August 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 8
Networks in 2015: A Vision and a Strategy
On June 6, in London, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) unveiled its vision of the way networks will look and be used by 2015, and also outlined the strategy that will enable their ambitious objectives to be realized. It’s a little over a year since Nokia Networks and the comms side of Siemens (News - Alert) came together to form NSN and the initial period was obviously spent on reducing staffing levels and consolidating the product portfolio. During that time the company was vulnerable to attack from competitors, particularly Ericsson (News - Alert), so it was critically important to come up with a grand plan that would keep customers on board and eventually increase market share and achieve profitability. And it was the grand plan that was presented to the press and analysts.
Predicting the future seven years out is challenging. Change might appear to be the one constant in today’s environment; nevertheless there are a number of generic parameters that define the market, the network architecture and the underlying technologies. Let’s take them one by one.
The fact that NSN sees the mobile phone as being the preferred communications device shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s the device we carry around most of the time and because of Moore’s Law they’ve become powerful, hand-held PCs. Less obvious is the fact that these devices will be the only way many people access the Internet in the emerging markets, e.g., China, India and Indonesia because phones are much cheaper than PCs. If the price of the product and service is right these markets will explode so getting them right is a major component of the strategy.
NSN estimates that 5 billion people will employ Internet connectivity by 2015 and the figure for cellular subscriptions is the same. Many users will connect to the Net over a high-speed service, e.g., GPRS , EDGE or HSDPA today and LTE or WiMAX (News - Alert) in future. In addition, the growth of wireline broadband access will facilitate usage of bandwidth-hungry applications like IPTV for more than 2 billion people by 2015. This combination will result in a massive increase in Internet traffic. Recently, the traffic has grown 40-100 percent per annum, depending on the service and region. Estimates vary but a 100-fold increase is a typical figure.
In the up-coming converged telecom, Internet, media and IT landscape there will be a much larger variety of service providers and they will compete in a larger market than before, thereby creating both a huge opportunity and increased competition. The providers who can offer the simplest way to connect people and to connect people to content will be the winners, and simplicity can only be realized via a network architecture that is radically different.
The Network Architecture
Right now we use wireless and wireline networks, both of which employ circuit- and packet-switched connectivity; something that only makes sense for historic reasons. Developments are taking place in all four sectors and there is competition among different stakeholders, Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) (FMC) being an obvious example. We therefore have a communications environment that is way too complex. We need more than the ability to transition between circuit- and packet-switched networks and while the migration to all-IP cores is important, it’s not going to enable the requisite level of simplicity. A fundamental rethink is needed and this is where NSN’s vision kicks in and things start to get interesting.
Tomorrow’s network will be all-IP but it will also have a very flat architecture along the lines of Figure 1. The architecture broadly divides into a connectivity domain (owned by the operator) and an application domain. Access to the apps is enabled over wireless and wireline broadband. The two domains are linked via session control, the intelligent IP edge and identity management. Session control will be an extension of that currently provided by IMS.
This is a high-level view of next-generation networking. Additional intelligence will be introduced to enable seamless access to services and applications using different networks and network technologies in smart ways — ways that improve the quality of experience and minimize congestion. Services and applications will be mainly hosted in the Internet and in the case of enterprises, the corporate intranet . In addition, service continuity will be ensured while moving between different network technologies and the different networks of one or more operators. Acknowledging that services and apps will be mainly hosted in the Net isn’t going to endear NSN with network operators, but it does reflect reality.
The Underlying Technologies
Access will be cheaper and much faster due to the flat architecture, spectral efficiency improvements and the availability of high data rates of WiMAX and LTE (News - Alert). NSN is promoting the fact they support both air interfaces, unlike Ericsson, and that was reflected in an ambitious statement about “being driven by the strong ambition to become the #1 radio access vendor”. WiMAX maxes out at around 45 Mbps per channel and service providers would typically aim to provide an end-user rate of 2 to 4 Mbps. LTE can provide up to 173 Mbps and NSN have run a live network at 100 Mbps. As a cellular access system, LTE comes with a flat network architecture, which also leads to improvements in overall energy efficiency.
Wireline access rates are currently around 30 times higher than wireless and this trend will continue in future. For example, by 2015 rates of 100 Gbps per optical channel will be widely deployed and around that time a new generation of fibers, so-called “hollow fibers” could be ready for deployment. This development would eliminate a number of today’s fiber limitations and enable another huge jump in performance. At the same time costs would be cut.
Fiber will obviously be used at Layer 1 but accommodating a 100-fold increase in traffic at the lowest possible TCO requires the introduction of Carrier Ethernet. This Layer 2 technology will provide the common layer for packet-based transport. There are currently two general concepts: approaches that are based on classical Ethernet and those that are based on MPLS. Since both approaches do have a clear value-add for individual operators and network areas it is likely that both will co-exist in the future. Recent research and standardization efforts have focused on boosting Ethernet line-rates to 100 Gbps, a rate that would allow Carrier Ethernet to complement or replace parts of today’s SDH metro and IP/MPLS-based core networks.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Recall the earlier stats and statement about the emerging markets and the need to reduce the price of products and services. NSN’s stated goal is to enable services to be profitable in markets where the average ARPU will be very low, which will entail a dramatic reduction in TCO. This is achieved via a combination of efficient air interfaces, a flat, all-IP network architecture and Multilayer Optimization, which is a new concept that focuses on optimizing transportation at Layers 1-3 — one that includes all the parts of the transport network: the access, aggregation and the core. NSN has stated that operators who have implemented this concept have realized cost savings of between 50 percent and 70 percent — savings that are combined with a significant boost in network performance. The spin here is that by rebalancing traffic, Multilayer Optimization makes the best possible use of Optical, Ethernet and IP technologies.
Earlier the need to do more than simply enable the transition between circuit- and packet-switched networks was highlighted and the deliverable that NSN is proposing is called Smart Connectivity. It’s an innovative concept designed to provide powerful connectivity solutions for heterogeneous networks, as shown in Figure 2, thereby enabling easy, transparent and efficient access to services on the users’ preferred device.
Smart Connectivity will enable seamless access to services and applications using different networks and network technologies. And service continuity will be ensured while moving between different network technologies and the different networks of one or more operators. This is an ambitious objective, but NSN believes that it has to be done in order to realize the opportunities that arise when around 5 billion people employ broadband Internet connectivity.
Backing Up The Vision
Visions are one thing — realizing them is something else. The press and analysts have no money riding on NSN’s ability to deliver low TCOs and advanced functionality such as Smart Connectivity, but network operators do and they will need a lot of convincing. The company has therefore created a white paper portfolio that underpins the Vision paper. It currently comprises the following: Smart Connectivity; QoS (Quality of Service); Session Control; Future Transport Networks and Broadband Access. More are set to follow. Based on the length of the QoS paper that formed part of the press kit, this portfolio will be technical and detailed and later this year when more papers are added it will run to over 200 pages.
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