1. Take 5 with Joe Hoffman

    CEN Feature (Feb 7 2013)

    1. Take 5 with Joe Hoffman

      Joe Hoffman heads ABI Research’s analysis and forecasts on mobile packet core, network optimization, DPI and policy, IMS and VoIP. Joe has extensive experience in modeling and forecasting future technologies and associated business model development from an operator’s perspective of total cost of ownership and return on investment. ABI Research recently released a report “Centralized vs. Distributed Evolved Packet Core and the Role of Software Defined Network and Cloud.” Carrier Ethernet News tracked Joe down to Take 5 and talk about the report.

      CEN: How quickly will this market be developing?

      JH: We forecast that the market for equipment that will be used in the software defined networking (SDN) and virtualization of the evolved packet core (EPC) will be worth $400 million by 2018. This means mobile infrastructure vendors will look more like IT vendors as virtualization and SDN move out of the data centers and toward the radio network. There are a lot of issues to resolve, but we think it’s the next big thing in telecom.

      CEN: How will this impact Carrier Ethernet?

      JH: I know that people are taking advantage of Carrier Ethernet to meet their backhaul needs. Mobile operators will use any kind of physical transport they can get to backhaul their traffic from fiber, to microwave, to cell hopping and mesh networks. Ten years from now, I think the cellular networks will be a radio network connected by Ethernet or IP ports to an operator’s cloud. Small operators could also connect to a shared cloud that aggregates traffic in a geographic region.

      Today, 3G networks are  layered, something like the seven layer OSI model. The base stations on the bottom feed into clusters of controllers, which feed into a distribution network or routers. Those networks or routers feed into a centralized, core-controller network. All that equipment at the top of the stack is moving into virtualization, and in general will take cues from SDN developments in the IT industry. The tricky part is what happens when you try to push this down closer to the radio where there are real-time and hardware implications to resolve, as opposed to using current cloud technology, such as the Amazon Web Services. For example, Netflix uses AWS in real-time. They figured out how to work with that infrastructure, but not without problems.

      CEN: How will carriers accomplish real-time mobile networking?

      JH: When a cell phone network goes down in a large region or even a small country, it can cost an operator  millions of dollars, so operators demand carrier-grade reliability. SDN is the next step after moving to cloud computing and virtualization in the data center, which the operators say they are adopting now. Virtualization is even happening in the Evolved Packet Core, and this means they are into the actual real-time control part of the network that routes mobile traffic and connects one phone to another. This is somewhat different from an internet destination that responds with a best-effort connection. That is problematic for mobile networks as reliability and delivery demand more than best-effort connectivity.

      The real-time control space of the network is the packet core and the radio network. The mobile network has to deal with subscribers moving around to different connection points, changing channel conditions, interference – and do all of that in real time. Real-time demands on the carriers’ business support systems are increasing to support the proliferation of operator bundling and pricing decisions. Comparing and IT and mobile broadband networks is like comparing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger had to do everything Fred did, except backwards and in high heels.

      In the past carriers  needed big expensive pieces of hardware with acronyms like SGSN, GGSN, PDSN, RNC. As they move to the flatter world beyond 4G, the new dialect includes terms like BladeCenter, Network Appliance, SDN, and terms associated with hosting those legacy functions.  In the future it will all be virtualized and running on a telecom cloud powered by companies like IBM, Cisco or Hewlett-Packard.

      CEN: When does that future manifest?

      JH: We’ll get there in steps. Right now, some of the top tier infrastructure vendors of the world, are already moving down that path. As far as getting things virtualized, NokiaSiemens Networks has a slight lead with its Liquid Network. But the other vendors are coming up fast.

      You have to remember that cellular phone network operators are extremely risk-averse and conservative. They want to make sure that anything going into their networks is at a five-nines level of reliability and standardized if possible. A consortium of ten top tier carriers called the Network Functions Virtualization Working Group is attempting to define and specify all the things SDN for telecom networks. The group’s track record is very good in getting the infrastructure vendors line up to their needs. SDN will be successful if operators and vendors develop solutions that are less expensive and simpler to manage. If we don’t get this, then why consider SDN?

      CEN: There is a lot of embedded base? How does this get deployed?

      JH: Right now, carriers are going through a major capital upgrade cycle deploying 4G throughout their networks. The key factor impacting SDN deployment will be the time that operators take to depreciate their 4G equipment, which is typically seven years. Some major operators started 4G deployment two years ago, and so have five years of depreciation remaining. An operator that is deploying 4G right now will begin to consider an upgrade to SDN in four or five years. Large operators could be ready for trials or experiments in three or four years.

      CEN: How is the roll out of SDN going to impact the need for more backhaul?

      JH: There are many different ways to backhaul mobile traffic. Most of it is being done via IP-based equipment. You won’t see operators building massive data centers like Google, but you will see top tier carriers building their own telecom clouds instead of buying capacity from AWS or other providers. These carriers will need to connect their clouds and Carrier Ethernet is a viable way. Someday the mobile network will consist of just radios and the telecom cloud. Carrier Ethernet will play a big connectivity role in all this.

      Worldwide, people are accessing more data, and more of it is mobile. They want to use it all the time and everywhere. With more places connected, more services offered, and more people doing more things,  SDN and Carrier Ethernet connectivity will play an increasingly important role. 

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