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Instead of waiting for 5G Services, Monetize now on the TCO savings from an Integrated Mobile Core

by Anudha Sawarkar Anudha Sawarkar No Comments

The arrival of 5G can feel a bit like Waiting for Godot sometimes. Is it here already? Is it coming soon? Did it ever really exist at all?

Of course, 5G is real, as are the promises of new mobile experiences and the increased revenue opportunities they represent. But it may be years before mobile service providers see any of that revenue, according to industry analysts. One popular report conducted by Intel and Ovum pegs the tipping point for 5G revenue at 2025, more than five years away. So does this mean service providers that are already touting 5G capabilities aren’t making any money on 5G yet? Not necessarily.

It’s true that revenues from services such as virtual reality and self-driving cars are still down the road. Whether 5G network transformation drives 5G services, or vice versa, remains a chicken-egg conundrum that seems to be divided along geographical lines. In areas such as North America and Europe, many service providers have already begun their 5G transformations. In other regions, such as the Middle East and Africa, service providers have adopted more of a wait-and-see approach.

A new report from ACG Research and Affirmed suggests that service providers waiting for 5G services are missing a big opportunity to save money and generate new services revenue right now. Titled “The Integrated Cloud Core Advantage: A TCO Analysis,” the report finds that service providers can save millions of dollars—as much as 71.6 percent of their network’s total cost-of-ownership—by moving to an integrated 4G/5G mobile core solution. The report also reveals TCO reduction strategies that service providers can take to dramatically reduce the time it takes to create, deploy and decommission new consumer and enterprise services. Reducing from months to days with an integrated mobile core platform can open up new opportunities for innovation and revenue over the next five years.

In the report, ACG outlines what service providers can do today to monetize their 5G transformation:

  • Lower network costs through virtualization and common off-the-shelf hardware components;
  • Increase scalability and server performance, up to 125 Gbps today with the ability to support 400 Gbps in a few years;
  • Handle traffic more efficiently by reducing the number of packet “touches” to one;
  • Automate manual processes such as service provisioning.

Achieving those goals with a standalone mobile core platform—even one that uses “best of breed” components—is virtually impossible, and one of the main reasons why many service providers have not realized significant savings from their virtualization efforts to date. ACG suggests the problem doesn’t lie in virtualization itself, but in the inherent complexity of multivendor systems. ACG found that service providers could realize significant savings of up to 81% in capital expenses (CapEx) and over 94% in Operational expenses (OpEx) by moving to the Affirmed integrated mobile core model.

The important caveat here is that moving to the Affirmed mobile core platform is also a move to 5G, because the Affirmed components morph seamlessly from a 4G to 5G architecture by design. In other words, you don’t need to wait for 5G revenues to arrive to build your 5G network. You can build it today using Affirmed’s platform, pay for that transformation by reducing network costs and rapidly creating new services, and be in a perfect position to capitalize on “big” 5G opportunities such as IoT applications and virtual reality when they arrive, because these capabilities to support services like network slicing, mobile edge computing are already part of the Affirmed platform today.

So, what are you waiting for? To learn how Affirmed can power your revenue growth to 2025 (and beyond), download the free TCO report.

What is Multi Access Edge Computing? It’s The Future, Happening Now

by Randy Cook Randy Cook No Comments

Any conversation about the most exciting 5G services eventually moves to the edge. Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is the way that high-bandwidth, low-latency applications will be delivered in the future. With innovative and cutting-edge applications like virtual reality gaming and self-driving cars among other use cases, Multi-access edge computing enables operators host content close to the edge of the network. While there’s some debate as to which is the chicken and which is the egg—will 5G services drive the need for MEC or does MEC open up the floodgates for 5G services?—most service providers can agree that the edge is where the real network action will happen.

MEC & CUPS: What’s the Difference?

But isn’t low-latency, high-bandwidth service what CUPS (control and user plane separation) is all about? Well, yes, in that MEC and CUPS are different perspectives of the same problem. MEC is an ETSI term that pre-dates CUPS standardization, which is itself a 3GPP term that takes a slightly broader view of how to effectively implement and scale edge services. You can think of MEC as answering the What? question and CUPS as answering more the How? question. [For more on CUPS, read our blog, “Looking for 5G Enterprise Services Ideas? CUPS Is The Way.”]

Do You Need 5G Architecture for MEC?

One of the biggest misunderstandings of multi-access edge computing is its tight association with 5G. You see, while 5G services will eventually require multi-access edge computing capabilities, you don’t need 5G architecture for MEC. In fact, you can deploy mobile edge computing in a 4G network and use that as the launching point for 5G if you decide to migrate later, by transitioning the edge nodes into user plane function (UPF) nodes. Pretty cool, huh?

The ability to deploy mobile edge capabilities in a 4G network is a big deal for many mobile service providers because it allows them to offer revenue-generating edge services like virtual reality (VR) gaming and low-latency enterprise applications without investing in a complete 5G makeover. At least, that’s the way Affirmed architected its MEC solution. As for the other vendors, well, they’ll cross the edge when they come to it, I guess.

Key Requirement for Edge? Virtualization.

So, if you don’t need a 5G network to deploy edge computing services, what do you need? Instead of a 5G architecture, start with a virtualized architecture, one that allows you to deliver telco-grade mobile core performance at the edge in a lightweight design. Add common-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers that allow you to cost-efficiently scale capacity as edge services grow. Finally, deploy those edge elements in a way that lets you easily transition to a MEC 5G architecture when you’re ready to take the next step.

Doing all that might seem like a tall order for most MSPs and, frankly, it is. There’s a reason that most network equipment vendors still haven’t figured this out. But Affirmed makes it easy with end-to-end services that help you design, implement and manage Multi-Access Edge Computing solutions that integrate seamlessly with your existing mobile core network.

It’s no secret that the edge is where the next mobile revolution is taking place—not to mention the most lucrative revenue opportunities. You don’t need to wait for 5G to start competing for 5G-styled services that require large amounts of bandwidth, low latency, and localized security. You can get it today, right now, from Affirmed Networks. Think of us as your competitive edge in the battle for new services revenue.

Affirmed, Intel and Dell EMC Have an Answer for 5G’s Need for Speed

by Scott Heinlein Scott Heinlein No Comments

Bring up the topic of 5G services and you’ll hear a lot of ideas, from virtual reality gaming to automated manufacturing floors. Ask how mobile service providers (MSPs) plan to deliver those services, however, and the room usually gets quiet. That is, until now. With the announcement of the first cloud-native 5G core network (5GCN) to support 100 GbE interfaces, Affirmed, Intel and Dell EMC have given MSPs plenty to talk about.

In a new whitepaper, Intel, Dell EMC and Affirmed outline the industry’s first 5GCN solution built to achieve 200 Gbps on a single server—a milestone that makes ubiquitous mobile broadband and edge computing more feasible than ever before. Using a combination of hardware acceleration, software optimization and intelligent engineering, the Affirmed/Intel/Dell EMC partnership has removed the most daunting barriers of entry for next-generation 5G services by solving many of the bandwidth, latency and load-balancing issues that 5G applications present to network operators.

At the “core” of the new 5GCN solution are Intel’s Field Gate Programmable Array (FGPA) hardware accelerators, Dell EMC’s latest PowerEdge servers and Affirmed’s next-generation 5GC platform. Together, these technologies allow MSPs to expand and accelerate the performance of their Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) architecture. The benefits of using this new approach to 5GCN include:

  • Faster 5G performance than ever before possible;
  • Native support for network slicing of different traffic types, including IoT and other enterprise use cases;
  • Lower power consumption per bit;
  • Easier deployment of essential 5G capabilities such as deep packet inspection, CG-NAT firewalls, TCP optimization and QUIC video optimization;
  • Support for OpenStack, Kubernetes and other “open” technologies.

5G presents a number of unique challenges to network operators, from control and user plane separation (CUPS) to load balancing. Many network vendors have these issues on their roadmap, but haven’t arrived at a practical solution yet. Affirmed, Dell EMC and Intel are at the forefront of finding workable 5G solutions that improve performance, reduce total cost of ownership and support emerging open standards for cloud and NFV. The ability to get more 5G performance from a single server is critical to the success of 5G, both from an architectural and a financial perspective.

As 5G moves from concept to reality, it’s increasingly clear that no one vendor will have the complete answer to 5G transformation and enablement. Instead, as our partnership with Intel and Dell EMC illustrates, the future of 5G rests with best-of-breed collaborators doing what they’re best at, whether it’s building the fastest servers, the smartest processors or the most flexible 5G architecture.

To get the full story on 5GCN, download the Intel white paper, “Enabling Communications Service Providers to Meet 5G High Density I/O Goals through Software Optimization and Hardware Acceleration.

Using Containers Cloud Architecture without Virtualization: Isn’t it Ironic?

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

The typical network transformation journey would look something like this: Linux, VMs, Containers. But this blog is about the road less taken, and how service providers can pass virtualization by using containers and go directly to the cloud.

That’s kind of a revolutionary concept. After all, many in IT have been trained to view virtualization as a necessary evolutionary step. Everything is more efficient in a virtualized environment, we were told. And then containers came along. The new reality is that you don’t need virtual machines to run containers. In fact, there are many cases where virtualization actually hurts the performance of a containerized application. In this article, we discuss the advantages of using containers vs. virtual machines.

Comparing Virtualization vs. Container Management Platforms

How can virtualization be a bad thing? Well, virtualization is great if you need to move and share applications between different physical servers, but it comes at a cost: about 10% of a server’s CPU is dedicated to running the virtual OS. Containers, by contrast, invoke the services they need from their cloud service provider: the storage, load balancing, and auto-scaling services in particular. And that frees up space on the server, which results in much faster performance—in some cases, as much as 25% faster. (source: www.stratoscale.com/blog/data-center/running-containers-on-bare-metal/).

The Benefits of Container Management Platforms 

When I talk about the advantages of containers as a service, I’m really talking about Kubernetes, the container management platform. Kubernetes not only supports a variety of cloud environments—OpenStack, AWS, Google, Azure, etc.—but understands which environment it’s in and automatically spins up the appropriate service, such as ELB (Elastic Load Balancer) for the AWS environment or Octavia if it’s an OpenStack environment. Kubernetes doesn’t distinguish between multi-tenant servers running virtual machines and bare-metal servers. It sees each VM or server, respectively, as a node in a cluster. So whether or not you virtualize your servers has no impact on your ability to run containers, although it does impact management and performance. Basically, if you’re running a virtualized environment, you have two tiers of orchestration instead of one: the VIM (Virtualization Infrastructure Manager) and Kubernetes.

But wait a minute, you may be thinking, I thought you needed a virtualized environment to run OpenStack? There’s the irony or, more to the point, Ironic. OpenStack Ironic is designed specifically for OpenStack to manage bare-metal servers. With it, you can segregate separate servers into a Kubernetes cluster just as you would group VMs into a cluster. What if you want to run containers on bare-metal servers without OpenStack? This can be done, too and is known as “Kubernetes bare metal”.  Load Balancing, in this case, can be provided by the Metal LB project.

If running a cloud environment on bare-metal servers feels like taking a step back to take a step forward, take heart: Chances are, you’ll want both virtualized and non-virtualized servers in your cloud environment. The future isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition for service providers. There will be cloud services for residential customers that may have ultra-high utilization rates, in which case the performance benefits of a bare-metal server make more sense. For finely sliced enterprise services, however, a flexible multi-tenant model is more desirable. The common thread for both approaches is agility.  

Of course, there’s a lot more to this discussion than we could “contain” to a single blog, so feel free to reach out to us if you want to take a deeper dive into cloud architectures.

 

Looking for 5G Enterprise Services Ideas? CUPS Is The Way.

by Randy Cook Randy Cook No Comments

The fifth generation of wireless communications, 5G, has a lot of people excited: consumers, because of all the neat apps it will support, from virtual reality to self-driving cars; enterprises, for the new efficiencies it will bring through smart devices and remote-controlled factories; and mobile telco operators, for the broad number of new revenue opportunities that 5G services represent. Few people, however, are likely to get excited about the idea of control and user plane separation—or CUPS as it has come to be called—yet in terms of 5G, CUPS holds the key to many of the most exciting services. That is the opportunity for 5G enterprise services ideas.

What is CUPS (Control and User Plane Separation)?

The value of 5G CUPS is closeness, because it allows mobile service providers to bring the service closer to the user. In a traditional 3G/4G network, services are run out of the mobile core, which may be hundreds of miles away from the user. Surprisingly, this distance may only add tens to hundreds of milliseconds to the service transmission, but even a half-second delay can make a world of difference when you’re talking about an application like a self-driving car. In fact, the majority of the most exciting 5G applications require CUPS—virtual reality gaming, smart cities, emergency response services—because they can’t tolerate latency.

Current Applications of CUPS

What does 5G CUPS bring to the table in terms of better experiences? Let’s look at a few 5g applications with and without CUPS.

Smart Parking

Keeping with the car theme, there has been a lot of talk about smart cities, particularly around services such as smart parking, where cars are automatically directed to the closest available parking space. As more people move to urban centers, smart parking is a time- and space-saver, but time is the operative word here. If the information you’re getting is delayed by a second, your spot may already be gone by the time you get there. A CUPS smart city network is currently the most efficient way to smartly eliminate that delay.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

AR/VR is a game-changer for gaming companies, live events, hospitality/tourism and just about anything where “being there” is the name of the game. Beyond the big helmets of today’s VR applications, however, is an even more inconvenient reality: the cable that connects the headset to the application server. CUPS would replace the need for a physical connection with a 5G connection, which would free AR and VR applications to go anywhere.

Video Advertising

Imagine you’re walking through an airport or standing on a moving walkway (it’s okay, everyone deserves a free ride sometimes) and you’re met by a series of advertisements directed especially to you. Granted, maybe you’re not that excited about personalized mobile advertisements, but advertisers certainly are. The challenge of mobile video advertisements is figuring out who someone is (and what they like) and where they are at that exact moment in time. If those calculations need to be routed miles away to a mobile core, well, you’ve missed your opportunity. CUPS can reduce those calculations to a few milliseconds, allowing advertisers to be in the right place and time for the right person, every time.

Mobile Video Marathons

Any discussion of 5G eventually gets around to how much more video people are watching on their mobile devices, and how much more network bandwidth is required to meet that demand. For mobile service providers, this is a bleak future; think of the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, but with network engineers running around in terror instead of serfs. CUPS can change all that by allowing content providers like HBO, Netflix and others to store content closer to the user—say, in fifty metropolitan locations instead of one or two national locations—which dramatically reduces the impact on the network and gives viewers a better, faster experience. Unfortunately, CUPS will not prevent your friends from posting spoilers about your favorite shows before you’ve had a chance to watch them.

Connected Cars

Few applications are driving interest in 5G like the promise of not having to drive at all. Car companies have already released vehicles with autonomous capabilities—from self-driving to self-parking—but they carry a cost because of the extra equipment involved, notably the onboard compute, storage and memory  that these cars require to eliminate information delays. Using CUPS, car companies can benefit from a service provider’s low latency network and shared compute resources to ditch the on board resources  and get real-time information via a 5G connection, which increases what cars can do on their own and reduces how much they cost.

Emergency Responders

In the movies, the audience always sees the bad guy hiding around the corner, even when the hero can’t. In real life, unfortunately, officers and firefighters have limited insight into live situations. With CUPS, emergency responders could share helmet and body camera footage as live feeds with their colleagues, in essence giving them a second and third pair of eyes.

 

As you can see, CUPS is more than a cool acronym; it’s the foundation behind some of the coolest 5G services. The bad news is that, for now, CUPS is out of reach for most network equipment vendors, who are still trying to figure out how to separate the control and the user planes in the first place. Affirmed’s networks solutions have had that separation from day one because we knew a day would come when mobile service providers needed that kind of real-time response. In fact, we’re still one of only a few companies that can offer a CUPS solution today, and we’ve been doing it for longer than anyone else. So if you’re serious about delivering the next generation of mobile services, there’s really only one place to start: Affirmed.