Software Defined Networks to be extended for telcos

In parallel with the adoption of LTE in the wireless space, the fixed line community is undergoing its own long term evolution. Speaking to a small group of journalists and analysts outside the RAI yesterday morning, Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO of equipment vendor Ericsson, said the explosive growth in cloud technology was spurring the requirement for Software Defined Network (SDN) specifications for service providers and telcos.

“The architecture of the network must evolve to cater to growth,” Uwaldsson said, referring to forecasts that data traffic will increase 15 fold over the next five years, having already grown 104 per cent year on year between 2011 and 2012.

But Uwaldsson expects the extension of SDN to take some time, perhaps five or more years, using the already installed base of network equipment as the foundation. This approach, which Uwaldsson refers to as a “hybrid SDN”, is good news for operators which would likely be reluctant to splash out on yet another major network overhaul.

“The hybrid SDN comes first, allowing us to abstract the control plane from existing infrastructure,” he said. “This goes beyond OpenFlow into building a new layer of abstraction into the networks.”

OpenFlow is a communications protocol that gives access to the forwarding plane of a network switch or router over the network, but Uwaldsson wants to see SDN extended to allow all network entities from the cloud and data centres to be connected to OSS and BSS platforms. Building on the acquisition of Telcordia in 2011, B/OSS has become a key strategic area for Ericsson to focus on as it is so closely tied to SDN evolution, Uwaldsson said.

In some senses, the industry is also likely to benefit from an extended transition time to service provider SDN, as it will give those building the technology time to incorporate the network architectures of other industries, such as the media and others which have their own content delivery networks (CDN).

“The carrier has a very important role to play in this,” he said, “because we are moving away from a ‘best effort with a cool service’ approach to quality of service, where QoS is now the most important choice.” And that QoS functionality resides in the network.

In order to maintain QoS on increasingly congested networks, many carriers are looking at wifi as an offload solution. It’s now evident that most carriers embracing a hybrid network strategy will have a significant number of wifi access points sitting alongside their cellular network. But the greatest challenge in this environment is integration wifi technologies with those developed by the 3GPP.

Building on another acquisition, this time BelAir networks in April of 2012, Ericsson is now tackling the issue with a wifi controller interface that talks to the 3GPP core, allowing operators to apply the same policy control and charging mechanisms. The company unveiled the first product to make use of this technology at BBWF yesterday, with the launch of a stadium optimised wifi access point and controller.

Referencing its own research, Ericsson expects mobile data traffic to grow ten fold between 2011 and 2016, with video being the main driver, which will go hand in had with the ubiquity of wifi-enabled mobile devices. Based on documented experiences of network providers catering to the Olympics this year, Ericsson naturally foresees stadiums as one of the biggest generators of mobile video. As a result, these stadiums should be treated like very dense metropolitan ‘villages’ that require an overlay of small cells and wifi to address capacity requirements, but also need to be integrated into the macro 3GPP network.

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