are recorded for operator analysis to improve future offerings. And using machine learning, the bots continue to become “smarter” at responding to customer queries, further reducing resolution times and improving CX. Moreover, AI assistants are also good at cross-selling products.

2. Personalized recommendations

AI helps target the right subscriber or group of subscribers at the right time using an in-depth analysis of customers’ past actions, preferences, and needs, which are collected in the form of data and algorithms. It is a powerful tool that encompasses a variety of statistical techniques to evaluate customers’ future actions, making it easier for telcos to showcase products and services that exactly match customers’ requirements in real-time. Operators capture buying preferences and complete historical data, which is then processed using advanced analytical tools to create targeted contextual offers.

AI empowers marketers to design custom campaigns and promotions based on customer preferences and behavior instead of applying a one-size-fits-all strategy. The predictions equip service providers to be future-ready to monetize offerings and respond efficiently to changing market dynamics, helping them not only offer relevant products to the customer but also to manage the supply chain more efficiently as they modify their offerings. This helps boost customer satisfaction and reduce churn while increasing ARPU, facilitating cross-selling and upselling, and more.

3. Omnichannel experience

A digital-first approach that empowers customers with more than just support through multiple channels, an omnichannel experience consolidates all customer interactions and history on a single converged platform. Using AI as part of a cohesive engagement strategy enables a seamless CX, empowering customers to engage with the service provider no matter what device or platform they use. It enables operators to enhance support offerings, reduce resolution times, and improve CX. AI can be integrated with support to offer insights on customer interactions across channels – insights that CSRs can be granted access to, helping reduce response and resolution times, lessen the burden on CSRs, and boost CX.

4. Automated digital onboarding

Customers today increasingly prefer signing up for new services online rather than visiting a store, even more so considering pandemic-related social distancing norms prevalent in many countries. From order to delivery, the entire process of purchasing a new connection can be automated, assuring customers of a quick, easy, and paperless process using the web, mobile, or any other digital channel of their choosing. Digital onboarding solutions help capture key customer information, documents, biometrics, and more, verifying this information in real-time using for secure onboarding.

5. Delightful innovations

Customers expect a constantly advancing service provider who keeps up with technologies to make their life easier. With the widespread adoption of tools like chatbots and voice assistants, it’s only natural for telcos to keep pace and delight their customers with new and useful technologies driven by AI and automation. One such advancement is voice and speech recognition technology, which has meant that customers can clear their bills using voice-activated payments. The process is automated, and PCI-compliant systems assure the cardholder that their payment data is protected. Operators can offer secure round-the-clock services for customers who prefer to call and speak rather than pay online.

6. Instant satisfaction

Automation streamlines the purchase cycle for customers, easing buying decisions and payments to accelerate turnaround. Fully automated background processes use mature workflows or Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to enable instant service and, by reducing human intervention, eliminate the possibility of manual error. This enables operators to deliver the instantaneous support and service that customers demand today.

Alepo’s role in boosting CX

At the forefront of digitization, Alepo provides an industry-leading Digital Business Support System (BSS) integrated with AI-powered modules and automated processes. The BSS suite includes Omnichannel Self-Care with NLP-based AI chatbots, advanced BI reports and analytics, workflow automation in all modules such as interconnect and wholesale billingdistributor managemententerprise management, and much more.

Pankaj Garg

Pankaj Garg

Associate Director, Product Management

Pankaj Garg is a telecom and FinTech expert with over 15 years of experience in the software industry. Handling digital BSS offerings is among the many hats he wears at Alepo. Always up to speed with the newest advancements in the products he handles, he takes it slow only when he’s road-tripping across India to discover new places.

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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 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 24×7 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 Function 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.

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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

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

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

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.

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