2016 and beyond: Mobility to the edge


By Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO at Core Network Dynamics

NFV/SDN, the hype subsides

Following all the hype in 2015 surrounding network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networks (SDN), I believe that 2016 will be the year disillusionment sets in. Carriers will be slow to adopt NFV and SDN, despite the promises it brings of cost savings, improved flexibility and innovation, because it will prove to be too costly to replace the existing core network. This phase of disillusionment will be followed by a realization phase, which will in the end be bigger than the original hype.

NFV and SDN will not sweep out the core networks that have been built over the past 10 years but will start at the edge of the network, gradually working towards the central networks and eventually replacing the current, inflexible hardware infrastructure with (pure and) flexible software cores that will run on standard commodity hardware.

 Mobility moves to the edge

The first significant deployments of NFV and SDN will take place at the edge of the network, near or even at the base station. Decentralised core networks will run the evolved packet core (EPC) and other network elements, complementing and adding to the existing core networks.

The advantages of this mobile edge computing (MEC) approach include: a reduction in backhaul traffic as local traffic is kept local; reduced pressure on the centralised core because local internet breakouts and load distribution move to the edge; reduced network latency; and increased resilience.

The post-TETRA era

2016 will mark the start of the demise of TETRA as the de facto emergency services network. Some countries, including the UK, are already making headway with their planned new emergency services networks, based on LTE.

These first replacements will follow the same centralised architecture used by today’s mobile network operators. But the challenge will be in ensuring full LTE coverage across every part of the land mass, including remote areas and not-spots in urban areas (eg, tube networks, office blocks and car parks).

One idea we’ll see gaining mindshare to resolve this critical communications issue is to complement the centralized approach with a truly mobile, decentralised, mobile network infrastructure. This would deliver on-demand network coverage by making some of the mobile network itself mobile.

This can be achieved by implementing the core network (the EPC) in software and running it on a small cell in a first responder’s vehicle or even in a rucksack. This model effectively turns every cell into a self-contained mobile network, provides increased resilience, and enables a significantly reduced deployment cost by radically reducing the number of static radio towers required to blanket the country.

MEC and IoT join forces

Perhaps this prediction is a little further out than 2016, but there will be a growing realisation during the next 12 months that taking the core network to the edge of the network[LL1]  in a distributed form is also the right approach for IoT applications.

The mobile industry needs to ensure its network architecture is up to the job of handling the massive increase in traffic volume that will come from adding billions of IoT endpoints. Moving to a distributed core network model, applying MEC and bringing the EPC close to – or even running it on – the base station, will allow mobile operators to scale successfully because traffic from all these endpoints can be sectioned off from the rest of the network and stay local.

Core Network Dynamics develops and markets OpenEPC, a complete mobile network infrastructure in software.


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