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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Virtualized Networks: What About Performance Assurance?

Around the globe, pretty much every telecom service provider is either running a network functions virtualization (NFV) proof-of-concept, or has already virtualized some areas of their network. In doing so, a major concern they have is how to effectively perform test and measurement (T&M) of these dynamic network environments which, if not properly assured, threaten carriers’ main competitive advantage: network reliability. Here, Accedian’s VP of International Sales, David Dial, explains what it takes to fully assure virtual networks, and how our solutions uniquely address this need.

What’s required to fully assure performance and user experience in a virtualized environment?

DD: Network performance assurance for virtualized networks goes far beyond traditional T&M. Essentially, what’s needed is an advanced operations support system (OSS) designed for an IP world, capable of providing real-time performance information at a very granular level to meet the challenges of quality of service (QoS) assurance in complex network environments.

That’s what Accedian provides in our software-based SkyLIGHT solution that covers Layer 2 and Layer 3 performance monitoring, service activation testing (SAT), bandwidth utilization monitoring, and distributed packet capture information—unified in a single platform for multi-service network environments.

How does the convergence of mobile and fixed networks affect performance assurance?
DD: As networks converge to serve wireless, business, and residential customers—and performance parameters for IP-based services become less tolerant of faults—QoS assurance is becoming increasingly challenging. It’s not viable to continue spending significant CapEx and OpEx for costly handheld test gear to attempt identifying network issues during scheduled maintenance windows. Nor is it cost-effective to continued placing hardware in a network that is increasingly more distributed and multi-vendor.

The pressure on service providers to provide a high quality customer experience is growing, and network quality is becoming a differentiator in ‘quality wars’ heating up around the globe, as well as a requirement to realize objectives for costly LTE investments.

The use of NFV need not be synonymous with loss of quality management. Accedian’s virtualized performance monitoring and assurance solution is typically placed in a service provider’s data center environment to provide microsecond-accuracy for TWAMP sessions created for different classes of service as well as different packet sizes. Further enhancing this setup, our “smart SFP” modules can originate test sessions in a distributed fashion and support a full or partial mesh quality testing environment depending on the operator’s QoS requirements.

The SkyLIGHT solution is deployed at scale by major Tier 1 operators globally, with several of them planning to move to a completely virtualized version of the platform.

What else makes Accedian’s approach to virtualized performance assurance unique?
DD: In head-to-head competition with traditional handheld test sets, as well as hardware-based solutions, SkyLIGHT has been proven by major Tier 1 operators to be superior in multi-service, NFV network environments—no degradation in performance metric accuracy!

In short, SkyLIGHT provides real-time network state visibility for NFV environments. It serves as the virtualized instrumentation feedback loop required for software defined-networking (SDN) control and NFV orchestration based on OSS policy.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cable MSOs Leverage DOCSIS 3.1 and NFV for Performance-Assured Business Services

With the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 deployments starting to accelerate in the U.S. cable MSO market, the significance it brings to operators like Comcast and Cox—making it possible for them to deliver gigabit broadband using existing HFC infrastructures—is enormous. MSOs are leveraging the technology as a means of expanding up-market to deliver sophisticated business services to enterprises as well as enhancing their residential services.

DOCSIS 3.1 is “cheaper to deploy than all-fiber networks because it makes use of legacy infrastructure, and the technology vastly expands cable broadband capacity, making it easier to introduce new gigabit-speed services,” explained Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey in an article outlining the effects of the technology over the past few years.

Further, a lot of what’s possible with DOCSIS 3.1 (more capacity and speed, expanded capabilities for managing bandwidth and delivering higher-bandwidth services) feeds into the virtualization trend that has come to the forefront of the MSOs’ technical arsenal. This ties directly into the need for sophisticated performance assurance required to meet commercial service level agreements (SLAs) and retain residential customers.

DOCSIS 3.1 and Service Assurance

To compete with telcos in the premium business services market requires MSOs to establish a reliable means of SLA-grade performance assurance. Further, DOCSIS 3.1-based GbE services need to be on par with fiber-based offerings as most businesses are more concerned about reliability and performance than pure bandwidth. Connectivity to the cloud, for software as-a-service (SaaS) applications, is operationally crucial for enterprises.

Committing to guaranteed uptime, bandwidth availability, and rapid mean time to repair (MTTR) are therefore prerequisites for MSO success in the enterprise market.

The conundrum facing MSOs is that current DOCSIS modems don’t offer integrated performance monitoring, service turn-up testing, operations and maintenance (OAM) demarcation, and other key features needed for business services delivery. These capabilities must somehow be added, in a way that has minimal impact to the cost of deploying such services.

Accedian has been extremely successful in working with the MSO market to use network functions virtualization (NFV) for delivery of network interface device functionality in a small, programmable device—enabling end-to-end OAM visibility, hardware-based demarcation, performance monitoring, troubleshooting, and service turn-up. This type of virtualized instrumentation simplifies and assures the full business services over DOCSIS service delivery lifecycle.

How Accedian Can Help
Accedian’s ant module—a small form factor, FPGA-based device that works directly with network elements to provide advanced performance assurance capabilities, centrally managed using the Accedian SkyLIGHT VCX controller software—fills the gap for MSOs looking to expand their service assurance and delivery capabilities. In addition to standard cable modem/ant module deployments, MSOs are now embracing what can be done by installing a virtualized version (software only) of the ant module onto a universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) x86 box, or by partnering with manufacturers to include the ant module functionality in their cable modems.

The latter option is finally possible because of the potential inclusion of Accedian’s agent in cable modem DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, rather than requiring the addition of ancillary hardware daughterboard(s) or SFP port(s). With the “room” now available in the DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, cable MSOs are encouraging modem manufacturers to revisit the inclusion of an Accedian agent in their hardware.

This opens up a large set of new opportunities in the commercial—and conceivably also residential—cable market. Further, embedding the Accedian agent into the cable modem and/or uCPE dovetails directly into the MSO trend toward adopting SD-WAN for business services delivery.

Beyond performance monitoring metrics like delay, delay variation, and packet loss, the latest generation of ant modules (and the ant agent) introduces advanced assurance capabilities like granular bandwidth utilization metering, remote packet capture, and generation of standards-based testing (e.g. RFC2544 SAT, Y.1731 performance monitoring) between sites/branch locations. These capabilities deliver tremendous OPEX savings for MSOs, as well as the ability to differentiate their products and upsell additional services.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Accedian at INCOMPAS Show 2017: Booth 5

Join us at the Incompas Show, a networking and education event for communications technology professionals. It's happening October 15-17, 2017, at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, California. We're exhibiting our virtualized network performance assurance solution, SkyLIGHT, at booth 5. 

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How to Become a Digital Service Provider in Four Easy Steps

Disruption in the mobile telecom industry is driving communication service providers (CSPs) to transform themselves into digital service providers (DSP). In embarking on this transformation, CSPs have three main goals in mind:
  1. Maintain and grow the subscriber base by extending lifetime value to customers
  2. Grow revenue through new business opportunities
  3. Drive out excess costs and inefficiencies, through operational excellence
Such a transformation requires agility in several key areas: network (infrastructure), services (including operational support systems/OSS), and customer experience (including business support systems/BSS). We will explore each of these in turn below, but there’s a prerequisite step to consider as well: learning from failure.

1. Learn from Failure

Thus far, digital transformation efforts on the part of CSPs do not have a stellar track record. TMF Forum reported that 60-70% of such programs fail and that 54% of CSPs say previous attempts at digital transformation have not succeeded.

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A key reason for these failures is lack of ubiquitous, real-time insight into performance and experience. Such insight is possible, however. Rather than than be discouraged, CSPs should learn from past mistakes and move forward in a strong position to succeed using what they know now.

2. Transform Infrastructure for Network Agility

Creating a flexible and open infrastructure fosters competition and innovation from a broad vendor ecosystem, and enables the development and deployment of new revenue-generating services. This type of API-driven network, built in a way to enable flexible slicing and interconnect, benefits both the operator and its partners.

3. Transform OSS for Service Agility

Operators support systems (OSS) must evolve to enable rapid, dynamic service creation, provisioning, activation, and retirement of services. A service-oriented, dynamic software defined network (SDN) benefits the CSP through faster time to market for new services, and ability to react more quickly to market and competitive pressures. It also accelerates time to revenue.

4. Transform BSS for Customer Agility

To ensure subscribers get what they want, when they want it, and even before they realize want it, business support systems (BSS) must support an end-to-end, customer-centric approach using predictive analytics.

Bringing It All Together

Steps 2-4 above are inter-related aspects of network and IT transformation, and cannot really be addressed in isolation. They all require responsiveness to partners using the network through APIs; the operator’s need to rapidly scale out existing services and deploy new ones; and changes to user behavior, experience, or demand. All of this must be done without compromising the user experience.

Such a tall, complex order is possible—within a dynamically orchestrated system that has visibility into all functions, relationships, and behaviors of the network, it services, and its users. This vantage point provides the feedback needed for a closed-loop automation process between service creation and its management and optimization.

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Agility is the key to all methods of understanding service, network, and user behaviors. Several requirements are worth noting here:

  • Lightweight, virtualized, monitoring instrumentation with immediate affinity to services as they are created. 
  • Fail-fast development methods--employed from the first beta--to provide critical feedback into the app experience as agile development adjusts the service until it’s ready for wide-scale deployment. 
  • OSS/SDN architecture that adapts to the network--in ongoing operation mode--to maintain optimal performance and circumvent problems, in context. 
  • At the BSS layer, use of data as input to analytics, as a means of improving customers engagement, experience, and service quality. Result: customer-centric insight drives network provisioning changes and new service availability. 
When these requirements are met, DSPs can find new revenue through a variety of opportunities, such as:
  • Mobile edge computing (MEC) as-a-service
  • Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS)
  • Distributed edge cloud
  • Slicing
  • Mobile payments
  • API-enabled network and resource consumption
  • IoT across federated mobile/cloud networks
  • Telehealth 
By positioning their network for cloud-type consumption, mobile operators stand to gain—for the first time—from key over-the-top (OTT) applications traversing their network. In facilitating this interaction with ‘subscribers’ (IoT service providers, content and transactional applications, etc.), MNOs become DSPs, turning their unique assets into an enviable “mobile cloud.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Accedian at Network Virtualization & SDN Asia: Panel Speaker, Booth

Join us at Network Virtualization and SDN Asia (going on October 3-4, 2017, in Singapore); our VP Business Development APAC, Jason Roberts, is speaking on the October 4, 9:40am panel, "How Are Operators Effectively Monetizing SDN & NFV Services?" We're also exhibiting at booth NFV26. Here are the details!

Event: Network Virtualization and SDN Asia

Event Dates: October 3-4, 2017

Booth: NFV26

Panel Date: October 4, 2017

Location: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Panel: How Are Operators Effectively Monetizing SDN & NFV Services?

Panel Time: 9:40am

Panelist: Jason Roberts, VP Business Development APAC

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cable MSOs: How to Succeed With SD-WAN Using Virtualized Service Assurance

Cable MSOs hoping to effectively target enterprise customers must find a way to establish a nationwide service area, which means augmenting their own DOCSIS and Carrier Ethernet infrastructure with third-party access to extend their footprint. Increasingly, MSOs are adopting software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) to reach on- and off-net sites, in a uniform way over any access media. But, there’s a pitfall: SD-WAN appliances don’t offer standards-based test, turn up, and monitoring functions required to offer service level agreement (SLA)-grade services.

Instead, SD-WAN solutions use proprietary monitoring and reporting methods, which don’t interoperate with existing network equipment. Problem is, SD-WAN may only be required in certain enterprise customer locations, so any implementation has to interact seamlessly with traditional service delivery methods, which means using standards-based techniques.

How to address this issue?

Virtualized test probes and test reflectors can cost-efficiently replicate network interface device (NID) functionality, bringing the needed turn-up testing, monitoring and operations & maintenance (OAM) functions to SD-WAN endpoints. Virtualized instrumentation uplifts SD-WAN with carrier-grade functionality, making it interoperate with existing network infrastructure, operations procedures, and support systems.

Assuring the SD-WAN Service Lifecycle

The SD-WAN service lifecycle has three main phases, consistent with the MEF’s established model for Carrier Ethernet connectivity:

  1. Deployment: provisioning and service activation testing (SAT)
  2. Performance monitoring and SLA reporting: collecting and presenting key performance metrics
  3. Troubleshooting: techniques to identify, isolate, and troubleshoot service issues

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Metro Ethernet Forum Service Lifecycle 

Approaches to Virtualized Performance Assurance

To effectively assure all of these phases, MSOs may choose to use one of two approaches:
  1. Centralized performance monitoring architecture using virtualized performance assurance controller (vPAC) virtual network functions (VNFs) as probe generators, with a lightweight, stand-alone software agent that instruments the entire network in a software-only implementation. 
  2. Network-embedded architecture that employs small footprint, programmable performance assurance hardware modules (vCPE modules) augmented by virtualized performance assurance functions hosted on a centralized vPAC. 

The first option, because it’s software-only, is less precise and has a smaller feature-set than that offered by vCPE modules. However, it is well-suited for deployments where performance assurance using standard-based protocols is needed, but the added-benefits offered by the NFV-enabled modules are not required.

To facilitate integration with existing operational support systems (OSS), network management systems (NMS), and VNF orchestrators, either approach requires four key elements:
  1. A test session controller
  2. A test packet generator
  3. A test packet reflector or receiver
  4. Precision timestamping
Each approach is discussed in more detail below.

Software-Only Virtualized Performance Assurance

This option provides unprecedented deployment speed and agility, through its ability to remotely and centrally deploy, configure, and run everything needed to instrument an existing network, on-demand, with minimal expense. Standards-based monitoring methods integrate the network itself into a ubiquitous instrumentation layer. With this visibility centralized in data centers shared with SDN control and big data analytics, providers have an integrated foundation to deliver a new level of customer experience.

Here’s how it works:
  • The vPAC assumes all session setup, control, and sequencing functions, as well as results analysis and reporting to file servers. vPAC instances (manifested as VNFs) are deployed and orchestrated seamlessly with the network service descriptors, allowing fully-automated setup and assurance of virtual service chains.
  • The lightweight software agent VNF has two functions: 
    1. Offers reflection capabilities, instrumenting the network with any orchestrator while easily running unprivileged on any Linux based operating system.
    2. Enables bi-directional measurements, unrivaled metrics set, measurement granularity, and third party interoperability—features unavailable when using built-in standard open-source tools (such as ICMP ping) or even proprietary measurement methods offered by SD-WAN vendors.
Enhanced Performance Assurance with NFV-Powered vCPE Modules

This option basically consists of pairing a centralized vPAC with network-embedded vCPE hardware modules, in order to virtualize as many customer-located networking functions as possible while retaining minimum hardware needed for service delivery, consistent with performance, reliability, and quality of experience (QoE) expectations. As noted earlier, this offers more precision and a larger feature set than a software-only implementation. Yet, compared with traditional hardware-based approaches, instrumenting a network in this way is a very affordable, fast to deploy option.

An example of this vCPE strategy is illustrated below in comparison side-by-side with traditional CPE; here, local networking functionality (e.g. firewall, PBX, routing) is virtualized to software-based VNFs, hosted on low-cost commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers or cloud infrastructure

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vCPE: Traditional vs. Virtualized Customer Premises Equipment Example

In the context of SD-WAN, this approach can be used to introduce customer premises-located performance monitoring, turn-up test, service OAM (SOAM) and troubleshooting functionality, which—in the case of fiber business services—is normally provided using a NID. Reducing hardware appliances required at the branch site is a key benefit of SD-WAN; where installing a traditional standard NID along with the SD-WAN appliance may not be a feasible CPE option.

NFV-powered hardware modules can offer the same level of performance monitoring precision, as well as loopback and full line-rate turn-up test capabilities at a fraction of the cost of a NID, making this approach an economically viable fit when deploying SLA-grade business services over SD-WAN.


Whether deployed as software-only or using vCPE modules, all SD-WAN lifecycle phases can benefit from a flexible, NFV-based performance monitoring solution that scales beyond the footprint of the SD-WAN cloud and is capable of sending performance flows from any starting location to any destination in the network infrastructure.

Such a solution can be used to:
  • Cover large scale hub-spoke and full-mesh topologies with active, microsecond accurate, standards-based performance monitoring towards thousands of endpoints continuously.
  • Bring standards-based turn-up testing, monitoring, and OAM functions to all SD-WAN endpoints, by adding NFV-enabled vCPE modules or orchestratable lightweight software agents. Since the solution is standards-based, standard networking devices can also act as responders to performance monitoring flows.
  • Monitor micro-outages, one-way delay & variation, and SLA compliance by delivering precise and granular metrics.
  • Centralize test control and automation, integrated with existing OSS, by pairing vPACs with NMS solutions.
  • Deliver a new level of performance monitoring (PM) workflow automation with results centrally stored for comparison to predefined QoS templates or SLA levels. Tests—conducted one-way or bi-directionally, in an end-to-end or segmented manner—can be scheduled on demand or triggered by service endpoint installation.
  • Provide open access to turn-up data and results—including customer-ready reports reflecting their specific SLAs—using the API. 
All of these applications support MSOs’ goal of delivering SD-WAN managed services to enterprises, over large, diverse geographic areas with the same level of quality as they do with traditional WAN offerings.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

3 Reasons IoT is a Game-Changer for Mobile Operators

1. IoT network demands are at odds with multimedia services

For a long time now, mobile operators have invested heavily in network bandwidth and speed, in order to deliver voice, video, and other real-time multimedia services. Unfortunately, IoT services instead tend to be low bandwidth (but with potential for burstability) and low data (but high-priority), delivered to low power, low cost devices. 

Can one network serve both types of services? And if the answer is no, where does that leave mobile operators?

Some operators are responding by getting out of the IoT business, while others are looking to partnerships with low-power, wide-area (LPWA) companies as a way to stay in the game without having to build IoT-capable networks or adapt their existing architecture for IoT services.

2. Low power, wide area (LPWA) providers pose a competitive threat
For those operators that do want to compete in the IoT space, especially those intending to adapt their own infrastructure to meet the needs of IoT services, much effort is being put into creating a cost-effective alternative to competitive threats from LPWA companies--as well as cable companies, cloud providers and fixed-line players. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the potentially very lucrative IoT pie.

For example, operators are collaborating with the 3GPP, chipset vendors, and network vendors to get NB-IoT standards pushed out as soon as possible.

Building hybrid networks that combine traditional cell and non-traditional technologies is also a promising path forward, but depends on the ability of operators to adopt virtualization.

3. Adopting virtualized instrumentation and orchestration is becoming imperative
In order to efficiently monitor and manage resources for diverse services, operators must quickly adopt network virtualization and roll out a comprehensive instrumentation layer. As with a multi-lane highway previously used by cars only but suddenly opened up for use also by trucks, bicycles, and pedestrians, there has to be some way to intelligently direct traffic according to its specific requirements. Else, chaos would ensue.

Of course, control is only possible with complete visibility into what’s happening in all parts of the network. This must be tied with real-time orchestration to quickly respond when issues crop up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

6 Ways Operators Can Succeed With Virtualized Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE)

Market forces compel service providers to adapt their delivery models, causing them to move away from away from single-function, proprietary hardware appliances and toward virtualized platforms with a strong cloud focus to minimize the costs and limitations of on-premises equipment. There is heavy focus especially on virtualized customer premises (vCPE) deployment as a key, “easy” application for network functions virtualization (NFV).

Easy it’s anything but.

While the end goals of vCPE are to simplify service delivery, make it more efficient to maintain high quality of experience (QoE), and enable faster time-to-market for new revenue-generating services, the reality is there’s a lot of complexity in setting up virtualized software stacks, and a lot of decisions to make about moving from one type of infrastructure to another.

Here are six ways operators can guide their decision-making around vCPE and ultimately succeed at reaching their goals with the technology.

1. Build a vCPE Strategy that Maximizes Value
It turns out that, at least in the short-term, reducing cost is not usually a viable goal with vCPE. (Hopefully, it doesn’t cost more, but the software complexities involved mean it almost certainly won’t cost less, all things considered.) So, don’t make that your justification for deploying vCPE. Instead, think of value, in terms of increasing revenue rather than cutting costs. How will vCPE enable faster time-to-market for new services? Reduce management complexity? Eliminate site visits? Speed up problem resolution? Give customers more control over their service configuration options? Result in more reliable service and better QoE?

vCPE has great potential to improve an operator’s market position, if the focus is on value rather than cost. Differentiation is rapidly becoming all about network flexibility and innovation.

2. Consider the State of the vCPE Market Today
Network virtualization broadly, and vCPE in particular, is new, shiny, attractive, and may seem like a magic bullet to solve many of the market challenges operators are experiencing. But, and this is a bit but, virtualization is still in its infancy (or maybe childhood). Standards and technologies involved are still in development. While many vendors are ready with vCPE products, and early trials are gleaning useful insights, there is still very much a Wild West feel to virtualization.

That means operators who choose to invest in vCPE deployments are early adopters, and take risks in doing so.

It’s a risk worth taking, though, and some of the risk can be mitigated by learning from others’ mistakes.

3. Learn From Others’ Mistakes
True, there’s not much of a playbook yet for vCPE. But, from early trials, there is at least an outline of that playbook, and operators can and should learn from each other. Here are a few lessons learned so far.

You can’t eliminate physical customer premises equipment entirely. Some physical service functionality will always remain at the customer premises, even after vCPE is deployed. The form it takes is dependent customer or application-specific requirements.

Service demarcation and network demarcation are not the same thing. These are separate aspects of vCPE. A reliable connection to the customer site is essential. Network layer functions must be virtualized with care to avoid impacting QoE.

vCPE isn’t just ‘software on COTS.’ It comprises of three main elements: a set of virtual network functions (VNFs), a customer premises platform, and a management and orchestration (MANO) software stack. Each has inter-related factors to consider.

Manual VNF provisioning is not a sustainable model long-term. It might be necessary to get started with vCPE, but keep automation in mind for the longer term. NFV orchestrators will mature to meet deployment needs, and operators should plan accordingly.

Avoid injecting new operational complexity. This is challenging—although necessary—
given the many hardware and software options available, and the management changes involved in moving toward a model where service layer and hardware are abstracted from each other.

4. Choose the Right Deployment Option for Your Network

Every network is different, so there’s no clear-cut answer to the question, “What is the best vCPE deployment model?” These options can, however, be boiled down to three main models. 

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Here’s a quick summary of what each option means and its pros and cons.

Localized/uCPE: Appliances at the customer premises are virtualized, replace by NVFI and VNFs to implement network services. The NID function can be a smart module installed in the compute platform, or an integrated VNF. Localized vCPE is attractive for early NFV-based vCPE deployments, because it replaces single-function, legacy appliances with a single NFVI instance. But, this option comes with complexity risks, and is inelastic compared with using centralized data centers to host functions.

Centralized: Functions that were previously hosted on CPE are pulled back into the provider network as VNFs running on NVFI in a data center or edge PoP. This deployment option enables highly effective sharing/pooling of network resources, and simplifies adding compute capacity on an as-needed basis. It also minimizes on-premises hardware to a COTS NID or smart SFP module to demarcate service. But, it requires upfront investment in full NFV infrastructure, and with currently available technology may not be able to meet latency and security requirements for all services.

Distributed/Hybrid: VNFs are placed on an NFVI located either at the customer premises or within the service provider cloud. This is the most flexible option, allowing providers to extend managed services outside their geographic footprint using an overlay network between end locations and cloud. It’s an obvious migration path for operators starting their vCPE migration using the localized model. But, it’s the most complex deployment option and requires sophisticated policy and orchestration for best placement of each workflow’s VNFs.

5. Keep QoE in Mind When Deciding Where Network Functions Should Reside

At some point, decisions about vCPE deployment boil down to answering the question, “Where should VNFs be located”? As outlined above, the answer could be at the customer premises, or centralized in a the data center, or a hybrid of those two. Each provider has to answer this question for themselves, based on use case requirements and (perhaps) customer input. Factors to consider include performance, security and policy, cost, and operations.

A good starting point is identifying which network functions can be effectively virtualized, and which would be better left at the customer premises. How will the VNF placement impact performance?

Operators should take a continuous improvement approach, integrating customer feedback, and both short- and long-term goals into decisions about this business model transformation.

6. Think Short-Term and Long-Term
From a purely conceptual standpoint, centralized vCPE is best in the long-term. But, in the short-term, it may not be realistic to jump straight to that model, since technology and standards are still evolving. Many operators will choose a hybrid approach to VNF placement and vCPE deployment, with an eye toward an eventual centralized architecture. To make that possible,it’s critical that NIDs or their virtualized demarcation and monitoring function equivalents, are put in place now to smooth the transition.

As with any new way of doing things, especially when the change is driven by immediate market forces, it can be hard to pull back and take a big-picture, long-term view. But, with vCPE, this is critical; it’s not just an approach for delivering individual services; instead, it’s a platform for all service delivery. Operators who miss this point risk eventual (and almost certain) peril.

The good news is that, as an early use case for SDN and NFV, vCPE supports the long-term transformation from connectivity provider to value-added services delivery. For many operators, the most straightforward application at the moment is to roll out vCPE-supported services for SMB customers, because they tend to have less sophisticated service requirements than enterprises.

As technology and standards mature, and operational best practices are worked out, rolling out virtualized services to enterprises will become feasible, too.
No matter how you cut it, network virtualization deployment will have a big impact on service provider infrastructure and operations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Report: 5G Success Depends on Regulatory Collaboration and Spectrum Sharing

Regulatory requirements are an important aspect of ushering in the 5G era, significantly affecting the design and deployment of next-generation mobile networks, stressed 5G Americas in its August 2017 white paper, “5G Regulatory Policy Considerations and Spectrum Sharing.”

Such requirements “primarily concern the need for 5G networks to support existing emergency and government services,” 5G Americas elaborated. Services such as:
  • Emergency voice calls
  • SMS for emergency situations
  • Multimedia emergency communications like next-gen 911
  • Small device integration (think IoT) into emergency scenarios
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts
  • Earthquake Early Warning Systems
  • Public safety and first responders
  • Services that support people with disabilities (such as real-time text service)
  • Lawful surveillance
Each of these is given a detailed discussion in the paper.

Beyond these more obvious regulatory considerations, “it is expected that 5G systems will provide the ability to offer new public services,” such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications, 5G Americas predicted.

5G System Attributes
Elaborating further, 5G Americas identified three major expected attributes of 5G systems, which will “be leveraged and combined in a variety of ways to provide the transport that is required by the systems that provide these emergency and government services.”

Those attributes are:
  • Speed increases, enabling faster gathering and distribution of emergency information
  • Capacity increases, expanding the use of multimedia as a basis rather than add-on for services
  • Reliability enhancements, ensuring data delivery and reducing need for follow-up queries by people making critical decisions
Underpinning all three of these attributes is the need for shared spectrum, enabling 5G systems to operate optimally through access to large amounts of spectrum.

“While sole access to spectrum will continue to be a mainstay of major public networks, the ability to take advantage of additional spectrum that is shared with others will provide expansion capacities that may be extremely important to providing subscribers with the speeds and capacities they expect of 5G,” 5G Americas predicted.

The onus is now on the telecom industry to “provide the necessary resources to identify standards gaps and develop standards solutions,” to comply with regulatory body 5G requirements as they emerge, 5G Americas stressed.

Spectrum Sharing
While “licensed exclusive use of spectrum remains critical to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) because it provides, among other things, greater certainty in long-term access and performance, as well as protection from interference,” shared and unlicensed spectrum hold represent a significant opportunity for MNOs, enterprises, and entrepreneurs using 5G New Radio, 5G Americas predicted.

How might that spectrum sharing work? And what benefits, specifically, could it deliver for MNOs?

5G Americas identified two main sharing models:
  1. Vertical or tiered - where incumbent users already exist in a given band and remain protected with highest priority
  2. Horizontal - where there is no difference in priority among users sharing the spectrum, and no guaranteed protection from interference
A combination of both models will be needed for 5G.

For MNOs, access to shared 5G spectrum could mean the ability to:
  • Augment licensed services with additional capabilities to customers
  • Create larger bandwidth channels to support higher user throughput and data-intensive applications
“While certain mobility and ultra-reliability services may require exclusively licensed spectrum, limited sharing with the primary incumbent, with well-defined spectrum rights, can incentivize the MNO to use the shared band as a primary band for 5G services,” 5G Americas said. “It is for this reason that spectrum licensing terms that are attractive to MNOs will go a long way in supporting the development of 5G networks in shared spectrum.”

Of course, the telecom industry (with good reason) tends to hates uncertainty related to anything it might invest in, so “From a regulatory perspective, clear and distinct spectrum sharing rules should be the goal of any spectrum sharing policy,” 5G Americas stressed. “Two- tiered sharing models—with demarcated protection rights for the incumbent and spectrum rights for the new entrant licensee—provide the predictability necessary for marketplace investment.”

What’s Next?
5G Americas concluded its paper by characterizing 5G solutions as being built on those provided by 4G, rather than a complete break into a new technology. In other words, 5G will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Further, the organization advised that major operators are responsible for supporting the regulatory requirements of their region, and stressed the need for ongoing collaboration between operators, vendors, and regulatory agencies to ensure successful development of 5G.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

5G, Edge, Gigabit LTE Dominate Telecom Market Evolution | Trending Network News | August 26, 2017

Quite a bit has been going on in the telecom market lately, ranging from announcements about 5G trials and network expansions to investments in edge computing to the drive toward wireless gigabit connectivity. Here's a roundup of recent news items. 

First up, U.S. mobile operator AT&T. The carrier:
  • committed $200 million to a venture capital fund backing tech startups, with the expectation that whatever solutions are developed will run on top of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) it helped launch earlier this year.
  • announced plans to start testing a new cloud-based platform for its consumer video services (starting with DirecTV Now), and expects to launch it commercially by year's end.
  • is leveraging its extensive central office and cell tower assets to follow the edge computing trend, part of a larger plan to virtualize its network to meet expected bandwidth demands from 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality.
  • added 2.8 million subscribers during second quarter 2017 (in the U.S. and Mexico).
  • is re-skilling its workforce to prepare for a software-defined network (SDN) future.
  • asked the FCC for permission to keep testing 5G equipment using the 28 GHz band, hoping to gain a better understanding of RF transmission in high-band frequencies.
  • is working to expand the reach of its fiber network, both inside and outside its footprint. That includes rolling out an all-fiber network to two metro areas in the southeast, and expanding its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) coverage in 20 existing fiber markets.
  • continues to test a variety of technologies (LAA, LTE-A Pro, fixed wireless access, etc.) that might support its move toward gigabit LTE and 5G.
Last fall, CenturyLink launched its SD-WAN product, using what it called a 'minimum viable product' (MVP) network strategy "enabling its customers to co-develop the service, and use their feedback to improve it in later iterations," said Light Reading Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson, in a recent article. That strategy, brought over to the network from CenturyLink's cloud operation, is proving successful for SD-WAN, part of the operator's overall goal to transform its network into a software-defined platform, "from which the company can provide its own services as well as working with partners," Wilson elaborated.

On a somewhat related note, CenturyLink is incorporating big data into its network functions virtualization (NFV) efforts, noted Light Reading Editor-in-Chief Craig Matsumoto. That's not too surprising, given that next-generation networking projects bring the hope of using analytics to drive an automated feedback loop that optimizes performance and the user experience. 

Meanwhile, in Asia, China is determined to lead the global deployment of next-gen mobile, said Light Reading news editor Iain Morris. China Telecom has plans to conduct commercial 5G "network field trials" in six Chinese cities during 2019. 

On the cable MSO front, Light Reading senior editor Mari Silbey noted that, when Cox rolled out its gigabit-speed internet service in 2014, it was one of the first to do so. Now, several years later, the operator says its Gigablast offering is available in some capacity in each of its major markets. Cox is also investing in DOCSIS 3.1 to deliver gigabit broadband over traditional hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) infrastructure, with employee trials now underway and plans in place to launch the technology commercially later this year. 

In Europe, Deutsche Telekom (DT) is lab testing the latest evolution of Adtran's G.fast standard, specifically evaluating "the use of 212MHz transmission and coordinated dynamic time allocation (cDTA) using Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) deployment models that permit the use of existing cable infrastructure within the home," reported Telecom TV editorial director Guy Daniels. End goal: rapidly deploy ultra-fast and gigabit broadband services.

During a Telecom TV interview, Eric Bebeau, Head of NFV Solutions at Orange, said that the real driver for telco adoption of NFV is not technical, but rather about human collaboration between service providers, vendors, and teams. For Orange, automation is high on its agenda, Bebeau said, and it's now possible to deploy NFV infrastructure in an automatic way. 

Not resting on its laurels, Reliance Jio in India recently launched its 4G JioPhone, a handset consumers can get for a deposit of only 1,500 rupees ($23.30), refundable three years later when the device is returned, reported Light Reading contributing editor Gagandeep Kaur. That makes the device potentially transformative for about 500 million feature phone users in India. 

In South Korea, SK Telecom has been busy on a number of fronts. For example, the operator recently:
In the U.S., T-Mobile also has a lot of (inter-related) irons in the fire. For example, the operator:

Spanish operator Telefonica recently commissioned a white paper from Analysys Mason to investigate its Telco Cloud program, and mostly got positive results, reported Telecom TV's Guy Daniels. The paper called the program's vision for an NFV/SDN-based network "ambitious" and "forward-looking," but did caution that the operator faces several challenges with implementing it: market immaturity for technology involved, cultural and process transformations needed, and more support from the commercial side of the company. 

Also in the U.S., operator Verizon has had quite a few announcements lately. For example, it:

  • noted that its millimeter wave 5G tests are now underway, part of the carrier's wireless network densification efforts.
  • emphasized the importance of low latency and network slicing to its 5G evolution strategy. That strategy depends on being able to segment the network to re-dimension capacity, with automation creating 'data pipes' tailored for specific services.
  • highlighted how it is tightening security for its Virtual Network Services platform for enterprises, by adding capabilities from Check Point.
Finally, on a regional U.S. note, WideOpenWest (WOW) is aggressively pursuing growth by pushing its HFC network deeper into existing networks, noted Light Reading's Cable/Video Practice Leader, Alan Breznick. The operator is using nearly $600 million in cash proceeds from its recent IPO and sale of a Chicago fiber network (to Verizon) to accelerate its "Edge-Out" strategy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

News Roundup: How 5G Might Come About

Consider 5G. Likely, this next generation of mobile networks will be built in stages, with fiber and fixed wireless access being among the components that make it possible. Here are six recent news articles that illustrate this probability, imagining how an operator might succeed with 5G and what exactly designates a 5G technology. Plus: network slicing need not wait for 5G. 

5G is not just a radio: Welcome to the fibre-tastic new mobile worldThe full benefits of 5G are only achievable with a full architecture change, not just a radio upgrade. Many changes, like virtualization, can be phased in gradually. | The Register article.

5G realities
5G isn't going to appear by magic; it will be built in stages, and when done will be an enormous, complex structure—like a massive office building with elaborate interconnected systems. |
Telecom Ramblings article.

Why wait for 5G to benefit from network slicing?
Network slicing, widely associated with 5G, enables operators to enhance operational efficiency and reduce time-to-market for new services. Why wait for 5G to realize these benefits, though? | RCR Wireless article

The business case for 5G fixed wireless access
Fixed wireless access is real, and has a real business case, for operators big and small. Example: Alphabet subsidiary Google Fiber acquired service provider WebPass, which extensively uses Siklu E and V band radios to deliver multi-gigabit throughput over 60/70/80GHz millimeter wave. | RCR Wireless article

How 5G broke and also saved the telco
Imagine it's 2030. How might a mobile network operator have leveraged 5G to succeed, despite that deployment nearly spelling ruin for the company? | The Mobile Network article

5G or not 5G?
What makes a technology 5G, or not? It's not always at clear-cut as you might think. | The Mobile Network article.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Juniper: 5G ROI for Operators Depends on Use Cases, Government Investment

For mobile operators, implementing and managing 5G networks and services requires a different approach than did 4G, resulting in a business model and strategic shift, said Juniper Research in its report, “5G: How Operators Can Maximise ROI.” In a nutshell, market forces are compelling operators to look at how they might align 5G with their business models, but they can’t and won’t do it alone.

The trick with 5G ROI, Juniper said, is that as of yet “there is no discernable use case that will encourage operators to roll out 5G networks.” Therefore, “increased investment from governmental bodies will be needed to encourage the development of these networks.”

A big reason for government involvement, Juniper said, is that deploying 5G requires operators to purchase additional spectrum, a substantial investment with a long ROI timeframe, even if payments are spread out over several years. Plus, spectrum auctions are an ongoing activity, rather than a once-and-done proposition.

Such investments will “depend on the spectrum to be utilised, the legacy equipment that the operators have available to them and national regulation relating to the use of spectrum.”

ROI from IoT

From a business sustainability standpoint, the Internet of Things—in which many traditionally dumb devices (appliances, vehicles, etc.) will become connected via 5G networks—may be the most compelling broad use case that could incentivize operators to make major investments in 5G, Juniper posited.

“The data-centric mobile world will become increasingly interconnected, leading to a range of opportunities at the infrastructure, device and component levels,” Juniper predicted. “The impact of the IoT will be far-reaching, built through the widespread deployment of sensors in everyday items.”

That impact depends on 5G networks being scalable and intelligently efficient, so they are capable of supporting billions of connected devices.

Under the IoT umbrella, several use cases for lucrative services seem likely, Juniper said, including:

  • Smart home applications for consumer safety, comfort, and energy savings
  • Connected passenger vehicle applications for infotainment and, eventually, driverless cars
  • Industrial applications for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business
  • Public transport and payment systems
  • Smart city applications designed to improve efficiency through information sharing
The Question is How

Implicitly, Juniper acknowledged in its report that 5G will get off the ground; it just isn’t quite clear yet where operators will find the best ROI. The research firm predicted that by 2025, global billed revenue from 5G will reach $269 billion.

“The majority of acquired 5G connections will be users upgrading from 4G connections,” Juniper predicted, with ROI being achieved from the fact that “5G connections will initially carry a premium over ARPC (Average Revenue Per Connection).”

Not too surprisingly, Juniper concluded that early 5G adopters “will be ‘top end’ users who are currently in the higher echelons of monthly spend. In the early years, the actual numbers of connected subscribers will be very low, rendering early trends less representative.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Securing 5G

The fundamental promise of 5G—transforming telecommunications by bringing wireline reliability and truly everywhere/anywhere service accessibility to mobile—introduces some new security challenges that must be solved to make next-generation services dependable and safe. As operators, vendors, and standards-developing organizations work together on 5G, they need to address not only security provisions for new products, but also security as a built-in feature of communication between devices or components along the network path.

Broadly, the reason for this new approach to security is that 5G networks will involve many more devices, inevitably resulting in more potential vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit.

NFV and 5G Security

More specifically, it is looking briefly at the role of network functions virtualization (NFV) in 5G and how that relates to network security.

To achieve the fast responses and low latency envisioned for 5G, it’s necessary to locate some applications on the IP network edge. This will significantly change network design, requiring NFV servers and virtual machines in the core network, allowing applications to be split and decentralized—so that apps can technically be “everywhere and nowhere.”

But, the use of NFV creates some significant challenges around network security. For example:

  • Many NFV solutions are built on open source software and whitebox hardware, a setup that tends to be less secure than proprietary software and hardware.
  • Obtaining access to any VNF software component can result in attackers gaining control of hosts (via an external controller) and therefore potentially the entire network.
  • Virtual networks built on NFV are not protected by firewalls. 
  • Segmenting VLANs introduces security vulnerabilities. 
Relatedly, network slicing makes it possible to perform dynamic service chaining, but this does mean more components in the network and more security needed for each component. If not detected immediately, attacks can reach all the way to the eNodeB—resulting in wasted bandwidth or much worse.

Key 5G Security Challenges

Digging a little deeper, there are two main security challenges involved in securing 5G networks:

1. IP layer visibility
In a nutshell, all layers and components involved have to be secured. To stop attacks, behavior detection can be highly effective. This might involve, for example, using different parameters to characterize the IP flow. With predictive measurements, it is possible to detect an attack and perform live filtering to stop it.

2. NFV integration
In NFV environments, the control agent is the in the core network and the user plane is distributed. This creates another link to secure with proper encryption. Attacks must be detected at the edge to achieve successful security; it’s too late by the time the attack reaches the core. Operators, vendors, and development communities must work together to secure virtualized networks and release associated standards.

Achieving 5G Security

Fundamental actions that need to be taken to ensure 5G security include:
  • Adapt network equipment for virtualization functions
  • Diversify security to address the mobile core 
  • Do away with “one size fits all” security methodologies
5G is a complex environment that integrates open source elements with proprietary solutions. Complexity is the enemy of security. Security must therefore be part of the network design from the start.