Managing A Heterogenous Network – what’s needed at the edge?

In next 5 years, the number of smartphones will surpass the worldwide population. At the same time, billions of devices are getting lined up to be activated and connected via wireless networks. Video and broadcast service demands are also expected to continue to skyrocket in coming years. All these trends are making it harder for a core network provider to keep up with the capacity demand in the network.

This ever increasing capacity demand is causing operators to carefully look at all the available assets that they can leverage across the RAN. This includes 3G and LTE macro and small cell networks and existing Wifi hotspots/network. The coexistence and convergence of multiple access technologies is called Heterogeneous Networks “HetNets”. When managing HetNets, operators need to maintain a suitable Quality of Experience for the end user through seamless roaming, hand-off, security and interoperability across multiple access technologies. A software driven approach in a virtualized environment to manage HetNets at the edge networks will offer a faster and efficient way for ecosystem players to roll out the convergence at the edge.

Currently, the management of 3G, LTE and Wifi access technologies evolved in Silos of functionality, because they were built ground up to support these specific technologies. Operators continue to add capacity and coverage by offering carrier aggregation, additional spectrum allocation and small cells deployments as an underlay to macro network coverage. However, this silo approach addresses the capacity demand only at RAN by building separate networks. Little has been done at the edge or the core networks to address the aggregation and management of HetNets. In my view gateways are evolving into Intelligent Edge Gateways (IEG) by addressing three main aspects of dealing with convergence in the core network – 1) Standardization, 2) Intelligence and 3) Adaptability.

Good news is the industry is driving towards standardization. 3GPP is driving the standards for Machine Type Communication (MTC) to have well defined interfaces (entry point) into the wireless networks for authentication, registration, provisioning and billing, and Wifi alliances such as Cable Wi-Fi consortium, Hotspot 2.0, and Wi-Fi certified Passpoint™ will drive towards standardization.

The ecosystem at edge is fragmented and current players offer network functions which are mostly vertically integrated e.g. security gateway, multi service gateway providers, wifi aggregators, small cell aggregators/gateways. Importantly these network functions are ripe to bring the intelligence needed for convergence in the core network.

A high performing virtualized software solution such as Radisys Intelligent Edge Gateway will not only make the existing ecosystem players more competitive in their offerings, but will be the most cost effective solution. A security gateway provider can adapt and offer dual mode LTE and 3G small cell gateway functions, or a 3G small cell gateway provider can easily “add-on” LTE small cell gateway functionality. Another adaptability example is an existing core network provider can add a m2m gateway aggregation function in front of their existing core network to shield from millions of attach and registration requests.

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