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A More Power-full Approach to Network Planning

by Tim Irwin Tim Irwin No Comments

Like most people, I was horrified by the Texas power grid’s recent failure and the devastating impact on many citizens’ lives. I think many people wondered how something like this could happen. As someone in the telecommunications industry,  it occurred to me that the power and telecommunications sector face similar planning issues.

You might not think that power grids and telecommunications networks have much in common on the surface, but they have more in common than you might initially think. Both power and communications are fundamentally infrastructures that we are increasingly reliant upon as a society. Both experience fairly predictable demand behaviors, whether it’s everyone turning on their air conditioning during a sweltering summer day or everyone calling home on Mother’s Day. These events are predictable because history tells us that the past usage trends are reasonable predictors for future consumption behaviors. 

Both types of infrastructure are also subject to anomalous outages from technological or natural forces. We tend to know that these atypical events will eventually happen because probabilities also tell us these events are likely to occur. Still, the exact size, scope, and scale are often difficult to predict with precision. Infrastructure planners for both services spend much time worrying about these kinds of reliability, redundancy, and overall capacity issues. 

Another area of similarity is the cost of redundancy. Spare capacity cannot be instantaneously created out of thin air, and this extra capacity incurs a cost in any infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to question additional charges on “sunny days” when needed. It is not until we encounter the “rainy day” scenario that we value the rationale behind it.

Planning for Failure

Returning to the realm of telecommunications and network planning, let’s look at how an operator typically plans for their future capacity needs. Most operators rely on premises-based servers (both virtualized and non-virtualized) to handle their infrastructure workloads. Let’s look at an elementary network capacity planning model.

As a rule of thumb, a single server should never run at higher than 80 percent of its full capacity. To understand why this is, think about your desktop or laptop. As your computer’s memory and processing capacity get closer to 100 percent, performance drop exponentially.

So, you might think that an operator only needs to purchase an extra 20 percent of capacity more than they need. Not so fast. In a typical active/standby failover, the redundancy model requires that, for every primary server, there is some reserve capacity that can take on the workload in the event of failure. In the illustration below, I show the example of a single pair of redundant servers, Server A and Server B. Each server runs at 40 percent full-time during regular operation because, if Server A should fail, Server B can assume Server A’s workload and still stay under the 80 percent threshold.

The need for redundancy complicates network capacity planning. For example, if an operator plans ten percent month-over-month growth, they need to double their capacity year-over-year. Unfortunately, most operators can’t merely add extra capacity a month in advance because of the time required to purchase and install new hardware. There are multiple steps involved—budget approval, vendor quoting, supply chain processes, shipping times, installation and cabling, etc.—that can take anywhere from six to twelve months to complete. In other words, operators realistically need to begin this process as much as a year in advance. 

Generally speaking, most planners project their capacity from the end of the current fiscal year to the end of the next fiscal year and order the necessary amount of capacity at the beginning of the fiscal year. Pre-planning in this way avoids being caught “short-served” at the end of the year, but at a cost: for most of the year, operators end up sitting on idle capacity, particularly in the first six to nine months of the year.

Advantages of Capacity Planning and the Cloud

But what if operators could expand their network capacity using the cloud? Spinning up workloads in the cloud takes a fraction of the time, meaning that telcos could add capacity as they needed it, not a year before they needed it. This approach to network capacity management saves the operator from paying for unused server capacity, along with the associated power, real estate, and remaining operational costs required to maintain those unused servers.

There are several other advantages to moving operator infrastructure into the cloud. For example, consider that operator networks face not only seasonal spikes in usage but also daily spikes. The chart below illustrates a typical day in the life of a network. Notice there can be a significant difference in the resource requirements throughout the day.

Only Pay for Resources You Use

Even with virtualized servers, operators still need to plan for enough physical infrastructure capacity to cover the peak busy hour. In genuinely cloud-native software architecture on the cloud, resources can be dynamically allocated during the busiest times throughout the day and deallocated when they are no longer needed. With cloud-based infrastructure, operators need only pay for the resources they use, which means operators are not charged for unused capacity. And because many workloads among many customers are statistically multiplexed on the cloud, operators can dynamically spin up additional resources as required.

Visibility of Network Cost

Cloud-based infrastructure also provides better visibility into actual network costs. Operator costs are analogous to an iceberg because only the physical costs (i.e., the hardware) are often visible. The real costs of running that infrastructure—operations, power, real estate, etc.—remain partially obscured. However, in the cloud, the combined CapEx and OpEx costs are visible as a total monthly cost.

New Opportunities for Service Expansion

Finally, the cloud opens up new opportunities for service expansion by eliminating most of the network’s upfront costs. Today, new service rollouts require much planning and a compelling business case because of the substantial sunk costs involved. By using cloud infrastructure, operators can dramatically reduce those costs and “dip their toes” into new services and new markets without having to make large investments while retaining the ability to scale up network capacity quickly if those services take off.

Cloud, and Especially Cloud-Native, is the Future

What kind of cost savings can be achieved? Early models show that operators can 30% or more by moving from an on-prem infrastructure model to the cloud. And that total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) gets even more attractive when using a cloud-native versus traditional virtualized cloud infrastructure. Our research shows that a cloud-native infrastructure can reduce TCO by another 25 percent.

As attractive as the cloud is, most operators aren’t ready yet to move their entire network infrastructure into the cloud, which is understandable. A hybrid model that mixes on-prem infrastructure with cloud-based infrastructure allows operators to expand network capacity in the cloud on-demand, a technique known as cloudbursting. By doing this, operators can make sure they always have enough capacity to handle whatever nature or the future throws at them.

You don’t need to wait for 5G. Monetize your network now with Private LTE.

by Tim Irwin Tim Irwin No Comments

You’ve heard it all before. Telcos are trapped between rising traffic, shrinking margins, and flat revenue but—wait!—5G will come to the rescue with new revenue-generating services. And while 5G does have a world of potential, telcos can’t afford to wait for a future that may take years to arrive – but you don’t need to wait any longer, thanks to private LTE networks. 

 

We believe that 5G will be a game-changer. But it could initially play out like a waiting game, as mobile operators analyze various business cases. Autonomous vehicles, for example, are a great idea, but who makes the first move? Is it companies that put 5G chips in their cars in anticipation of a ubiquitous 5G network, or operators that need to unroll a reliable 5G fabric before car manufacturers commit to wireless control?

 

While the world waits for 5G to arrive—in networks, smartphones, IoT devices, etc.—LTE is already in place. So, here’s food for thought: What if operators and enterprises could monetize Private LTE networks right now in the same way they plan to monetize 5G networks? That is, by partnering to create value-added services for its customers through a private LTE network.

 

Private LTE Networks Presents an Opportunity for MNOs

Think about it: Private LTE networks present a great opportunity. Right now, network demands are on an upward curve and they’re only going to get higher. Mobile network operators find themselves in the middle, a pipeline between ravenous content consumers and profitable over-the-top content providers. As the air interface technology increases bandwidth at one end of the pipe (i.e., higher consumption or more product to consume), operators have to increase the size of their pipe between the radio and the content, which means more coverage, more capacity, more complexity, etc. But, importantly, not more money for the telco operators.

 

What if telco operators could create a better network experience by pushing network communications out to the edge of the network? Then operators would only need to expand capacity at the edge to deliver high-speed, low-latency services, rather than upgrading their entire network from end to end. Then, when 5G finally does arrive, the private LTE services can be seamlessly integrated into the 5G architecture to continue monetizing those services.

 

Private LTE Networks vs. Wi-Fi Networks

Private LTE networks are similar to Wi-Fi networks in some ways but with a few very important distinctions. Here are the differences between Private LTE vs. Wi-Fi:

  1. Unlicensed Spectrum: Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, which opens the door to all sorts of RF pollution and compromised quality.
  2. Security: A mobile LTE network delivers a higher level of security than a Wi-Fi network.
  3. Time & Effort: Running a large-scale W-Fi network is hard work; most enterprises don’t want to get into the business of RF planning.

 

Enterprises understand the value of having a better mobile experience closer to their end users, whether that user is in a store or in their home. That experience should include enforceable SLAs—something that you can’t get with unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum but you can get with licensed LTE spectrum—as well as security and managed services.

 

Unlike consumer smartphone services, enterprise services are easier for operators to monetize, particularly when they’re aligned with a clear business case. For example, a private LTE network that delivers a better video experience would be valuable to a content provider’s audience and, thus, potentially profitable. An operator could deploy that extra edge capacity for HD video consumers as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the content provider. Best of all, when 5G finally does arrive, you’re already engaged with enterprises in delivering next-gen services—a relationship you can build on with the advances that 5G will bring.

 

There’s actually a lot that enterprises can do with a private LTE network right now—and that’s the topic of my next blog. Learn more about Affirmed Networks solutions.

 

5 Revenue-Driving Applications of Private LTE Services

by Tim Irwin Tim Irwin No Comments

In my last blog about monetizing Private LTE Networks, I made the case for private LTE services as a way for mobile network operators (MNOs) to monetize their networks. In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the use cases and applications for private LTE services—that is, the nitty-gritty of how MNOs can actually make that money.

Today, the mobile network is more or less a pipeline between content consumers and content providers. As mobile communications increase—and they stand to increase significantly for the foreseeable future—that pipeline needs to expand. If MNOs intend to backhaul that traffic through their network, they need to expand the entire pipeline, from core to edge. From a network transformation perspective, that’s like starting your journey by climbing Mt. Everest.

Private LTE services offer a shortcut to expanding network capacity at the edge, which also gives MNOs more control over the user experience. They can deploy private LTE at the edge of their cell sites or at the edge an enterprise’s network. By moving network services to the edge, MNOs can then decide whether traffic should remain local (e.g., a retailer delivering an in-store wireless experience to shoppers) or be backhauled through the network. This ability to break out services at the edge allows MNOs to infuse more security in the private LTE service or connect it directly to the cloud for more flexibility.

Applications of Private LTE Services

Although the uses cases for private LTE will largely be driven by enterprises themselves, here are five applications that represent an opportunity for MNOs right now:

Secure in-building wireless access

Most enterprises use Wi-Fi for in-building wireless communications. But Wi-Fi has limitations in coverage, bandwidth, and security that LTE does not. Enterprises could use a private LTE network in their building to provide secure, wireless access to business applications. They can even add an extra layer of security to their communications by using a captive portal within the private LTE network to serve as an authentication proxy, thus blocking unauthorized users from accessing those applications.

In-store experiences

Retail customers are looking for enhanced experiences in brick-and-mortar stores, from digital shopping assistants to augmented reality. A private LTE can help deliver these experiences on mobile devices with security, quality, and low latency.

Healthcare applications

The healthcare industry is heavily regulated in terms of how it can collect and share data. While many of these regulations are around personally identifiable information, even devices like heart monitors are subject to strict requirements. Wireless heart monitors must demonstrate a chain of trust in communications that ensure data cannot be manipulated in transit. A private LTE service combined with technology such as Affirmed’s vProbe can provide a detailed record of every IP flow and satisfy the need for compliance reporting and auditing.

Theft mitigation for IoT devices

While the chances of someone running off with our home thermostat are probably slim, manufacturing companies are reasonably concerned about equipment theft, particularly when that equipment contains sensitive information. In the event that a wireless-enabled device is removed illegally from a factory floor, a private LTE service could allow the device owner to effectively shut off its operation once it leaves the private LTE network’s range, even limiting the device’s functionality to just sending out a location signal.

Stadiums

Sporting events are often cited as an ideal use case for 5G technology, but private LTE services can deliver the same cost-efficient connectivity for dynamic events that require short periods of large capacity. Much like in-store experiences, in-stadium experiences can include augmented reality, secure mobile payments, and strong wireless connectivity within the stadium structure.

Let Private LTE Services Open the Door to Profitability

As you can see,  private LTE applications and services provide an entry point into next-generation services that can drive revenue today. Enterprises will pay more for these experiences because their customers will pay more for them. You don’t need to wait for 5G; the revenue opportunities are knocking right now. Let private LTE open the door to a more profitable future today.