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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WiFi Calling vs. WiFi Offload

WiFi Calling vs. WiFi Offload

WiFi Calling vs. WiFi Offload

    20th of September 2017        

While on a call the other day, it occurred to me that even highly knowledgeable people in the telecommunications industry have a difficult time deciphering the differences between WiFi calling and WiFi offload. The two types of technology are both constantly talked about, and often in relation with one another, but somewhere along the way, the defining line of what distinguishes them has become blurred. I’ll try to clear up this confusion so that you can make clearer decisions when the time comes for you to consider WiFi strategies. To start, let’s explore WiFi Offload…

The (Abbreviated) Origins of WiFi Offload

Years ago, the industry was hit with a pair of realizations: 1) the current cellular infrastructure wasn’t going to be able to handle rapidly growing data usage and 2) WiFi is a much cheaper and easier network to build than cellular. So, the solution of utilizing WiFi to handle cellular traffic was born.

So, Just What is WiFi Offload?

Getting slightly technical, WiFi Offload uses EAP-SIM/AKA technology, to automatically “offload” cellular users onto a recognized WiFi network as soon as they come in the range of the hotspot. Offload is as straightforward as it sounds. The EAP-SIM/AKA authentication compares the SIM information in a user’s phone to the information in the mobile provider’s home subscriber server (HSS). If the SIM credentials match, it kicks a user off of the cellular network and puts them on the WiFi network, without any action from the end user. The experience is seamless for the user and they shouldn’t even notice that their phone has been offloaded onto WiFi. This is similar to the way that your phone automatically connects when you come within range of your home WiFi. The difference is that the user is automatically offloaded onto hotspots they have never connected with before, and there is no need to enter a password or key.

Why Mobile Network Operators are Interested

Offload helps operators ease network congestion and improve the quality of service their customers receive in high-density areas. Often, operators will put hotspots in crowded public locations, like a stadium or downtown area, where network congestion is high. Operators can also “expand” their network coverage, installing hotspots in areas with poor cellular coverage, instead of installing a microcell. The main benefit here? WiFi is MUCH cheaper.

If those benefits weren’t enough, operators can form partnerships with other businesses/ISPs/MNOs in the area, or worldwide, to let their subscribers automatically offload onto the business/ISP/MNO WiFi networks as well. The advantage here is that operators can expand their network without making any investment in hardware. Plus, they can gain revenue by letting other operators’ customers roam onto their WiFi network.

Depending on their business model, operators utilizing WiFi offload can either continue to charge customers at the same rate they would for cellular data or provide WiFi access free of charge. Regardless of charging models, operators and customers gain significantly from utilizing WiFi Offload.

Operator Gains:

  1. Free up space on the cellular network, especially useful in high density/congested areas
  2. Provide a higher-quality of service (QoS) to all users
  3. Form partnerships to expand their network coverage without investing a dime in hardware

Customer Benefits:

  1. Save cellular data if their operator doesn’t charge them for the WiFi use
  2. A boost in QoS makes streaming movies and video chatting much better, and customers won’t experience the frustration of not being able to send a Snapchat or post to Instagram when they’re at the biggest football match of the season.
  3. Say goodbye to dead zones! Customers will love the increase in coverage locally and/or worldwide.

So, What’s WiFi Calling?

WiFi calling is related to offload, but not quite the same. So, now you have a network of WiFi hotspots around the city, and you are offloading users onto it. Great! Now the issue is, how will a user choose to make a call?

The Rise of OTT Apps

Traditional mobile phones could only make calls on voice networks (2G and 3G). To fill this void, OTT apps like Skype and Whatsapp hit the market with high-quality calling and messaging enabled over any data connection, LTE or WiFi. Operators then started to see a huge decline in the revenue they used to get from voice calling and text messaging. Users realized that they could save their minutes and messages by simply calling and messaging with their OTT apps. Operators were forced to focus on data as their key service offering. Finally, voice over LTE (VoLTE) was introduced and calls could be made over a data connection. But, calls still couldn’t be made on WiFi. But it was only a matter of time. Today, all new phones hitting the market are WiFi calling enabled too, meaning a user can make a call on WiFi with their phone, without using an OTT app. This is often referred to as VoWiFi. But, native VoWiFi calls (not through an OTT app) will not work on a WiFi calling enabled smartphone unless the operator makes the required changes in their network. This is what a WiFi calling solution provides. So, until the operator changes out their network, their users will have to use an OTT app to make VoWiFi calls.

The Fall of OTT Apps

The time has finally come for operators to take back what they have lost from OTT apps. When an operator has a network that supports both VoLTE and VoWiFi, they can provide a seamless experience to their users. So, when a user is on a WiFi call and they move out of range of the WiFi hotspot, the call is seamlessly connected to the LTE signal and the call can continue uninterrupted, and vice versa if they come back into range of a hotspot. Because all new handsets are WiFi calling enabled, this functionality is going to become progressively important as calls are increasingly made on a WiFi or VoLTE connection, as opposed to the traditional voice networks. The fact that operators are already decommissioning their 2G and 3G networks is an indication that all calls in the future will be on LTE data, which is going to increase the need for seamless VoLTE to VoWiFi calling.

Why Mobile Network Operators are Interested

The key benefits of WiFi calling for operators:

  1. Combat OTT apps and gain back lost revenue
  2. Provide a better, controlled QoS compared to OTT apps
  3. Provide benefits to subscribers. Happy subscribers = loyal subscribers!

The key benefits of WiFi calling for users:

  1. Simplicity! No need for an app. Just call straight from your phone’s native dialer.
  2. Calling over WiFi doesn’t use up talk time minutes
  3. WiFi calls don’t waste LTE data!
  4. WiFi often has a much higher-quality and a clearer sound

Conclusion

So, while WiFi Offload and WiFi calling are distinct, they both provide benefits to operators willing to shift their network to support calling over WiFi. While offload is designed as a dynamic solution to congestion and limited coverage, WiFi calling provides an opportunity for customers to originate calls over WiFi, not just get offloaded when the cellular network falls short. This gives customers and operators the opportunity to preserve cellular network integrity, and offer higher-quality calls at a lower price. To combat OTT apps and increase customer satisfaction, WiFi Offload and calling present the perfect opportunity to increase revenue and quality of service in a highly competitive market with plateauing or falling profits.

Ryan Gray

Ryan Gray

Partner and Sales Director

Ryan is intrigued by where telecommunications will go in the next few years. As a Partner and Sales Director, she’s been exposed to many aspects of the industry in different technologies and markets. When she’s not speaking in telecom acronyms, you can find her traveling the world, skiing the Colorado Rockies or doing DIY projects on her home.

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