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Author: Sean O’Donoghue

How Mobile Networks Help the World Stay Connected in the Age of Social Distancing

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

As governments, healthcare professionals and businesses make hard choices on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of the important role that communications service providers play behind the scenes to keep everyone connected in an age of social distancing and shelter-in-place.

As a response to the COVID-19 concerns, Work From Home (WFH) is mandatory for most businesses right now. Schools and universities have had to implement remote learning procedures years earlier than expected. Friends and families are using phones and video apps to stay in touch more than ever before. And mobile networks are straining to keep up with the heightened demand. In Sweden, for example, mobile data usage is already at an all-time yearly high and voice calls have increased 30% in just the last two weeks.

Throughout it all, however, the mobile network perseveres.

Ensuring a continuous, connected experience is a challenge under “normal” conditions, and especially challenging in the “new normal” of a global pandemic like what we’re experiencing with COVID-19. There are three critical elements that will determine how well mobile networks can hold up in the days to come: technology, standards and people.

 

3 Critical Elements of Mobile Networks During The Pandemic

Technology

Thanks to the evolution of mobile technology, most people in the world enjoy fast, ubiquitous access to real-time information (and entertainment) on their mobile devices. In a time when people need to stay apart for safety, staying together through technology has become more important than ever. Mobile technology also supports critical services, from emergency responders and law enforcement to telemedicine.

Standards

It’s easy to forget the role that standards play in mobile communications, but without them, communication begins to fall apart. They’re the glue that holds mobile services together, whether it’s allowing different devices to get the same service experience or connecting business applications with mobile communications. Affirmed has always viewed adherence to standards as critical; it’s a big reason why our solutions currently support millions of customers in more than 100 telecommunications networks worldwide.

People

The most important element, particularly now, is people. From customer service to network maintenance, service delivery to operations, people are what make networks work. With the backdrop of social distancing and shelter-in-place leading to reduced on-site personnel, the individuals in the field and those working long hours remotely to make sure that mobile networks keep working deserve a special thanks. Of course, Affirmed is playing its own part in helping mobile networks meet the heightened demand, and we’re proud to do so.

 

The Importance of Mobile Networks Moving Forward

As we enter an uncertain future, our reliance on communications network will be more important than ever. I have no doubt that there will be some bumps in the road ahead, from outages to increased delays. But we feel especially fortunate to work in an industry that can do so much for so many right now. To everyone who works in the communications industry, thank you for everything you do—and know that Affirmed Networks has your back.

The Importance of Having an Edge: Five Key Capabilities of Edge Computing

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

In today’s hyperconnected digital economy, communication service providers (CSPs) are refocusing their efforts on developing and growing new revenue streams from their enterprise customers, and edge computing can help that cause. Top-tier CSPs recognize the capabilities and benefits of edge computing, monetizing enterprise revenue opportunities of the future, faster.

For many CSPs, their enterprise offerings currently focus on providing essential network connectivity services such as mobile and fixed broadband bundled with information and communications technology (ICT) services. Enterprises, for their part, have leveraged the convenience of having a “one-stop-shop” to order, consume, and pay for network and IT products and services.

 

Technology Advancements & Edge Computing

With new advancements in technology, increased security concerns and the compelling requirement to deliver low-latency services with local autonomy, the deployment of dedicated private networks and industry applications has become mainstream.

As we look at Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) from a use case perspective, manufacturing, logistics, remote locations, retail, and content delivery networks are some of the most debated use cases in the industry. Rapid advancements in technology have also contributed significantly to the realization of MEC. These advances include the availability of licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum; the evolution of the closed mobile core network to an open, disaggregated and distributed cloud-native network; and the arrival of public, private, and hybrid cloud data centers.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned 5G specifically. That’s because 5G is not a prerequisite for delivering Mobile Edge Computing capabilities. In fact, Affirmed was delivering 5G-styled capabilities such as control and user plane separation (CUPS), local break out (LBO), support for public cloud deployments and new industry levels of throughput using COTS x86 infrastructure even before the industry began to move toward 5G.

 

Edge Computing Capabilities Present CSPs With a Significant Opportunity

Few would argue that MEC presents a significant revenue opportunity for CSPs, provided they focus on their unique strengths and collaborate with innovative partners that can deliver highly differentiated webscale mobile services at unprecedented speed. Trust, transparency, and reliable services are some of the key foundational elements that are already in place in the relationship between CSPs and enterprises. Collaboration with innovative partners is critical in laying the foundation for the delivery of next-generation enterprise services.

Let me explain why this partnership is so important. As CSPs ramp up the delivery of edge services to various industry verticals and enterprises, there are several key platform selection criteria and deployment considerations that they need to take into consideration. These decisions will determine the commercial viability, deployment, and operational synergies of their enterprise offerings going forward. At Affirmed Networks, we developed our Mobile Edge Computing solution, the Affirmed Cloud Edge, specifically to address the MEC opportunity.

 

Mobile Edge Computing Capabilities and Benefits for Cloud Edge

Cloud Edge has five unique capabilities that support mobile edge computing, which differentiate it in the market today:

1. Ultra-high network performance

Cloud Edge delivers 10x more performance throughput than competitive alternatives: over 200 Gbps on a single Intel Xeon server. Its linear and independent scaling of the control, user and management data planes enables CSPs to rapidly and efficiently scale network resources at the network’s edge.

2. Deployment flexibility

Depending on the actual use case and the associated business imperatives, having the flexibility to either deploy a centralized or distributed solution is critical to achieving economies of scale—a capability that Cloud Edge delivers. For example, a CSP looking to deliver low-latency, multi-cloud services would benefit immensely by centralizing control plane functions (because of the proximity of network operations) but deploying user plane instances in a distributed fashion at either the CSP’s or the customer’s edge.

3. Differentiated experiences

Cloud Edge allows CSP to deliver differentiated services to their customers on a per-flow basis. This is achieved through a single integrated and highly optimized platform that consists of mobile core network functions and Gi-LAN functions such as vProbe, deep packet inspection (DPI), CG-NAT, optimization, proxy, and load balancing.

4. Integrated virtual probe and real-time analytics

As CSPs look to complete with different service offers in the market, the ability to provide real-time network and customer behavioral insight, identify operational efficiencies, predict future demand and deliver service innovation is a key value-add. Cloud Edge delivers these capabilities, as well as real-time analytics that can support audit trails including the auditing of security data.

5. Automation

In the inevitable disaggregation of mobile networks, the ability to dynamically automate the onboarding of enterprises, end-user services, applications, and scaling of network infrastructure is essential, particularly with MEC applications. Cloud Edge’s automation tools allow CSPs the capability to quickly adjust for traffic highs and lows automatically, thus reducing operational costs and reducing time to revenue.

 

The Future of Edge Computing

To have an “Edge” going forward, CSPs need to fundamentally question the conventional wisdom that dictates how networks and related services are procured, delivered, and operated. To win the enterprise opportunity, CSPs should partner with industry leaders that have a proven vision for the future. Whether you’re focused on the core, the edge or what lies beyond, follow the lead of top-tier CSPs around the world and trust Affirmed Networks to help you monetize the enterprise revenue opportunities of the future, faster.

 

The Age of the Subscription Economy

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

As enterprises move from physical products to digital services, they are redefining the business model relationship with the end customer, creating what we now know as the subscription model. Subscription models are one of the benefits of 5g for consumers – they can help deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services to consumers. Many of today’s most popular digital 5g services like video streaming, music streaming, transportation, newspapers, and magazines use a subscription model. The trend of 5g streaming will grow exponentially in the years ahead.

The rapid adoption of subscription-based services is not something new. Companies like Spotify introduced the idea of subscriber-based music streaming to consumers over a decade ago; today, Spotify boasts over 270+ million active users. In the enterprise domain, companies such as Oracle have also successfully made the transition from on-premise perpetual software to a cloud-based SaaS business model for infrastructure and software applications.

Meanwhile, in the communications industry, service providers are looking to enhance their digital offerings and business models to become the digital service providers (DSPs) of tomorrow. Streaming services are a big opportunity for consumers, and DSPs are embracing subscription-based models to procure, deliver, and monetize these digital services.

 

Subscription Models and the Mobile Network

This shift to subscription-based models is reflected in Affirmed Networks’ Mobile Network as a Service and Affirmed Cloud Edge offerings, which are designed to help DSPs rapidly deploy their mobile network infrastructure, accelerate service innovation and reduce costs in an open public cloud infrastructure.

Mobile Network as a Service Capabilities

With Mobile Network as a Service, DSPs can:

  • Rapidly and cost-effectively test new markets and services by leveraging public cloud infrastructure and economies of scale;
  • Instantly instantiate new services and functions such as deep packet inspection, media optimization, and network address translation on a single platform;
  • Focus on growing the digital services business opportunity while a partner delivers the underlying platform;
  • Eliminate upfront CapEx costs required for hardware and data center costs while controlling OpEx costs thereafter;
  • Provide “just in time” network scaling for the capacity that DSPs actually need, rather than “just in case” capacity planning that often requires expensive over-provisioning of network resources;
  • Implement local breakout services to reduce backhauling costs and improve customer experiences.

 

Procuring, delivering, and monetizing mobile network infrastructure has evolved from hardware-based solutions to perpetual software-based models and, now, to SaaS-based models. DSPs are slowly changing procurement procedures and other internal practices as they move to SaaS-based solutions delivered by innovative partners. DSPs understand the value creation that SaaS enables in their business by rapidly delivering a tailored solution for customers, generating recurring revenues, and reducing customer churn. For the end customer, this all boils down to convenience.

 

A Win-Win for Consumers & DSPs

A digital service that is personalized to the needs of the individual customer in terms of commitment, payments, and accessibility is paramount. The evolution of traditional models to SaaS-based models is necessary to meet changing customer behaviors and foster innovative ways to generate new revenue streams. The technology and the commercial models are now available to DSPs to help them rapidly prototype, innovate and deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services. At the same time, end consumers get more personalized service. It’s a win-win scenario that everyone can subscribe to.

The Democratization of IT and the Network: Are You Ready?

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

Many years ago, I worked at a network equipment provider, where I shared an office with the mobile core team. And every morning, as I walked through the reception area, I would pass a pair of towering, refrigerator-sized CGSN and SGSN nodes. Each node could deliver wireless access protocol (WAP) service to about 50,000 subscribers. At the same time, companies like VMware and Sun Microsystems were just starting to take the concept of IT virtualization mainstream.

How times have changed. And it’s because of the Democratization of IT.

Today, IT applications are being rewritten to adopt cloud-native principles and deployed in hybrid cloud environments that are maintained with a DevOps model. Yet while IT applications for functional domains such as Online Channels, Customer Relationship Management, Sales Force Automation, and Human Capital Management have already made the transition to a cloud-native design, network applications have only recently begun to embark on virtualization and the first wave of digitalization.

The Democratization of Networks

We hear a lot of debate in the industry around the impact of 5G, but I believe another and equally important topic is being ignored: the democratization of the network. Never before has the network been more accessible. The democratization of technology and the network is taking place, led by open-based technologies and evolving commercial models such as open, web-based interfaces, cloud-native architectures, and public cloud deployments.

Few people would argue the necessity of cloud-native network functions to deliver service and operational agility, but what lessons can the network community learn from the evolution of on-premise software to virtualized software and, finally, to truly cloud-native software? Will the traditional barriers between networks and IT collapse until all applications are deployed on horizontal platforms? I believe the answer is a definitive Yes.

Today, most service providers have separate IT and network teams that reflect the historical separation of the two technologies. This is rapidly changing, however. As service providers come to realize that the network and IT functions can be developed, deployed and managed from a common open-source infrastructure, the heated discussions between IT and Networking over topics such as converged charging and prepaid platforms have become a distant memory.

There are still points for discussion, of course; for example, the need for an infrastructure that supports both CPU-intensive and I/O-intensive workloads. But there are many similarities and synergies that can be derived by jointly designing a network and IT applications in areas such as security, reliability, and resiliency. And, really, shouldn’t we be working together to create a common set of requirements, platforms, and processes to develop, manage and maintain both IT and network applications?

The Solution for Service Providers

The solution, I believe, lies in the creation of a common platform and a common team to architect, deploy and operate the core applications of the future. Labeling an application as an “IT application” or a “network application” is less important than creating an underlying platform that has the built-in flexibility and adaptability to serve the future needs of both IT and networking. Service providers cannot count on traditional vendors to deliver this future. These vendors have a legacy hardware business to protect and are saddled with legacy software that cannot fulfill the basic requirements of cloud-native.

What service providers need is choice. For example, they should be able to choose whether they deploy network applications on bare metal, in a private cloud, in a public cloud or in a hybrid cloud running on a common platform. Affirmed is committed to delivering more choices to service providers through the industry’s only truly cloud-native mobile core solution built on a common, open-source platform. It’s much more than a platform for virtualization; it’s a platform for innovation.

Think about it: How will service providers operate networks and deliver network assurance as the cloudification of the network goes mainstream? Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient to have a single observability platform (e.g., Grafana) for both IT and network functions? From a service agility perspective, IT has been using microservices for years to rapidly deliver new software functionality and capabilities. Now, for the first time, IT and network functions can take advantage of the same technologies while using the same tools, processes, and people – thanks to democratization.

Service providers can now leverage a common platform for all their enterprise applications, whether they’re IT or network applications. This has the benefit of improving agility and operations while reducing costs. Of course, to do this, the platform has to be flexible enough to support the various workload configurations, evolve as the open-source tools evolve and support multiple use cases and deployment models.

It’s the promise of new 5G use cases, operational models and cost efficiencies that will drive service providers to review their current platform choices and look for a better solution. On the other side of that solution are a democracy of IT and network teams working together on a shared goal of a better future. Affirmed Networks is ready for that future right now. Are you?

If Data is the New Oil, Why Have Your Mobile Network Data Analytics Efforts Stalled?

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

It’s been said that data is the new oil. If that’s true, communications service providers (CSPs) have struck it rich. Their networks collect a vast amount of data on customers, all of which can be used to deliver better customer experiences and new, revenue-generating services.  Mobile network data analytics is the opportunity that CSPs have waited for, as they look to transform their business model from communications providers to digital service providers.

In order to deliver better digital engagement and personalized experiences, CSPs need more than real-time accurate data. They need robust mobile network analytics to gain valuable customer insights, identify operational efficiencies, predict future demand and create new services that customers want. There’s just one small problem with all that: Very few CSPs are actually analyzing their network data to do any of those things.

Shortcomings on Current Approaches to Network Analytics

From the beginning, mobile networks were designed as tightly coupled systems that featured hardware-based probes to collect data and deliver insights. With the move to NFV-based networks, the physical probe paradigm became obsolete. Physical probes didn’t scale well, and they weren’t designed to monitor virtual infrastructures, which are dynamic in nature.

To address these shortcomings, passive virtual probes were introduced. These were implemented as separate network functions but, as network traffic loads increased, virtual probes began to take a heavy toll on network performance. A virtual packet gateway, for example, might spend more than half its resources just performing data copy operations for the passive virtual probe.

As if cutting performance in half weren’t bad enough, CSPs now had to double the amount of hardware just to get the same performance from the packet gateway and other functions. Faced with the added complexity and cost of virtual probes, many CSPs opted to either abandon mobile network analytics initiatives altogether or limit them to very specific areas such as service assurance. And so the opportunity to drive new revenue streams fueled by network data analytics was lost.

A New Era of Integrated Virtual Probes and Analytics Arrives

Affirmed Networks did more than radically change how mobile networks were designed and delivered; we also pioneered the first integrated virtual probe and analytics solution. With Affirmed’s virtual probe solution, vProbe, CSPs can get real-time mobile network analytics and intelligence in a highly scalable manner without the performance degradation that results with physical or traditional virtual probes.

How did we create a network probe solution that could scale simply across global networks and still cut costs by more than half? By following these five guiding design principles:

1. Integrate the probing function with the network function.

Most virtual probes add packet latency, complexity, and cost – and drain computer resources – because they add an extra step in the network as data packets move from the network function to the probe function. But the best source of network data is the actual network function itself, so we integrated vProbe with it. Now, as the network functions scales, the probing function scales with it, cutting probing costs in half.

2. Simplify with single-touch packet handling.

You can think of a data packet as information sealed in an envelope, complete with a destination address. Most systems open the packet each time they need to perform a function such as content inspection or optimization. Affirmed vProbe opens the packet once to perform everything – heuristics, video optimization, content filtering, CG-NAT forwarding, etc. – then closes the packet and sends it on its way. Single touch is simply more efficient.

3. Create finely grained, intelligent event data records.

In order to better harness, mine and gain insights from the information collected by a probe, data records must be delivered in an open, consistent and granular fashion. This applies to both control plane and user plane information, on a per-flow and individual customer level. Finely grained mobile network data leads to more precision.

4. Enable real-time analytics.

As customers access content, watch videos, and make calls, they’re sharing invaluable, real-time information about their behavior and interests, as well as about your network – information that can be used to capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities, identify network performance bottlenecks, ferret out fraud and more. The reality is that opportunities and issues happen in real-time, and you either have the information you need to drive intelligent decision-making, or you don’t.

5. Embrace open standards.

Architectural openness is vital for modern software platforms. Affirmed vProbe provides open access to session information using Google’s standards-based protocol buffers to create data records. These can easily be integrated with a variety of third-party network analytics tools to deliver real-time insight into network operations, network security, network planning, and marketing activities.

 

Digital leaders leverage data to deliver engaging customer experiences, which is why they’re the world’s most valued companies. Legacy infrastructure and approaches, meanwhile, have stunted CSPs’ ability to capture, see and act on the wealth of information that flows through their networks. To take advantage of the next generation of business opportunities such as IoT, 5G services and AI-driven customer engagement, real-time mobile network analytics are an absolute must. With Affirmed vProbe, CSPs no longer have an excuse not to dive deeply into data analytics.

In a world where everyone is competing to deliver digital services, CSPs need to leverage their data for a competitive advantage. Now, more than ever, it’s oil or nothing.