NFV and 5G are bringing some interesting capabilities to the mobile network near you. With the NFV framework, operators are pivoting towards deploying virtualized infrastructure that traditionally was deployed on purpose built hardware platforms.
A number of Proof of Concepts by ETSI NFV ISG participants have involved orchestration and virtualization of Evolved Packet Core (EPC) components that provide the data and control plane functionality needed to deliver a mobile service. Many vendors are already providing cloud-centric solutions that move the processing of mobile traffic and signaling to virtualized environments running on COTS data center servers without the need for specialized hardware platforms. Even though special care should be taken when virtualizing applications that process data plane-centric real time media traffic, with virtualization, you no longer have to deploy media processing, MME, SBC, SGW or PGW or other EPC and IMS/VoLTE functions on purpose built hardware platforms.
You’re also no longer limited to where you can physically locate the functionality. The old model of deploying purpose built platforms leads to over provisioning, stranded capacity and large upfront CAPEX investments solely to support single tasks within an end-to-end service. With virtualization and a data center cloud infrastructure, functionality can be placed at various points around the globe where it makes sense to best support subscribers and meet performance SLAs.
By using a virtualization model and an NFV approach you can distribute and manage that functionality using cloud concepts that have been around for a while in the data center space. This approach enables you to start to automate the lifecycle management of network functions and the services they support to optimally respond to changes in subscriber demand.
Mobile networks were originally optimized for voice services. As the demand for mobile internet access exploded, new generations of mobile technology were introduced in both the Radio Access and mobile core to support even newer devices that generated more and more data traffic. IoT and M2M applications like connected cars, wearable devices and remote sensors are set to expand the number of connected devices significantly. However, many of these end points have a different set of mobility needs - some can be statically deployed; others are more control plane intensive relative to their data plane requirements. The extensive functionality of a “one size fits all” network to support the lowest common denominator of devices is not in tune with the current trends in device technology and IoT use cases. By taking virtualization down its natural progression path, it’s now possible to create a mobile core network that is used specifically for one group subscribers or class of service or even for a particular type of connected device.
Virtualization of network functionality on COTS data center servers combined with cloud-centric management and orchestration practices provides the framework to allow operators to spin up a collection of functions in the mobile core geared for a specific group or class of users in a dedicated and isolated ”Network Slice” – you can read more about this concept in a white paper published by the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance. If mobility is not needed, for example in the case of static remote sensors, then that functionality could be eliminated from the slice. If a large amount of cached data is required or faster response time is necessary such as in the case of vehicle-to-vehicle communications for connected car applications, then data and control plane signaling functionality can be moved closer to the mobile edge for lower latency.
Network slicing approaches to delivering connected services also extends to enterprise verticals in a way that - without virtualization and NFV - was previously not practical. Take for example a large enterprise consisting of field and office employees that wants to provide secure access to its internal data over a collection of smart phones and tablets. A virtualized EPC slice can be created specifically for that enterprise that conforms to the information security and internal logging requirements. In addition, specialized voice applications can be layered on top of that network slice tailored to the needs of that particular vertical opening up opportunities for innovative application development. It’s almost like choosing what toppings you want on your personalized slice of pizza!
What other applications can you think of when it comes to deploying customized network slices for enterprises or connected devices and IoT? Let us know by tweeting us at @Dialogic.