Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) announced today (1 October 2013) that it is set to make a series of #1GBperday$ portfolio announcements during October. Along with enhancements in LTE-Advanced, TD-LTE and heterogeneous networks (HetNets), the company will showcase solutions for simplifying operations and extracting the full value from customer experience management (CEM).
With its upcoming launches and continuing focus on innovation, NSN will also demonstrate innovation and expertise in telco cloud and security, key enablers for mobile broadband growth
The mobile broadband industry is facing massive and often unpredictable increases in data demand, much higher expectations for personalised content, and growing pressure on margins and profitability. The rise of mobile video, which accounted for more than half of mobile traffic at the end of 2012, presents a challenge and an opportunity for LTE-Advanced networks.
HetNets are especially well suited to meet growing coverage and capacity demands, and greater network complexity requires cloud-ready solutions to simplify operations. Protecting IP-based networks is increasingly important to ensure security and trust, and the capability to fully utilise CEM solutions is crucial to understand and respond to subscriber demands.
“The portfolio enhancements we are launching this month as part of our #1GBperday$ series will help operators meet these challenges, whether it’s improving LTE uplink performance or optimising the HetNet evolution. They also demonstrate our commitment to a strong mobile broadband ecosystem and our innovations in telco cloud and security, which are opening up new opportunities for operators to streamline, differentiate and make money,” said Phil Twist, head of Portfolio Marketing at NSN
To define a clear path from the virtualisation of single network elements to full cloud orchestration, NSN is introducing innovations such as cloud-ready application management that can be deployed on open, standards-based hardware using telco-specific cloud platforms
This innovation, which builds on the company’s agnostic cloud-stack approach, gives operators the option of choosing the most competitive hardware and cloud platform for their specific needs. Other telco cloud innovations from NSN will bring network operations into the cloud era.
“In several live cloud trials and demonstrations with global operators, we have taken major steps forward in virtualising network functions such as IMS and TAS, which are required for VoLTE, as well as HSS front-end and evolved packet core. Our Liquid Net is cloud technology in action, and we have also implemented cloud enhancements for radio networks and Liquid Applications.
“Taken together, we have the industry’s strongest portfolio for implementing telco cloud innovations across the network,” added Twist.
Reinventing telcos for the cloud is also one of the six pillars of NSN’s Technology Vision 2020, which was launched in June 2013
The second focus area of the #1GBperday$ announcements is security, which is increasingly important as operators look for new ways to protect their IP-based networks and meet regulatory requirements. Secure networks also open up new business opportunities for operators targeting business customers. NSN is the market leader in LTE security and the only vendor to provide 3GPP-compliant security across mobile broadband networks.
Harnessing the cloud
Speaking to Wireless ahead of the latest announcements, Phil Twist said: ‘We are taking advantage of cloud technology, which covers lots of different things, and looking at how we can apply it mobile networks. We are using cloud technology to harness the latest developments in computing power and processing power and using the radio more effectively.
‘We want to open up the network to provide cloud services to users more effectively, so it is not just a dumb pipe. By adapting the network using innovations such as our Liquid Applications we think it will provide new opportunities for both the mobile operators and the OTT players,’ said Twist.
He continued: ‘We also need to very carefully consider network security. Telco networks are built to a much higher level of robustness with much higher expectations of availability. IT platforms don’t give you the level of performance people expect from a mobile network.
‘That said it is important that the cloud doesn’t become an excuse for vendors like us to develop proprietary closed standards. We are taking pains to conform to open standards, but they are not yet defined, so we have to work ahead of the standards with third parties such as VMware and OpenStack as much as possible.’
Network function virtualisation
NSN is working on a number of cloud-based projects, which are at different stages of fruition. One of the most advanced is network function virtualisation. Twist describes it as taking what you need to make the network run and splitting it into pieces, so the applications runs on a shared piece of hardware. He compares it to programmes like Excel, Word and other programmes all running on the same laptop.
‘This is our Liquid Core,’ he said. ‘It functions on COTS (commercial off the shelf) hardware. This innovation is established, operational and is rolling out across telcos.’
The second major project involves SDN (software defined networks), although Twist said this is not about networks. ‘This aspect is about transport. We split the data people are using and programme the connection blocks into how big they should be and where they should go. This is largely theory at the moment, but it will come in the future.
Saas and PaaS
The third major cloud project involves putting the processing power into the pool to support network virtualisation to provide SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) where you buy software in the cloud.
Twist said NSN is concentrating on these areas because capacity demand on network continues to rise dramatically. The amount of capacity required to meet expected demand is expect to rise 1,000 x by 2020, but the monthly cost will remain much the same.
‘That means you've got to reduce the cost per gigabit by the same order of magnitude,’ said Twist. ‘If we move to a cloud approach production can be done in minutes rather than months. You can deploy new services much more rapidly and put things to trial and see what people want – you just press a few buttons; you don’t have to arrange a thousand site visits – hence you can do it in minutes not months.
‘We have to find ways to do this because with the amount of high definition video transmitting across the mobile networks and the number of connected devices is continuing to rise, so there will be a huge demand on networks and we need to help.’
Function virtualisation taking advantage of COTS products from the likes of VMware and OpenStack is the first step. ‘Multi-vendor cloud management using our NetAct product designed to work in a cloud environment and which provides network management of virtualized apps, is the first thing – that’s our Liquid Core, which is now well established,’ said Twist.
Next up is gateway virtualisation, which is all about transport and connectivity. ‘We are already redefining the architecture and what the building blocks look like, so they can work on future networks. Work is still under way to define the hardware and the SDN middleware, so that it is ready to implement as and when it becomes possible,’ said Twist.
Work is also underway to develop cloud enhancements in the radio in the shape of the Liquid Applications innovation announced at Mobile World Congress in February 2013. South Korean mobile operator SK Telekom and others have been trialling it and SK for one has stated that it is very satisfied with the results so far.
Liquid Applications provides more intelligence at the edge of the network including cacheing, local storage, breakout and so on without having to backhaul everything across the core network. Twist said: ‘It is delivering some pretty impressive results – a 20% reduction in backhaul, although this depends how the caching and processing is done and how the particular operator defines backhaul.'
NSN is also taking the first steps with cloud RAN, which involves virtualising the radio signal processing, but the network platforms are not really developed to do this yet
The fourth and final step will involve bringing all the above innovations together to enable a full implementation of a complete network architecture, including SON (self organising networks) and CEM.
‘A lot of effort is required to make all this work and what you need is an orchestrator in the middle conducting everything to support all the elements on the networks including the radio network topology, the physical aspects of the network and so on,’ said Twist.
‘This is about reinventing telcos for the cloud,’ said Twist. ‘It is about looking right across the piece and harnessing a lot of innovation, especially in the IT space, which is why we are partnering with the likes of Intel, IBM and OpenStack, and then ensuring we have the professional services to make it work at the right level of performance.’
Twist said this will require a very high level of automation. But for the networks to keep cost and performance under control it needs to be vendor agnostic. Twist said NSN is ‘quite far down the chain in terms of industrialising the process’, but noted there is some way to go yet.
Evolution of the network
‘We are talking about the evolution of the mobile network where all the functionality remains the same, but the way you deliver that functionality is changing completely,’ he said. ‘This is about the reality of putting something together that makes sense for operators to be able to put in place almost in real time and which stops them from being just dumb pipes.’
Twist believes operators need to be more forward thinking in terms of collaborating with third parties, especially on the IT side. ‘Automation by software is the only realistic way forward, but we must be able to offer the flexibility end users want,’ he argued.
‘However, we can’t do it by ourselves; we need the whole ecosystem to work together from chipmakers to operators. We think NSN is some way down the path in helping to drive the market where it needs to go,’ concluded Twist.
NSN will be speaking in more detail about the above innovations throughout October.