5 Ways Mobile Operators Can Overcome 5G Backhaul Challenges

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 with No comments

When it comes to 5G’s effect on the mobile backhaul network, it’s best to think in terms of revolution, not evolution. This reality is creating both significant challenges and opportunities for network operators. Here are five ways to overcome those challenges and find success in the next generation of mobile service delivery.

1. Reconsider how backhaul networks are built

Quite simply, if operators continue to build backhaul as they currently do, it won’t cope in a 5G environment. To get an idea of how future backhaul might be architected, it helps to look at operators planning to roll out pre-standard 5G networks in the next few years.

Two ways those operators are preparing:

  1. Stop treating everything as a single class of service or use over-provisioning to keep up with bandwidth demand.
  2. Pay attention to the effect network traffic microbursts are having on impairing flows and QoE; respond by instrumenting the network so it can be monitored with sub-second precision in real time.
Network-wide quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) is the foundation for building automated, software-defined networking (SDN) control using analytics.

2. Place an emphasis on automation
5G is a big deal for mobile network backhaul because of the size-scale, and complexity involved in next-generation service delivery. By GSMA estimates, by 2020 there will be a million times more sessions than today’s backhaul networks can handle.

Operators realize this scale means some form of automation or SDN is needed to maintain and optimize each service over the shared network resources it depends on. That means investing in a new type of virtualized instrumentation layer for end-to-end visibility.

3. Invest in network instrumentation

A uniform instrumentation layer, installed across the entire network, provides the network state and QoE insight necessary for effective control and optimization.

With virtualized instrumentation, network infrastructure itself can be used as a source for data about the performance of each application or each network slice. That data can then be analyzed for QoE and QoS, mixed with the subscriber state, and fed into analytics and control systems.

In this scenario, big and deep data provides subscriber trends, leading to new service and upsell opportunities. Fast data analytics, on the other hand, enable a closed feedback loop involving SDN control and service orchestration.

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Network-wide instrumentation is the foundation for closed-loop backhaul network control. 

The good news is that, while it would take a couple of years to install an end-to-end instrumentation layer using traditional probes, with virtualization that timeline collapses dramatically. In some cases, networks in the quarter million endpoint range have been instrumented in 12 weeks or less.

Such speedy deployments are possible using highly virtualized instrumentation, running on commercial off-the-shelf servers, and using the existing network elements as endpoints. This is becoming a much simpler endeavor and much faster for the operator because they can use their existing stack to get things up and running quickly.

4. Monitor carefully how network KPIs correlate

Tier 1 operators now rolling out pre-5G networks are beginning to observe new, sometimes surprising, relationships between previously uncoupled metrics. For example:
  • Small amounts of packet loss leading to a dramatic drop in throughput, impacting QoE
  • Loss burst, where small bursts of control plane signaling loss results in significant outages
  • Interactions between delay and throughput affecting QoE
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As backhaul networks grow more complex, new performance dependencies emerge.

Virtualized instrumentation generally, and distributed packet brokering in particular, make it possible for centralized analyzer and SDN control systems to pull full network state information from all corners of the network, and take appropriate action.

5. Create a strategy that supports differentiation on QoE, not price 

Increasingly, operators are less interested in making sure the network is working perfectly in a mechanical sense, and more interested in the user experience. That’s because QoE is the new differentiator, replacing price. 

To be competitive with 5G, they must have a way to view and control the full lifecycle of each service. That means assessing network readiness pre-rollout, validating performance at turn-up, and continuous QoE assurance post-launch. 

That last step is especially noteworthy because it means the operator effectively closes the feedback loop, validating predicted performance trends and tracking per-user QoE. 

By measuring the network state across all backhaul links, operators are able to move traffic around as needed to maintain optimal QoE. Some links might be very slow but have low latency, appropriate for sending control plane signaling. Another link might have high delay but offer a lot of bandwidth, appropriate for video streaming. The goal is to match characteristics of each service with what’s available, to use every ounce of capacity as efficiently as possible. 

Operators can use the same logic to determine how they should scale up virtual network functions, where to position VNFs in the network, and assure the availability of resources to support good QoE.