LTE core in a box

Adax’s LTE core in a box solution is now Cloud-based, providing a cost effective solution for smaller mobile operators, as European operations director Robin Kent explains to James Atkinson

LTE core in a box

Adax is best known for its products in signalling and control technology for core networks, such as protocol controllers, packet processing boards and software protocols, but it is now moving into integrated systems.

‘We are still focused on the control side, but once you go into IP where does the control plane stop and the data and user planes come in?’ asks Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax.

A case in point is AdaxEPC, the company’s ‘LTE core in a box’ product, or, integrated compact LTE core network solution – a low-footprint, highly-scalable, cost-effective, LTE mobility platform developed in conjunction with Aricent.

The AdaxEPC is aimed at niche operators with between 10,000 to 200,000 subscribers and is particularly suited for rural, public safety, and campus networks, along with in-building coverage solutions and WiMAX migration.

A stage further

The latest version of its LTE core in a box takes the concept a stage further. In February, Adax teamed up with San Francisco-based 321 Action to provide high performance data processing in virtual cores for network operators deploying LTE. ‘It’s a really cool product that deploys the core LTE network in the Cloud,’ reveals Kent.

321 Action provides Cloud virtual packet core (cVPC), a cloud infrastructure service for virtualisation of the LTE evolved packet core (EPC). The solution provides full control plane and data plane separation to simplify information flow, with 321 Action hosting the control plane in its cloud network.

Kent says: ‘The solution enables smaller operators to avoid expensive hardware investment, while larger operators benefit from a single point of control plane management. But we are not addressing the Tier 1 operators with our solution or trying to rival the Tier 1 OEMs like Ericsson or Huawei.’

However, a huge amount of data must be processed, which is where Adax’s low-cost boards come in. 321 Action has integrated Adax’s PKT2-PCIe board into its EPC data plane to provide low-cost, high-performance data processing for the network, greatly boosting the capabilities of the cVPC solution by taking the strain of the processing off the network.

The PKT2-PCIe includes the Cavium OCTEON II 6645 Processor with 10 cores at 1.1GHz, to provide front-end intelligent processing for traffic and bandwidth management, QoS and security on all LTE wireless applications. This delivers a high-performance, carrier-grade transport from the edge to core networks.

321 Action has tested its VPC solution for LTE networks with Kazakhtelecom JSC. The tests were performed at Kazakhtelecom’s laboratory in Almaty with an internet connection to Fremont, California, where the VPC cloud is installed. The results were demonstrated at Mobile World Congress at the end of February 2014.
‘It is a totally scalable solution,’ says Kent. ‘What this does is provide the potential for operators to separate their policies and services management solutions, such as charging and billing systems, from the core network. They no longer need to be co-located, because it is in the Cloud, so they can do it anywhere.’

Network virtualisation

The solution sees Adax moving into the world of network functions virtualisation (NFV). ‘You separate the control plane and the data plane. You still have multiple MMEs (mobility management entities), SGWs (serving gateways) and so on, but only one HSS (home subscriber server) – it is a virtualised network,’ says Kent.

The solution will enable two or more operators to access the same EPC. They share the core network, but deliver their own services to their own subscriber base via the cloud EPC.

Another advantage NFV opens up is the ability to carry out load balancing in the cloud. The volume of traffic coming in from the access network or other types of nodes (i.e. not just LTE eNodeBs, but Wi-Fi, BYOD traffic etc) could be different at different times of day.

One way of addressing this varying load balance is to have multiple EPCs in the cloud, which can be provisioned to meet the requirements of different users – producing a different kind of MVNO.

‘But in future we may be prioritising different types of traffic, so we need to understand what that traffic is and route it differently and this type of virtualised environment can help you do it. Fixed networks with limited bandwidth means you can only do what the bandwidth allows, but once you are in the Cloud you can scale hugely,’ says Kent.

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