Into the Telecom vortex


“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,
One choked his little self and then there were nine
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight…”

From the poem “Ten Little Indians”

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You don’t need to be particularly observant to notice that the telecom landscape over the last decade and a half is full of dead organizations, bloodshed and gore. Organizations have been slain by ruthless times and bigger ones have devoured the weaker, fallen ones. Telecom titans have vanished, giants have been reduced to dwarfs.

Some telecom companies have merged in a deadly embrace trying to beat the market forces only to capitulate to its inexorable death march.

The period from the early 1980s to the late 1990’s were the glorious periods for telecommunication. Digital switches (1972-1982), ISDN (1988), international calling, trunk protocols, mobile (~1991), 2G, 2.5G, and 3G moved in succession, one after another.

Advancement came after advancement. The future had never looked so bright for telecom companies.

The late 1990’s were heady years, not just for telecom companies, but to all technology companies. Stock prices soared. Many stocks were over-valued.  This was mainly due to what was described as the ‘irrational exuberance’ of the stock market.

Lucent, Alcatel, Ericsson, Nortel Networks, Nokia, Siemens, Telecordia all ruled supreme.

1997-2000. then the inevitable happened. There was the infamous dot-com bust of the 2000 which sent reduced many technology stocks to penny stocks. Telecom company stocks went into a major tail spin.  Stock prices of telecom organizations plummeted. This situation, many felt, was further exacerbated by the fact that nothing important or earth shattering was forth-coming from the telecom. In other words, there was no ‘killer app’ from the telecommunication domain.

From 2000 onwards 3G, HSDPA, LTE etc. have all come and gone by. But the markets were largely unimpressed. This was also the period of the downward slide for telecom. The last decade and a half has been extra-ordinarily violent. Technology units of dying organizations have been cannibalized by the more successful ones.

Stellar organizations collapsed, others transformed into ‘white dwarfs’, still others shattered with the ferocity of a super nova.

Here is a short recap of the major events.

  • 2006 – After a couple of unsuccessful attempts Alcatel and Lucent finally decide to merge
  • 2006 – Nokia marries Siemens in a 20 billion Euro deal. N
  • 2009-10 – Ericsson purchases Nortel’s CDMA and LTE business for $1.13 billion
  • 2009-10 – Nortel implodes
  • 2010 – Motorola sells networking unit to Nokia for $1.2 Billion
  • 2011 – Internet giant Google mops up Motorola’s handset division for $12.5 billion, largely for the patents
  • 2012 – Ericsson closes a deal with Telcordia for $1.15 billion
  • 2013 – Nokia sells its handset division to Microsoft after facing a serious beating from smartphones
  • 2015 – Nokia agrees to a $16.6 billion takeover of Alcatel Lucent

And so the story continues like the rhyme in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel

And then there were none

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,                                                                                                                
One choked his little self and then there were nine…”

The Telecom companies continue their search for the elusive ‘killer app’ as progress comes in small increments – 3G, 3.5G, 3.75G, 4G, and 5G etc.

Personally I think the future of Telecom companies, lies in its ability to embrace the latest technologies of Cloud Computing, Big Data, Software Defined Networks, and Software Defined Datacenters and re-invent themselves. Rather than looking for some elusive ‘killer app’ they have to re-enter the technology scene with a Big Bang

As I referred to in one of my earlier posts “Architecting a cloud Based IP Multimedia System” the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow may be in

  1. Virtualizing IP Multimedia Switches (IMS) namely the CSCFs (P-CSCF, S-CSCF, I-CSCF etc.),
  2. Using the features of the cloud like Software Defined Storage (SDS) , Load balancers and auto-scaling to elastically scale-up or scale down the CSCF instances to handle varying ‘call traffic’
  3. Having equipment manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei) will have to use innovating pricing models with the carriers like AT&T, MCI, Airtel or Vodafone. Instead of a one-time cost for hardware and software, the equipment manufacturers will need to charge based on usage or call traffic (utility charging). This will be a win-win for both the equipment manufacturer and carrier
  4. Using SDN to provide the necessary virtualized pipes between users with the necessary policies for advanced services like video-chat, white-boarding, real-time gaming etc.
  5. Using Big Data and Hadoop to analyze Call Detail Records (CDRs) and provide advanced services to customers like differential rates for calls etc

Clearly there will be challenges in this virtualized view of things. Telecom equipment is renowned for its 5 9’s availability. The challenge will be achieving this resiliency, high availability and fault-tolerance with cloud servers. How can WAN latencies be mitigated? How to can SDN provide the QoS required for voice, video and data traffic in IMS?

IMS has many interesting services where video calls from laptops can be transferred as data calls to mobile phones and vice versa, from mobile networks to WiFi  and so on.

Many hurdles will have to be crossed. But this is, in my opinion, will be the path forward.

While the last decade and a half have been bad for the telecom industry, I personally feel we are on the verge on the next big breakthrough in telecom in the next year or two. Telecom will rise like the phoenix from its ashes in the next couple of years

Also see
1. A crime map of India in R: Crimes against women
2.  What’s up Watson? Using IBM Watson’s QAAPI with Bluemix, NodeExpress – Part 1
3.  Bend it like Bluemix, MongoDB with autoscaling – Part 2
4. Informed choices through Machine Learning : Analyzing Kohli, Tendulkar and Dravid
5. Thinking Web Scale (TWS-3): Map-Reduce – Bring compute to data
6. Deblurring with OpenCV:Weiner filter reloaded

Envisioning a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS)


pot

In my earlier post “Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS)” I had suggested the idea of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IP Multimedia Systems. This would bring multiple benefits to the Service Providers as it would enable quicker deployment of the network elements of the IMS framework, faster ROI and reduction in CAPEX. Besides, the CSPs can take advantage of the elasticity and utility style pricing of the cloud.

This post takes this idea a logical step forward and proposes a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS).

In today’s world of scorching technological pace, static configurations for IT infrastructure, network bandwidth and QOS, and fixed storage volumes will no longer be sufficient.

We are in the age of being able to define requirements dynamically through software. This is the new paradigm in today’s world. Hence we have Software Defined Compute, Software Defined Network, Software Defined Storage and also Software Defined Radio.

This post will demonstrate the need for architecting an IP Multimedia System that uses all the above methodologies to further enable CSPs & Operators to get better returns faster without the headaches of earlier static networks.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) is the architectural framework proposed by 3GPP body to establish and maintain multimedia sessions using an all IP network. IMS is a grand vision that is access network agnostic, uses an all IP backbone to begin, manage and release multimedia sessions.

The problem:

Any core network has the problem of dimensioning the various network elements. There is always a fear of either under dimensioning the network and causing failed calls or in over dimensioning resulting in wasted excess capacity.

The IMS was created to handle voice, data and video calls. In addition in the IMS, the SIP User Endpoints can negotiate the media parameters and either move up from voice to video or down from video to voice by adding different encoders.  This requires that the key parameters of the pipe be changed dynamically to handle different QOS, bandwidth requirements dynamically.

The solution

The approach suggested in this post to have a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS) as follows.

In other words the compute instances, network, storage and the frequency need to be managed through software based on the demand.

Software Defined Compute (SDC): The traffic in a Core network can be seasonal, bursty and bandwidth intensive. To be able to handle this changing demands it is necessary that the CSCF instances (P-CSCF, S-CSCF,I-CSCF etc) all scale up or down. This can be done through Software Defined Compute or the process of auto scaling the CSCF instances. The CSCF compute instances will be created or destroyed depending on the traffic traversing the switch.

Software Defined Network (SDN): The IMS envisages the ability to transport voice, data and video besides allowing for media sessions to be negotiated by the SIP user endpoints. Software Defined Networks (SDNs) allow the network resources (routers, switches, hubs) to be virtualized.

SDNs can be made to dynamically route traffic flows based on decisions in real time. The flow of data packets through the network can be controlled in a programmatic manner through the Flow controller using the Openflow protocol. This is very well suited to the IMS architecture. Hence the SDN can allocate flows based on bandwidth, QoS and type of traffic (voice, data or video).

Software Defined Storage (SDS): A key component in the Core Network is the need to be able charge customers. Call Detail Records (CDRs) are generated at various points of the call which are then aggregated and sent to the bill center to generate the customer bill.

Software Defined (SDS) abstracts storage resources and enables pooling, replication, and on-demand provisioning of storage resources. The ability to be able to pool storage resources and allocate based on need is extremely important for the large amounts of data that is generated in Core Networks

Software Defined Radio (SDR): This is another aspect that all Core Networks must adhere to. The advent of mobile broadband has resulted in a mobile data explosion portending a possible spectrum crunch. In order to use the available spectrum efficiently and avoid the spectrum exhaustion Software Define Radio (SDR) has been proposed. SDRs allows the radio stations to hop frequencies enabling the radio stations to use a frequency where this less contention (see We need to think differently about spectrum allocation … now).In the future LTE-Advanced or LTE with CS fallback will have to be designed with SDRs in place.

Conclusion:

A Software Defined IMS makes eminent sense in the light of characteristics of a core network architecture.  Besides ‘cloudifying’ the network elements, the ability to programmatically control the CSCFs, network resources, storage and frequency, will be critical for the IMS. This is a novel idea but well worth a thought!

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Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS)


Here is an idea of mine that has been slow cooking in my head for more than 1 and a 1/2 year. Finally managed to work its way to IP.com. See link below

Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS) 

The full article is included below

Abstract

This article describes an innovative technique of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IP Multimedia (IMS) framework in order to take advantage of keys benefits of the cloud like elasticity and the utility style pricing. This approach will provide numerous advantages to the Service Provider like better Return-on-Investment(ROI), reduction in capital expenditure and quicker deployment times,  besides offering the end customer benefits like the availability of high speed and imaginative IP multimedia services

Introduction

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) is the architectural framework proposed by 3GPP body to establish and maintain multimedia sessions using an all IP network. IMS is a grand vision that is access network agnostic, uses an all IP backbone to begin, manage and release multimedia sessions. This is done through network elements called Call Session Control Function (CSCFs), Home Subscriber Systems (HSS) and Application Servers (AS). The CSCFs use SDP over SIP protocol to communicate with other CSCFs and the Application Servers (AS’es). The CSCFs also use DIAMETER to talk to the Home Subscriber System (HSS’es).

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is used for signaling between the CSCFs to begin, control and release multi-media sessions and Session Description Protocol (SDP) is used to describe the type of media (voice, video or data). DIAMETER is used by the CSCFs to access the HSS. All these protocols work over IP. The use of an all IP core network for both signaling and transmitting bearer media makes the IMS a very prospective candidate for the cloud system.

This article  proposes a novel technique of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IMS framework (CSCFs) in order to take advantage of the cloud technology for an all IP network. Essentially this idea proposes deploying the CSCFs (P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF, BGCF) over a public cloud. The HSS and AS’es can be deployed over a private cloud for security reasons. The above network elements either use SIP/SDP over IP or DIAMETER over IP. Hence these network elements can be deployed as instances on the servers in the cloud with NIC cards. Note: This does not include the Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF) and the Media Gate Way (MGW) as they require SS7 interfaces. Since IP is used between the servers in the cloud the network elements can setup, maintain and release SIP calls over the servers of the cloud. Hence the IMS framework can be effectively “cloudified” by adopting a hybrid solution of public cloud for the CSCF entities and the private cloud for the HSS’es and AS’es.

This idea enables the deployment of IMS and the ability for the Operator, Equipment Manufacturer and the customer to quickly reap the benefits of the IMS vision while minimizing the risk of such a deployment.

Summary

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) has been in the wings for some time. There have been several deployments by the major equipment manufacturers, but IMS is simply not happening. The vision of IMS is truly grandiose. IMS envisages an all-IP core with several servers known as Call Session Control Function (CSCF) participating to setup, maintain and release of multi-media call sessions. The multi-media sessions can be any combination of voice, data and video.

In the 3GPP Release 5 Architecture IMS draws an architecture of Proxy CSCF (P-CSCF), Serving CSCF(S-CSCF), Interrogating CSCF(I-CSCF), and Breakout CSCF(BGCF), Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF), Home Subscriber Server(HSS) and Application Servers (AS) acting in concert in setting up, maintaining and release media sessions. The main protocols used in IMS are SIP/SDP for managing media sessions which could be voice, data or video and DIAMETER to the HSS.

IMS is also access agnostic and is capable of handling landline or wireless calls over multiple devices from the mobile, laptop, PDA, smartphones or tablet PCs. The application possibilities of IMS are endless from video calling, live multi-player games to video chatting and mobile handoffs of calls from mobile phones to laptop. Despite the numerous possibilities IMS has not made prime time.

The technology has not turned into a money spinner for Operators. One of the reasons may be that Operators are averse to investing enormous amounts into new technology and turning their network upside down.

The IMS framework uses CSCFs which work in concert to setup, manage and release multi media sessions. This is done by using SDP over SIP for signaling and media description. Another very prevalent protocol used in IMS is DIAMETER.  DIAMETER is the protocol that is used for authorizing, authenticating and accounting of subscribers which are maintained in the Home Subscriber System (HSS). All the above protocols namely SDP/SIP and DIAMETER protocols work over IP which makes the entire IMS framework an excellent candidate for deploying on the cloud.

Benefits

There are 6 key benefits that will accrue directly from the above cloud deployment for the IMS. Such a cloud deployment will

i.    Obviate the need for upfront costs for the Operator

ii.    The elasticity and utility style pricing of the cloud will have multiple benefits for the Service Provider and customer

iii.   Provider quicker ROI for the Service Provider by utilizing a innovative business model of revenue-sharing for the Operator and the equipment manufacturer

iv.   Make headway in IP Multimedia Systems

v.   Enable users of the IMS to avail of high speed and imaginative new services combining voice, data, video and mobility.

vi.   The Service Provider can start with a small deployment and grow as the subscriber base and traffic grows in his network

Also, a cloud deployment of the IMS solution has multiple advantages to all the parties involved namely

a)   The Equipment manufacturer

b)   The Service Provider

c)   The customer

A cloud deployment of IMS will serve to break the inertia that Operators have for deploying new architectures in the network.

a)   The Equipment manufactures for e.g. the telecommunication organizations that create the software for the CSCFs can license the applications to the Operators based on innovative business model of revenue sharing with the Operator based on usage

b)   The Service Provider or the Operator does away with the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) involved in buying CSCFs along with the hardware.  The cost savings can be passed on to the consumers whose video, data or voice calls will be cheaper. Besides, the absence of CAPEX will provide better margins to the operator. A cloud based IMS will also greatly reduce the complexity of dimensioning a core network. Inaccurate dimensioning can result in either over-provisioning or under-provisioning of the network.  Utilizing a cloud for deploying the CSCFs, HSS and AS can obviate the need upfront infrastructure expenses for the Operator. As mentioned above the Service Provider can pay the equipment manufactured based on the number of calls or traffic through the system

c)   Lastly the customer stands to gain as the IMS vision truly allows for high speed multimedia sessions with complex interactions like multi-party video conferencing, handoffs from mobile to laptop or vice versa. Besides IMS also allows for whiteboarding and multi-player gaming sessions.

Also the elasticity of the cloud can be taken advantage of by the Operator who can start small and automatically scale as the user base grows.

Description

This article describes a method in which the Call Session Control Function (CSCFs) namely the P-CSCF, S-CSCF,I-CSCF and BGCF can be deployed on a public cloud.  This is possible because there are no security risks associated with deploying the CSCFs on the public cloud. Moreover the elasticity and the pay per use of the public cloud are excellent attributes for such a cloudifying process. Similarly the HSS’es and AS’es can be deployed on a private cloud.  This is required because the HSS and the AS do have security considerations as they hold important subscriber data like the IMS Public User Identity (IMPU) and the IMS Private User Identity (IMPI).  However, the Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF) and Media Gateway (MGW) are not included this architecture as these 2 elements require SS7 interfaces

Using the cloud for deployment can bring in the benefits of zero upfront costs, utility style charging based on usage and the ability to grow or shrink elastically as the call traffic expands or shrinks.

This is shown diagrammatically below where all the IMS network elements are deployed on a cloud.

In Fig 1., all the network elements are shown as being part of a cloud.

1

Fig 1. Cloudifying the IMS architecture.

Detailed description

This idea requires that the IMS solution be “cloudified “i.e. the P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and the BGCF should be deployed on a public cloud. These CSCFs are used to setup, manage and release calls and the information that is used for the call does not pose any security risk. These network elements use SIP for signaling and SDP over SIP for describing the media sessions. The media sessions can be voice, video or data.

However the HSS and AS which contain the Public User Identity (IMPU) and Private User Identity (IMPI)  and other important data  can be deployed in a private cloud. Hence the IMS solution needs a hybrid solution that uses both the public and private cloud. Besides the proxy SIP servers, Registrars and redirect SIP servers also can be deployed on the public cloud.

The figure Fig 2. below shows how a hybrid cloud solution can be employed for deploying the IMS framework

2

Fig 2: Utilizing a hybrid cloud solution for deploying the IMS architecture

The call from a user typically originated from a SIP phone and will initially reach the P-CSCF. After passing through several SIP servers it will reach a I-CSCF. The I-CSCF will use DIAMETER to query the HSS for the correct S-CSCF to handle the call. Once the S-CSCF is identified the I-CSCF then signals the S-CSCF to reach a terminating a P-CSCF and finally the end user on his SIP phone.  Since the call uses SDP over SIP we can imagine that the call is handled by P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and BGCF instances on the cloud. Each of the CSCFs will have the necessary stacks for communicating to the next CSCF. The CSCF typically use SIP/SDP over TCP or UDP and finally over IP. Moreover query from the I-CSCF or S-CSCF to the HSS will use DIAMTER over UDP/IP.  Since IP is the prevalent technology between servers in the cloud communication between CSCFs is possible.

Methodology

The Call Session Control Functions (CSCFs P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF, BGCF) typically handle the setup, maintenance and release of SIP sessions. These CSCFs use either SIP/SDP to communicate to other CSCFs, AS’es or SIP proxies or they use DIAMETER to talk to the HSS. SIP/SDP is used over either the TCP or the UDP protocol.

We can view each of the CSCF, HSS or AS as an application capable of managing SIP or DIAMETER sessions. For this these CSCFs need to maintain different protocol stacks towards other network elements. Since these CSCFs are primarily applications which communicate over IP using protocols over it, it makes eminent sense for deploying these CSCFs over the cloud.

The public cloud contains servers in which instances of applications can run in virtual machines (VMs). These instances can communicate to other instances on other servers using IP. In essence the entire IMS framework can be viewed as CSCF instances which communicate to other CSCF instances, HSS or AS over IP. Hence to setup, maintain and release SIP sessions we can view that instances of P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and B-CSCF executed as separate instances on the servers of a public cloud and communicated using the protocol stacks required for the next network element. The protocol stacks for the different network elements is shown below

The CSCF’s namely the P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF & the BGCF all have protocol interfaces that use IP. The detailed protocol stacks for each of these network elements are shown below. Since they communicate over IP the servers need to support 100 Base T Network Interface Cards (NIC) and can typically use RJ-45 connector cables, Hence it is obvious that high performance servers which have 100 Base T NIC cards can be used for hosting the instances of the CSCFs (P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and BGCF). Similarly the private cloud can host the HSS which uses DIAMETER/TCP-SCTP/IP and AS uses SDP/SIP/UDP/IP. Hence these can be deployed on the private cloud.

Network Elements on the Public Cloud

The following network elements will be on the public cloud

a) P-CSCF b) I-CSCF c) S-CSCF d) BGCF

The interfaces of each of the above CSCFs are shown below

a)   Proxy CSCF (P-CSCF) interface

 p

 

As can be seen from above all the interfaces (Gm, Gq, Go and Mw) of the P-CSCF are either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP.

b)   Interrogating CSCF(I- CSCF) interface

 i

 

As can be seen from above all the interfaces (Cx, Mm and Mw) of the I-CSCF are either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP.

c)   Serving CSCF (S-CSCF) interfaces

The interfaces of the S-CSCF (Mw, Mg, Mi, Mm, ISC and Cx) are all either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP

s

d)   Breakout CSCF (BGCF) interface

The interfaces of the BGCF (Mi, Mj, Mk) are all UDP/IP.

bg

Network elements on the private cloud

The following network elements will be on the private cloud

a)   HSS b) AS

a)   Home Subscriber Service (HSS) interface

The HSS interface (Cx) is DIAMETER/SCTP/TCP over IP.

h

b)   Application Server (AS) Interface

a 

The AS interface ISC is SDP/SIP/UDP over IP.

As can be seen the interfaces the different network elements have towards other elements are over either UDP/IP or TCP/IP.

Hence we can readily see that a cloud deployment of the IMS framework is feasible.

Conclusion

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Thus it can be seen that a cloud based IMS deployment is feasible given the IP interface of the CSCFs, HSS and AS. Key features of the cloud like elasticity and utility style charging will be make the service attractive to the Service providers. A cloud based IMS deployment is truly a great combination for all parties involved namely the subscriber, the Operator and the equipment manufactures. A cloud based deployment will allow the Operator to start with a small customer base and grow as the service becomes popular. Besides the irresistibility of IMS’ high speed data and video applications are bound to capture the subscribers imagination while proving a lot cheaper.

Also see my post on “Envisioning a Software Defined Ip Multimedia System (SD-IMS)

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Adding the OpenFlow variable in the IMS equation


This post has been cited in the Springer  book “The Future Internet” in the chapter Integrating OpenFlow in IMS Networks and Enabling for Future Internet Research and Experimentation. See the 9th reference under References,

IMS a non-starter: IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) has been the grand vision of this decade. Unfortunately it has remained just that, a vision, with sporadic deployments. IMS has been a non-starter in many respects. Operators and Network Providers somehow don’t find any compelling reason to re-architect the network with IMS network elements. There have been no killer applications too.  But IP Multimedia Systems definitely hold enormous potential and a couple of breakthroughs in key technologies can result in the ‘tipping point’ of this great technology which promises access agnostic services including applications like video-conferencing, multi-player gaming, white boarding all using an all-IP backbone. In this context please do read my post “The Case for a Cloud based IMS solution

SDNs, revolutionary: In this scenario a radically new, emerging concept is the Software Define Networks (SDNs). SDN is the result of pioneering effort by Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley and is based on the Open Flow Protocol and represents a paradigm shift to the way networking elements operate. SDNs consist of the OpenFlow Controller which is able to control network resources in a programmatic manner. These network resources can span routers, hubs and switches, known as a slice, and can be controlled through the OpenFlow Controller. The key aspect of the OpenFlow protocol is the ability to manage slices of virtualized resources from end-to-end. It is this particular aspect of Software Defined Networks (SDNs) and the OpenFlow protocol which can be leveraged in IMS networks. Do read my post Software Defined Networks: A glimpse of tomorrow for more details

This article looks at a way in which OpenFlow protocol can be included in the IMS fabric and provide for QoS in the IMS network. However, please note that this post is exploratory in nature and does not purport to be a well researched article. Nevertheless the idea is well worth mulling over.

QoS in IMS: The current method of ensuring differentiated QoS in IMS networks is through two key network elements, namely the Policy Decision Point (PDP) and the Policy Enforcement Point (PEP). The PDP retrieves the necessary policy rules (flow parameters), in response to a RSVP message, which it then sends to the PEP. The PEP then executes these instructions. In the IMS the Policy Control Function (PCF), in the P-CSCF, plays the role of the PDP. The PEP resides in the GGSN. In an IMS call flow, the SDP message is encapsulated within SIP and carries the QoS parameters. The PCF examines the parameters, retrieves appropriate policies and informs the PEP in the GGSN for that traffic flow.

OpenFlow in P-CSCF: This post looks at a technique in which the OpenFlow Controller can be a part of the P-CSCF. The QoS parameters which come in the SDP message can be similarly examined. Instead of retrieving fixed policy rules, the OpenFlow Controller in the P-CSCF can be made to programmatically identify bandwidth speeds, the routers and the network slice through which the flow should flow. It would then inform the equivalent of the OpenFlow Switch in the GGSN which would control the necessary network resources end-to-end. The advantage of using OpenFlow Controller/OpenFlow switch to the PDP/PEP combination would be the ability to adapt the network flow according to bandwidth changes and traffic. The OpenFlow Controller will be able to dynamically re-route the traffic to alternate network resources, or a different ‘network slice’ in cases of congestion.

Conclusion: In my opinion, adding the OpenFlow Protocol to the IP Multimedia Switching fabric can provide for a much more control and better QoS in the network. It may also be able to provide for a lot more interesting applications to the already existing set of powerful applications

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Technologies to watch: 2012 and beyond


Published in Telecom Asia – Technologies to watch:2012 and beyond

Published in Telecoms Europe – Hot technologies for 2012 and beyond

A keen observer of the technological firmament, today, will observe a grand spectacle of diverse technological events. Some technological trends will blaze a trail and will become trend setters while others will vanish without a trace. The factors that make certain technologies to endure in comparison to others could be many, ranging from pure necessity to a coolness factor, from innovativeness to a cost factor.  This article looks at some of the technologies that are certain to be trail blazers in the years to come

Software Defined Networks (SDNs):  Software Defined Networks (SDNs) are based on the path breaking paradigm of separating the control of a network flow from the actual flow of data. SDN is the result of pioneering effort by Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley and is based on the Open Flow Protocol and represents a paradigm shift to the way networking elements operate. Software Defined Networks (SDN) decouples the routing and switching of the data flows and moves the control of the flow to a separate network element namely, the Flow controller.   The motivation for this is that the flow of data packets through the network can be controlled in a programmatic manner. The OpenFlow Protocol has 3 components to it. The Flow Controller that controls the flows, the OpenFlow switch and the Flow Table and a secure connection between the Flow Controller and the OpenFlow switch. Software Define Networks (SDNs) also include the ability to virtualize the network resources. Virtualized network resources are known as a “network slice”. A slice can span several network elements including the network backbone, routers and hosts. The ability to control multiple traffic flows programmatically provides enormous flexibility and power in the hands of users.  SDNs are bound to be the networks elements of the future.

Smart Grids: The energy industry is delicately poised for a complete transformation with the evolution of the smart grid concept. There is now an imminent need for an increased efficiency in power generation, transmission and distribution coupled with a reduction of energy losses. In this context many leading players in the energy industry are coming up with a connected end-to-end digital grid to smartly manage energy transmission and distribution.  The digital grid will have smart meters, sensors and other devices distributed throughout the grid capable of sensing, collecting, analyzing and distributing the data to devices that can take action on them. The huge volume of collected data will be sent to intelligent device which will use the wireless 3G networks to transmit the data.  Appropriate action like alternate routing and optimal energy distribution would then happen. Smart Grids are a certainty given that this technology addresses the dire need of efficient energy management. Smart Grids besides managing energy efficiently also save costs by preventing inefficiency and energy losses.

The NoSQL Paradigm: In large web applications where performance and scalability are key concerns a non –relational database like NoSQL is a better choice to the more traditional relational databases. There are several examples of such databases – the more reputed are Google’s BigTable,   HBase, Amazon’s Dynamo, CouchDB  & MongoDB. These databases partition the data horizontally and distribute it among many regular commodity servers.  Accesses to the data are based on get(key) or set(key, value) type of APIs. Accesses to the data are based on a consistent hashing scheme for example the Distributed Hash Table (DHT) method. The ability to distribute data and the queries to one of several servers provides the key benefit of scalability. Clearly having a single database handling an enormous amount of transactions will result in performance degradation as the number of transaction increases. Applications that have to frequently access and manage petabytes of data will clearly have to move to the NoSQL paradigm of databases.

Near Field Communications (NFC): Near Field Communications (NFC) is a technology whose time has come. Mobile phones enabled with NFC technology can be used for a variety of purposes. One such purpose is integrating credit card functionality into mobile phones using NFC. Already the major players in mobile are integrating NFC into their newer versions of mobile phones including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Nokia. We will never again have to carry in our wallets with a stack of credit cards. Our mobile phone will double up as a Visa, MasterCard, etc. NFC also allows retail stores to send promotional coupons to subscribers who are in the vicinity of the shopping mall. Posters or trailers of movies running in a theatre can be sent as multi-media clips when travelling near a movie hall. NFC also allows retail stores to send promotional coupons to subscribers who are  in the vicinity of the shopping mall besides allowing exchanging contact lists with friends when they are close proximity.

The Other Suspects: Besides the above we have other usual suspects

Long Term Evolution (LTE): LTE enables is latest wireless technology that enables wireless access speeds of up to 56 Mbps. With the burgeoning interest in tablets, smartphones with the countless apps LTE will be used heavily as we move along. For a vision of where telecom is headed, do read my post ‘The Future of Telecom“.

Cloud Computing: Cloud Computing is the other technology that is bound to gain momentum in the years ahead. Besides obviating the need for upfront capital expenditure the cloud enables quick and easy deployment of applications. Moreover the elasticity of the cloud will make it irresistible to large enterprises and corporations.

The above is a list of technologies to watch as create new paths and blaze new trails. All these technologies are bound to transform the world as we know it and make our lives easier, better and more comfortable. These are the technologies that we need to focus on as we move bravely into our future. Do read my post for the year 2011 “Technology Trends – 2011 and beyond

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Tomorrow’s wireless ecosystem


The wireless networks of today had its humble beginnings in 1924 when the first mobile radio was demonstrated. It was many years since this beginning, that a completely functional cellular network was established. The earliest systems were the analog 1G system that was demonstrated in 1978 in US with great success. The initial mobile systems were primarily used for making mobile voice calls. This continued for the next 2 decades as the network evolved to digital based 2G systems.

 

It was around 1999-2000 that ETSI standardized GPRS or 2.5G technology to use the cellular network for data. Though the early data rates, of 144 kbps, were modest, the entry of GPRS proved to be a turning point in technological history. GPRS provided the triple benefits of wireless connectivity, mobility and internet access.  Technological advancement enabled faster and higher speeds of wireless, mobile access to the internet. The deployments of 3G enabled speeds of up to 2 Mbps for fixed access while LTE promised speeds of almost 56 Mbps per second coupled with excellent spectral efficiency.

 

The large increase of bandwidth along with mobility has allowed different technologies to take advantage of the wireless infrastructure for their purposes.  While Wi-Fi networks based on 802.11 and WiMAX based on 802.16 will play a part in the wireless ecosystem this post looks at the role that will be played by cellular networks from 2G to 4G.

 

The cellular network with its feature of wireless access, mobility and the ability to handle voice, video and data calls will be the host of multiple disparate technologies as we move forward into the future.  Below are listed some of the major users of the wireless network in the future

 

Mobile Phones:  The cellular network was created to handle voice calls originating from mobile phones. A large part of mobile traffic will still be for mobile to mobile calls. As the penetration of the cellular networks occurs in emerging economies we can expect that there will be considerable traffic from voice calls. It is likely that as the concept of IP Multimedia System (IMS) finds widespread acceptance the mobile phone will also be used for making video calls. With the advent of the Smartphone this is a distinct possibility in the future.

Smartphones, tablets and Laptops: These devices will be the next major users of the cellular network. Smartphones, besides being able to make calls, also allow for many new compelling data applications. Exciting apps on tablets like the iPad and laptops consume a lot of bandwidth and use the GPRS, 3G or LTE network for data transfer. In fact in a recent report it has been found that a majority of data traffic in the wireless network are video. Consumers use the iPad and the laptop for watching videos on Youtube and for browsing using the wireless network.

Internet of Things (IoT):  The internet of things, also known as M2M, envisages a network in which passive or intelligent devices are spread throughout the network and collect and transmit data to back end database. RFIDs were the early enablers of this technology. These sensors and intelligent devices will collect data and transmit the data using the wireless network. Applications for the Internet of Things range from devices that monitor and transmit data about the health of cardiac patients to being able to monitor the structural integrity of bridges.

Smart Grid: The energy industry is delicately poised for a complete transformation with the evolution of the smart grid concept. There is now an imminent need for an increased efficiency in power generation, transmission and distribution coupled with a reduction of energy losses. In this context many leading players in the energy industry are coming up with a connected end-to-end digital grid to smartly manage energy transmission and distribution.  The digital grid will have smart meters, sensors and other devices distributed throughout the grid capable of sensing, collecting, analyzing and distributing the data to devices that can take action on them. The huge volume of collected data will be sent to intelligent device which will use the wireless 3G networks to transmit the data.  Appropriate action like alternate routing and optimal energy distribution would then happen. The Smart Grid will be a major user of the cellular wireless network in the future.

Hence it can be seen the users of the wireless network will increase dramatically as we move forward into the future. Multiple technologies will compete for the available bandwidth. For handling this exponential growth in traffic we not only need faster speeds for the traffic but also sufficient spectrum available for use and it is necessary that ITU addresses the spectrum needs on a war footing.

It is thus clear that the telecom network will have to become more sophisticated and more technologically advanced as we move forward into the future.


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Walking the 3G tightrope in India


Published in Voice & Data Oct 22, Walking the 3G tightrope in India

Introduction

India is now poised for the next technological leap with the planned rollout of 3G services by early next year.  The auction of the 3G spectrum by the government recently concluded in May, 2010 after 34 days and 183 rounds of intense bidding by nine private operators for 22 circles. The auctions ended after hectic bidding wars with no single operator winning the high speed 3G spectrum in all 22 circles. The three biggest carriers of India namely Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communication and Vodafone managed to bag 13 circles each.

While the 3G spectrum auction was a bonanza for the Indian Government which netted Rs. 66000 crores, the Indian carriers had to pay a steep price for the 3G spectrum artificially inflated by the intense bidding over the 34 days this year. The question that will be foremost in the minds of all the Indian operators is how to recover the cost of the expensive 3G spectrum in the shortest possible time as they plan the rollout of the 3G services. In other words the operators in India will have to walk the 3G tightrope over the next couple of years.

Navigating in the 3G domain

This article looks at some techniques that can be adopted by the Service Providers to quickly recoup the 3G spectrum costs.  The 3G rollout will involve network upgrades   to access, core and backhaul networks in order to meet the demands of the newer 3G services. The distinguishing and alluring feature of 3G, governed by the IMT-2000, is the great increase in data speeds. 3G networks allow download speeds of 2Mbps for a stationary user and up to 384 Kbps for a mobile user enabling Service Providers to come up with a slew of exciting new services. Such high network speeds allow for innovative services spanning voice, data and video.

A look at some of the techniques that can be adopted by Operators to generate a healthy revenue from 3G

Incentivizing for traffic growth:

a)      Smartphones

A recent report by Ericsson indicated that mobile data traffic globally grew 280% during each of the last two years with the forecast of doubling annually over the next five years. This explosion in mobile data traffic in countries like US, Europe and Japan is largely due to the entry of smartphones like the IPhone, Nexus One or Droid with their numerous data hungry applications. A compelling strategy for the carriers is to have a voice and data plan in the network,  for which a smartphone  like the ones above,  are provided at a throw away price.  This will be a major incentive for the subscribers to download high speed, data hungry applications. The operators should avoid the flat-rate pricing offered in some networks in the US and instead have price tiered service based on usage.

b)      3G dongles

Another strategy on the same lines is to subsidize 3G dongles for enterprises.   As before, the CSPs should concentrate on the revenue arising out of usage of the dongles as opposed to making any margins on the dongles themselves. Now with the entry of the iPad and other competing tablet computers there is bound to be significant growth in data traffic.

c) App Stores:

What makes 3G service so attractive is the high speed coupled with the inherent mobility. The CSPs have to take advantage of this fact and provide compelling high data applications which subscribers can download and use through App Stores. The App Stores should include innovative applications spanning location based services, video download services and mobile commerce.

3G network design considerations

a)      UMTS RF design

The Service Providers will have to devise their RF design strategy based on whether the 3G deployment is Greenfield or Brownfield  in which the 3G network will be co-located with existing 2G radio access systems. The UMTS RF design and planning should take into consideration the increased capacity requirements and traffic growth projections for the 3G network. The RF design considerations should be based on sound market research and its goals should be to maximize coverage, to provide sufficient capacity, optimized link budgets, acceptable QoS while minimizing Opex and Capex. The Service Providers will have to take appropriate steps if spectrum re-farming from 2G to 3G is considered. In this situation the Operator must ensure that the transition is transparent as possible. Also the Operators should introduce dual –mode handsets that will allow the subscribers to seamlessly switch between 2G and 3G networks and vice-versa where 3G services are co-located with legacy 2G networks.

b)      Core Network design considerations

In parallel with the design of the UMTS RF access, planning and design should also be taken for the Core network. The projected increase in subscriber on a monthly basis, the expected increase in voice traffic and the potentiality of explosive growth in data traffic should be given due consideration. All these factors should be taken into consideration while dimensioning the Core 3G network. The traffic handling capacities of Network Elements like the MSCs, HLRs, SCPs, SMSCs, SGSNs and the transmission systems like High Speed Links (HSLs) /Low Speed Links (LSL) should be dimensioned based on voice  and data traffic projections. Based on experience of existing 3G networks in the world it would make better sense to slightly over-dimension the network than to face  potential outages because of shortage of network resources. The Operators have to accurately anticipate traffic growth, increase reliability of the network and plan for the eventual migration to an all-IP network.

c)       Mobile Data Offload

The tremendous growth of mobile data traffic in countries  that have already deployed 3G like US, Japan resulted in carriers there having to offload some of the data traffic to Wi-Fi networks and femtocells in order to reduce the burden on the network.  Indian Service providers should plan their network with data offload as a possible eventuality.

Prudent Technology choices

As the Network Providers plan their growth of their network to support 3G technology they should also look at some of newer  technologies that can help in reduction of the Service Provider’s Capex and Opex. Two technologies with great potential are cloud computing and analytics.  By judiciously migrating some of their applications on a public cloud Carriers can reduce their capital expenditure.

Lastly CSPs can look at how data mining and analytics of their existing software systems can be used for identifying areas which will improve customer retention and reduce customer churn.  Analytics provide a wealth of information on customer behavior which can then be strategized to increase revenue

Conclusion

These are truly exciting times for the India Telecom.  Coupled with the promise of the advanced technologies like the 3G are also associated challenges and opportunities that are unique to those technologies.  CSPs that plan ahead and execute on their strategies are bound to emerge as true winners in the years to come.

Tinniam V. Ganesh

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Cloud, analytics key tools for today’s telcos


Published in Telecom Asia Aug 20, 2010 – http://bit.ly/dxKbsR

Operators facing dwindling revenue from wireline subscribers, fierce tariff wars and exploding mobile data traffic are continually being pressured to do more for less. Spending on infrastructure is increasing as they look to provide better service within slender budgets.
In these tough times telcos have to devise new and innovative strategies and make judicious technology choices. Two promising technologies, cloud computing and analytics, are shaping up as among the best choices to make.
Cloud architecture does away with the worry of planning the computing resources needed, the real estate, the costs of the acquiring them and thoughts of its obsolescence. It allows the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms and databases almost as a utility like electricity or water.
Cloud consumers only pay for what they use. The magic of this promising technology is the elasticity that the cloud provides – it expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops.
The cloud architectures of Amazon, Google and Microsoft – currently the three biggest cloud providers – vary widely in their capabilities and features. These strengths and weaknesses should be taken into account while planning a cloud system. Each is best suited for only a certain class of applications unique to each individual cloud provider.
On one end of the spectrum Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) provides a virtual machine and a wealth of associated tools for storage and notifications. But the trade-off for increased flexibility is that users must take responsibility for designing resiliency into their systems.
On the other end is Google’s App Engine, a highly scalable cloud architecture that handles failures but is a lot more restrictive. Microsoft’s Azure is based on the .NET architecture and in terms of flexibility and features lies between these two.
When implementing such architecture, an organization should take a long hard look its computing software inventory to decide which applications are worthy of migrating to the cloud. The best candidates are processing intensive in-house applications that deliver standardized functionality and interface, and whose software architecture is made up of loosely coupled communicating systems.
Applications that deal with sensitive data should be retained within the organization’s internal computing infrastructure, because security is currently the most glaring issue with the cloud. Cloud providers do provide various levels of security to users, but this is an area in keen need of standardization.
But if the CSP decides to build components of an OSS system – rather than buying a pre-packaged system – it makes good business sense to develop for the cloud.
A cloud-based application must have a few essential properties. First, it is preferable if the application was designed on SOA principles. Second, it should be loosely coupled. And lastly, it needs to be an application that can be scaled rapidly up or down based on the varying demands.
The other question is which legacy systems can be migrated. If the OSS/BSS systems are based on commercial off-the-shelf systems these can be excluded, but an offline bill processing system, for example, is typically a good candidate for migration.
Mining wisdom from data
The cloud can serve as the perfect companion for another increasingly vital operational practice – data analytics. The cloud is capable of modeling large amounts of data, and running models to process and analyze this data. It is possible to run thousands of simultaneous instances on the cloud and mine for business intelligence in the oceans of telecom data operators generate.
Today’s CSP maintains software systems generating all kinds of customer data, covering areas ranging from billing and order management to POS, VAS and provisioning. But perhaps the largest and richest vein of subscriber information is the call detail records database.
All this data is worthless, though, if it cannot be mined and analyzed. Formal data mining and data analytics tools can be used to identify patterns and trends that will allow operators to make strategic, knowledge-driven decisions.
Analytics involves many complex areas like predictive analytics, neural nets, decision trees and classification. Some of the approaches used in data analytics include prediction, deviation detection, degree of influence and classification.
With the intelligence that comes through analytics it is possible to determine customer buying patterns, identify causes for churn and develop strategies to promote loyalty. Call patterns based on demography or time of day will enable the CSPs to create innovative tariff schemes.
Determining the relations and buying patterns of users will provide opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling. The ability to identify marked deviation in customer behavior patterns help the CSP in deciding ahead of time whether this trend is a warning bell or an opportunity waiting to be tapped.
Tinniam V Ganesh

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