By Ryan Perera
The proliferation of mobile social networking (Instagram, Vine, Twitter, etc.) has meant that a new generation of smartphone users is connected through social networks more than phone calls. The telephone is just one available “app” – there are many more high-bandwidth means of communication that users find compelling.
This experience is changing the way that we consume data. What used to be broadcast onto televisions in living rooms is now streaming to mobile devices. In the business world, meetings that used to happen on traditional telephone/conference calls can now take place on high definition Skype sessions. Sales teams can coordinate their work in the cloud on mobile phones and logistics firms can track packages with tablets and wireless terminals.
This is a huge opportunity for operators in India. As the market shifts from voice to data, providers can offer their customers a mobile experience that matches new communication habits and trends.
However, this opportunity also comes with complexities. What used to be a relatively predictable flow of phone traffic among central offices will become literally millions of different applications hosted in cloud data centers that could be connected anywhere in the Telco’s network or beyond. Mobile bandwidth needs to be able to ramp-up, enabling the dynamic user experience that makes applications like WhatsApp, Skype, Waze and others so compelling.
At their core, these applications are making use of cloud networking to connect users to communal computing resources and applications. In essence, smartphones and tablets have created the perfect entry for portable on-demand cloud access.
Backhaul network transformation
Expanding mobile broadband to this degree will require a shift in how we construct underlying networks. Backhaul networks, the connection between the base stations and the core transport network, can have a significant effect on the quality of service that an end-user experiences. The best way to build this high-performance backhaul is with converged packet-optical technologies that can offer flexibility, programmability and compelling cost-effective scalability to make the business of mobile bandwidth make sense. With this is mind, there are four critical considerations that network operators should keep in mind:
On-demand bandwidth with flexible architectures – Backhaul networks need to scale on demand. The progression of LTE deployments will not happen all at once. As penetration rates for mobile devices increase, operators will need to scale services to meet changing customer requirements. The flexibility and scalability of Ethernet, which allows for tiered and flexible deployments, can help operators, ramp-up bandwidth to match subscriber demand.
Packet-optical convergence – The era of single-service networks is coming to an end. Operators can simplify their operations by investing in flexible packet-optical-based backhaul networks that can serve deliver Internet, IP/Ethernet VPN, and Ethernet & Optical Private Line services. The growing market for Ethernet business services, data center connectivity, or networking for large medical, educational or industrial campuses has further added to the ways that network operators can monetize their backhaul capacity.
1G is the new E1, and 10G is the new 1G – 4G LTE networks require more capacity, but they also require this capacity to shift further out from the network. It may be common to supply a cell towers with a 1GbE connection, but with growing use of 4G LTE there will be a need to scale this up to 10GbE. Fortunately, mobile backhaul is not the only application for 10GbE services. Cloud networking and high-end business services are also starting to require higher capacities.
Software-defined and programmable networks – The transformative role that SDN and NFV will have on the telecom industry cannot be understated. SDN and NFV are beginning to disrupt the way that networks are built and operated and there are important benefits due to added programmability. As network resources and traffic processing functions are virtualized and software-defined, backhaul networks can be dynamically optimized and driven by an open ecosystem of applications and services.
The construction of open, flexible networks that can respond to fluid traffic patterns and customer or application requirements is critical to achieving the low cost at scale that operators need.
What programmability might look like in mobile networks?
Although SDN solutions are starting to emerge, it is important to understand what this could look like in practice. Consider a possible mobile Quality-of-Experience (QoE) management application designed for a mobile video user. Mobile subscribers could be watching streaming video from the likes of Netflix, but as with any shared, best-effort broadband network, congestion frequently occurs.
To mitigate the adverse effects such as picture freeze or pixelization, adaptive bit-rate codecs can be used whereby the client’s device signals to the originating server when its buffer drains below a certain threshold to use a lower bit-rate. The video can be smoothly maintained, although at a lower quality. Unfortunately, impairments on generally tightly engineered mobile networks can build too rapidly and significantly for the ABR feedback loop to handle.
An alternative approach is to leverage SDN to more proactively manage quality-of-experience. As the diagram above depicts, an SDN controller could be equipped with a QoE Manager application that interfaces directly with a Radio Access Network traffic monitor. This could use real-time detection or analytics-based prediction of imminent RAN congestion to trigger a coding rate change or a change of the network path before the client device even notices the issue. The SDN controlled network could steer the video stream through a local real-time transcoder (perhaps instantiated as an NFV-based virtual appliance in the Gi-LAN in a local data center) to optimize the bit-rate.
Indian customers will benefit from open architectures
Increases in mobility will bring freedom to India’s telecom consumers, but not without creating strain on the underlying network infrastructure. The technology needed for economically-viable mobile broadband is available and the shift to SDN and NFV is coming quickly. Fortunately, India’s telco community is not scared of innovation. As one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world, India is a perfect market to leverage the power of new scalable network architectures.
Operators have an important opportunity to seize the moment presented by 4G LTE deployments to create a modern, programmable and flexible network that will serve Indian consumers and business for years to come.
(The author, Ryan Perera is Country Head-India, Ciena)