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Have You Addressed the Skills Gap in Your AI-Powered Digital Transformation?

28 Sep
Have You Addressed the Skills Gap in Your AI-Powered Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation has been a buzzword for years, with AI and advanced analytics playing a key role in enabling Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to improve their customer experience, get new services and products to the market much faster, and reduce costs through automation. Skills Transformation, on the other hand, is another crucial aspect in this transformation yet is rarely discussed in-depth. One of the biggest challenges isn’t the implementation of technology but the skills gap – upskilling and training employees, especially given the shortage of AI specialists.

What specific skills are needed, in which areas of your company, and what steps can be taken now to address the gap? I’ll discuss this further in this article.

CSPs at present mode

The Network organization within a CSP is often the center of discussion. It’s where technology evolved from 1G to the current LTE/4G, and in the future to 5G. And this group tends to be one of the biggest, from a headcount and budget perspective. The illustration below shows daily collaborations internally within a particular network domain, cross-functionally/between domains, and externally with other organizations.

Figure 1: Network organization and its interactions internally and externally. Image credit: Guavus.

Some examples we’ve seen in terms of real practices and collaborations within CSP organizations include the following:

The RAN Capacity Plan, led by Planning, is jointly reviewed with the Optimization Team. This is important to not over-estimate expansion which could result in unnecessary CAPEX spending. Understanding temporary and/or seasonal traffic patterns from subscribers in particular areas is very important. Some of the capacity overload problems are still manageable by performing some physical changes on the sites, enabling RAN’s load balance features, and/or parameters tuning. Those actions are less expensive than buying more hardware/software and licenses for capacity expansion.

One root cause of the VoLTE muting call issue is non-optimal end-to-end timers setting across different network elements. A collaborative discussion between cross-domain experts (RAN, EPC, and IMS) to improve these timers is very important, taking into account several different scenarios with a steps approach and the least impact on subscribers.

The Customer Service Center often receives thousands of customer complaints daily. The customer service officer needs to quickly identify the problems (network or handset related) to take further actions with customers. The typical workflow starts with a generic query to find out if there was a service disruption within a location described by the customer during the period of time reported. If nothing is found here, the customer service officer then follows up on this issue by raising a ticket to the Network Operation Center (NOC) Team to perform further investigation which is typically around alarms and minor troubleshooting efforts. If it’s still not solved, the ticket is transferred to the next level, either the Tier-2/3 Advanced Technical Support Team or the Triage Team from Performance if it’s more on KPIs-related investigation.

These processes can easily take hours and days to sometimes weeks to resolve. For more complicated issues, another level of collaboration between the local and national team, and/or even cross-domain experts, is sometimes required. And this requires much longer time to resolve.

These practices can easily consume up to 90 percent of employees’ time, with huge numbers of people involved; long cycle times; costly hardware and software upgrades, licenses, third-party fees; etc. They’re not able to spend enough time to learn new technologies or innovate ways to improve cycle times since these workflows require intensive data readout analysis and trials (i.e., what-if scenarios).

Many of the CSPs we work with are introducing AI-based analytics and automation to make a drastic shift from this present mode of operation. However, they’re not just looking to us to “fish for them but to help teach them to fish.” Their teams are looking for AI-based analytics applications for customer care, network operations, marketing, and security they can put into place very quickly – but they also want to learn how to build their own custom AI-based applications to quickly address the unique needs of each of their business groups in the future.

What’s needed to make this shift? Below are some of the key steps they’re taking to make an AI-based skills and digital transformation in order to better operate and deliver an improved customer experience.

5 key steps to making an AI-powered skills and digital transformation

1. Data Lake Infrastructure with Self-Service Capabilities for Business Owners

Some major CSPs already have this type of data lake up and running, while others are still building it. This data lake has to be properly designed and provides self-service capability that enables business owners (as well as Network groups) to explore and mine the data for insights, any time they require, to make better business decisions. Simple SQL knowledge is optionally required, this can easily be obtained through their internal knowledge base or by searching the Internet. With this capability in place, there are no longer ad hoc and heavy-query requests from business owners to the IT/Data Team to build custom reports, which sometimes can take days.

2. End-2-end (E2E) Domains Knowledge as a Future-Looking Analytics Enabler

CSPs need to view and solve issues based on a cross-services or applications approach rather than a siloed or per domain approach. As an example, solving VoLTE quality problems, Mean Opinion Score (MOS), as seen on Fig. 2 below, is one of the most important metrics. It requires all domain experts to sit together and acknowledge MOS lies in the intersection of all domains. In mature CSPs, an E2E Team is often created that consists of senior-level experts with more than 15 years of cross-domain knowledge and experience. The E2E Team drives the overall Network organization into a better operating, cross-functional/domain collaboration compared to the siloed domain-based approach, hence the cycle time is greatly improved.

Figure 2: Network domains and the intersections. Image credit: Guavus.

3. Data Science Knowledge for Domain Experts

With the high demand for data science expertise and limited supply of data science experts in the market, acquiring the best resources is very challenging. Compensation for this job role is very high as well. It also introduces another level complexity within the CSP’s organization – that is, a new data scientist and AI organization. This does not mean that building a new Data Science Team is not important, but what really matters is justifying the right size of the organization and executing the right use cases based on real pain points found in the field. Thus, enabling Domain Experts to acquire new data science knowledge should be considered a strategic imperative. This can be done by having:

Domain experts develop the skills by participating in learning courses and/or obtaining a formal data science degree. Domain Experts can then practice what they’ve learned from the courses by building the models through various machine learning tools, writing code, performing what-if analysis, etc. However, this can require a big time investment before the CSP sees the value in a production environment.

Pick up an analytics solution that provides domain experts with an ecosystem that enables them to simply turn a new idea (or a new use case) into a production environment. The solution provides the domain experts with various prebuilt analytic algorithms and machine learning models to play with, import-your-own models capability, and simply drop-and-drag UI to build workflows without requiring them to write lines of code. This solution also requires architectural flexibility to interwork with any existing data lake infrastructure owned by CSP. This option is often a lot quicker compared to the previous one.​

4. Application-centric Analytics powered by ML/AI as a Revolutionary Way to Plan and Optimize Network Resources

Once the E2E Team has acquired additional data science knowledge, the next step is to build application-centric analytics powered by AI.

As an example is VoLTE Customer Experience Management (CEM) analytics with automated Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and a Recommendation Engine to close the loop. With this solution, an issue can be identified faster with proposed recommended actions to be taken. This implementation requires real-time analytics capability and truly brings efficiency within the CSP’s overall operation workflows – where the issue can be resolved within a few minutes versus days or weeks in the current mode of operation. This type of analytics will evolve towards 5G and IIoT with more stringent requirements.

Another example is 5G Capacity Management. Network Slicing and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing will drastically change the way Domain Experts plan for the 5G resources. Domain Experts can now analyze different capacity scenarios with what-if analysis based on different capacity requirements (e.g., application requirements, layer management and carrier bandwidth, special events, mobility patterns and threshold settings, time of day/week/month, coverage shape, the site’s physical configuration, etc.). This new method of operation will significantly decrease the amount of time consumed by a Domain Expert on analyzing historical data which previously took weeks or months into a matter of hours or days (or even seconds, if real-time action is required (such as in special events capacity management).

5.Innovation at Heart

Last but not least, being an innovative and data-driven company will determine ongoing success for CSPs. The ability to translate market needs, automate repetitive tasks, continuously improve internal processes, and minimize cycle time will sustain their competitiveness and secure their growth in future. As an example, having Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA) process in place with the right use cases derived from real business problems can help them make the right investments. Most strong companies encourage their employees to innovate every day and reward their efforts. An innovative mindset should be owned by everyone, not just a few individuals in the company.

More than just technical skills

Digital Transformation is a must for every CSP whether they like it or not. They can’t provide the improved customer experience and new services to compete and gain new business with the many challenges ahead unless they can make this transformation. Vendors, on the other hand, can take their part by proactively researching CSPs’ main pain points and building solutions with AI capabilities that provide real value on Day 1 in production. With cost pressure on the shoulders of CSP executives, rather than doing everything themselves, creating partnerships with vendors who understand the complexity of the CSP business, organization, services and customer experience and know-how to not just apply AI and analytics technology but train CSP employees on how to use them is key to success. Addressing the skills as well as the digital gap enables CSP executives to truly be transformers of their business.

28 09 19

5G Network Slicing – Separating the Internet of Things from the Internet of Talk

1 Mar

Recognized now as a cognitive bias known as the frequency illusion, this phenomenon is thought to be evidence of the brain’s powerful pattern-matching engine in action, subconsciously promoting information you’ve previous deemed interesting or important. While there is far from anything powerful between my ears, I think my brain was actually on to something. As the need to support an increasingly diverse array of equally critical but diverse services and endpoints emerges from the 4G ashes, network slicing is looking to be a critical function of 5G design and evolution.

Euphoria subsiding, I started digging a little further into this topic and it was immediately apparent that the source of my little bout of déjà vu could stem from the fact that network slicing is in fact not one thing but a combination of mostly well-known technologies and techniques… all bundled up into a cool, marketing-friendly name with a delicately piped mound of frosting and a cherry on top. VLAN, SDN, NFV, SFC — that’s all the high-level corporate fluff pieces focused on. We’ve been there and done that.2


An example of a diagram seen in high-level network slicing fluff pieces

I was about to pack up my keyboard and go home when I remembered that my interest had originally been piqued by the prospect of researching RAN virtualization techniques, which must still be a critical part of an end-to-end (E2E) 5G network slicing proposition, right? More importantly, I would also have to find a new topic to write about. I dug deeper.

A piece of cake

Although no one is more surprised than me that it took this long for me to associate this topic with cake, it makes a point that the concept of network slicing is a simple one. Moreover, when I thought about the next step in network evolution that slicing represents, I was immediately drawn to the Battenberg. While those outside of England will be lost with this reference,3 those who have recently binge-watched The Crown on Netflix will remember the references to the Mountbattens, which this dessert honors.4 I call it the Battenberg Network Architecture Evolution principle, confident in the knowledge that I will be the only one who ever does.


The Battenberg Network Architecture Evolution Principle™

Network slicing represents a significant evolution in communications architectures, where totally diverse service offerings and service providers with completely disparate traffic engineering and capacity demands can share common end-to-end (E2E) infrastructure resources. This doesn’t mean simply isolating traffic flows in VLANs with unique QoS attributes; it means partitioning physical and not-so-physical RF and network functions while leveraging microservices to provision an exclusive E2E implementation for each unique application.

Like what?

Well, consider the Internet of Talk vs. the Internet of Things, as the subtitle of the post intimates. Evolving packet-based mobile voice infrastructures (i.e. VoLTE) and IoT endpoints with machine-to-person (M2P) or person-to-person (P2P) communications both demand almost identical radio access networks (RAN), evolved packet cores (EPC) and IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) infrastructures, but have traffic engineering and usage dynamics that would differ widely. VoLTE requires the type of capacity planning telephone engineers likely perform in their sleep, while an IoT communications application supporting automatic crash response services5 would demand only minimal call capacity with absolutely no Mother’s Day madness but a call completion guarantee that is second to none.

In the case of a network function close to my heart — the IMS Core — I would not want to employ the same instance to support both applications, but I would want to leverage a common IMS implementation. In this case, it’s network functions virtualization (NFV) to the rescue, with its high degree of automation and dynamic orchestration simplifying the deployment of these two distinct infrastructures while delivering the required capacity on demand. Make it a cloud-native IMS core platform built on a reusable microservices philosophy that favors operating-system-level virtualization using lightweight containers (LCXs) over virtualized hardware (VMs), and you can obtain a degree of flexibility and cost-effectiveness that overshadows plain old NFV.

I know I’m covering a well-trodden trail when I’m able to rattle off a marketing-esque blurb like that while on autopilot and in a semi-conscious state. While NFV is a critical component of E2E network slicing, things get interesting (for me, at least) when we start to look at the virtualization of radio resources required to abstract and isolate the otherwise common wireless environment between service providers and applications. To those indoctrinated in the art of Layer 1-3 VPNs, this would seem easy enough, but on top of the issue of resource allocation, there are some inherent complications that result from not only the underlying demand of mobility but the broadcast nature of radio communications and the statistically random fluctuations in quality across the individual wireless channels. While history has taught us that fixed bandwidth is not fungible,6 mobility adds a whole new level of unpredictability.

The Business of WNV

Like most things in this business, the division of ownership and utilization can range from strikingly simple to ridiculously convoluted. At one end of the scale, a mobile network operator (MNO) partitions its network resources — including the spectrum, RAN, backhaul, transmission and core network — to one or more service providers (SPs) who use this leased infrastructure to offer end-to-end services to their subscribers. While this is the straightforward MNV model and it can fundamentally help increase utilization of the MNOs infrastructure, the reality is even easier, in that the MNO and SP will likely be the same corporate entity. Employing NFV concepts, operators are virtualizing their network functions to reduce costs, alleviate stranded capacity and increase flexibility. Extending these concepts, isolating otherwise diverse traffic types with end-to-end wireless network virtualization, allows for better bin packing (yay – bin packing!) and even enables the implementation of distinct proof-of-concept sandboxes in which to test new applications in a live environment without affecting commercial service.


Breaking down the 1-2 and 4-layer wireless network virtualization business model

Continuing to ignore the (staggering, let us not forget) technical complexities of WNV for a moment, while the 1-2 layer business model appears to be straightforward enough, to those hell-bent on openness and micro business models, it appears only to be monolithic and monopolistic. Now, of course, all elements can be federated.7 This extends a network slice outside the local service area by way of roaming agreements with other network operators, capable of delivering the same isolated service guarantees while ideally exposing some degree of manageability.

To further appease those individuals, however, (and you know who you are) we can decompose the model to four distinct entities. An infrastructure provider (InP) owns the physical resources and possibly the spectrum which the mobile virtual network provider then leases on request. If the MVNP owns spectrum, then that component need not be included in the resource transaction. A widely recognized entity, the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) operates and assigns the virtual resources to the SP. In newer XaaS models, the MVNO could include the MVNP, which provides a network-as-a-service (NaaS) by leveraging the InPs infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). While the complexities around orchestration between these independent entities and their highly decomposed network elements could leave the industry making an aaS of itself, it does inherently streamline the individual roles and potentially open up new commercial opportunities.

Dicing with RF

Reinforcing a long-felt belief that nothing is ever entirely new, long before prepending to cover all things E2E, the origin of the term “slicing” can be traced back over a decade in texts that describe radio resource sharing. Modern converged mobile infrastructures employ multiple Radio Access Technologies (RATs), both licensed spectrum and unlicensed access for offloading and roaming, so network slicing must incorporate techniques for partitioning not only 3GPP LTE but also IEEE Wi-Fi and WiMAX. This is problematic in that these RATs are not only incompatible but also provide disparate isolation levels — the minimum resource units that can be used to carve out the air interface while providing effective isolation between service providers. There are many ways to skin (or slice) each cat, resulting in numerous proposals for resource allocation and isolation mechanisms in each RF category, with no clear leaders.

At this point, I’m understanding why many are simply producing the aforementioned puff pieces on this topic — indeed, part of me now wishes I’d bowed out of this blog post at the references to sponge cake — but we can rein things in a little.  Most 802.11 Wi-Fi slicing proposals suggest extending existing QoS methods — specifically, enhanced DCF (distributed coordination function) channel access (EDCA) parameters. (Sweet! Nested acronyms. Network slicing might redeem itself, after all.) While (again) not exactly a new concept, the proposals advocate implementing a three-level (dimensional) mathematical probability model know as a Markov chain to optimize the network by dynamically tuning the EDCA contention window (CW), arbitration inter-frame space (AIFS) and transmit opportunity (TXOP) parameters,8 thereby creating a number of independent prioritization queues — one for each “slice.” Early studies have already shown that this method can control RF resource allocation and maintain isolation even as signal quality degrades or suffers interference. That’s important because, as we discussed previously, we must overcome the variations in signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) in order to effectively slice radio frequencies.

In cellular networks, most slicing proposals are based on scheduling (physical) resource blocks (P/RBs), the smallest unit the LTE MAC layer can allocate, on the downlink to ensure partitioning of the available spectrum or time slots.


An LTE Physical Resource Block (PRB), comprising 12 subcarriers and 7 OFDM symbols

Slicing LTE spectrum, in this manner, starts and pretty much ends with the eNodeB. To anyone familiar with NFV (which would include all you avid followers of Metaswitch), that would first require virtualization of that element using the same fundamental techniques we’ve described in numerous posts and papers. At the heart of any eNodeB virtualization proposition is an LTE hypervisor. In the same way classic virtual machine managers partition common compute resources, such as CPU cycles, memory and I/O, an LTE hypervisor is responsible for scheduling the physical radio resources, namely the LTE resource blocks. Only then can the wireless spectrum be effectively sliced between independent veNodeB’s owned, managed or supported by the individual service provider or MVNO.


Virtualization of the eNodeB with PRB-aware hypervisor

Managing the underlying PRBs, an LTE hypervisor gathers information from the guest eNodeB functions, such as traffic loads, channel state and priority requirements, along with the contract demands of each SP or MVNO in order to effectively slice the spectrum. Those contracts could define fixed or dynamic (maximum) bandwidth guarantees along with QoS metrics like best effort (BE), either with or without minimum guarantees. With the dynamic nature of radio infrastructures, the role of the LTE hypervisor is different from a classic virtual machine manager, which only need handle physical resources that are not continuously changing. The LTE hypervisor must constantly perform efficient resource allocation in real time through the application of an algorithm that services those pre-defined contracts as RF SNR, attenuation and usage patterns fluctuate. Early research suggests that an adaptation of the Karnaugh-map (K-map) algorithm, introduced in 1953, is best suited for this purpose.9

Managing the distribution of these contracted policies across a global mobile infrastructure falls on the shoulders of a new wireless network controller. Employing reasonably well-understood SDN techniques, this centralized element represents the brains of our virtualized mobile network, providing a common control point for pushing and managing policies across highly distributed 5G slices. The sort of brains that are not prone to the kind of cognitive tomfoolery that plague ours. Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?

1. No one actually knows why the phenomenon was named after a West German left wing militant group, more commonly known as the Red Army Faction.


3. Quite frankly, as a 25-year expat and not having seen one in that time, I’m not sure how I was able to recall the Battenberg for this analogy.

4. Technically, it’s reported to honor of the marriage of Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. And yes, there are now two footnotes about this cake reference.

5. Mandated by local government legislation, such as the European eCall mandate, as I’ve detailed in previous posts.

6. E.g. Enron, et al, and the (pre-crash) bandwidth brokering propositions of the late 1990s / early 2000s

7. Yes — Federation is the new fancy word for a spit and a handshake.

8. OK – I’m officially fully back on the network slicing bandwagon.

9. A Dynamic Embedding Algorithm for Wireless Network Virtualization. May 2015. Jonathan van de Betl, et al.


Why VoLTE can lead to smartphone enabled fraud

3 Aug


With Cisco predicting a massive, unprecedented growth in mobile internet traffic in its Visual Networking Index 2016 Report, for the ‘Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2010-2015’, it’s clear we’re witnessing a surge in data demand. This exponential increase is driven by the continual rise in the number of smart phones and devices, and an increasing demand for innovative services and unlimited data packages. With the introduction of VoLTE and all-IP networks, capable of delivering volumes of data quickly and efficiently, consumers will be better placed than ever before to benefit from the advantages that new technologies and “all you can eat” data bring.

For telco industry experts, VoLTE is perceived as the next step in the evolution of the third generation partnership project (3GPP). However, when looking to deploy VoLTE networks, there are important fraud considerations that mobile operators must address to ensure they are adequately equipped to deal with the associated risks.

Exponential growth in data traffic brings risk

One of the biggest risks for MNOs is that services grounded in the adoption of VoLTE technology (i.e. delivering superior quality of service (QoS) and high definition (HD) features) are leading to new fraud threats.

Unfortunately for MNOs, VoLTE is even more exposed to fraud than 2G/3G telephony, as signaling is implemented in the mobile OS instead of mobile-based broadband, meaning that vulnerabilities can actually be exploited remotely through mobile malware. Interestingly, most of these vulnerabilities are derived from the SS7 (signaling system version 7) network environment concepts, which forms the set of  telephony signaling protocols that were first developed in 1975 to operate the public telephone network (PSTN) telephone calls.  These have now been repurposed for VoLTE, and since this technology lives in an all-data-IP-based network, the impact of intrusion may be even greater than in the legacy SS7-based networks.

In order for MNOs to keep profit margins intact and manage massive volumes of data, they therefore need to develop strategies to help them proactively arm their network against fraud attacks, and close the holes left open by the packet-switch networks and all its SS7/SIP fragilities.

Types of fraud in VoLTE, and how to deal with them

Fraudsters are always trying new techniques to bypass MNOs’ controls and gain free access to services. This not only deprives the operator of revenue, but also damages their reputation with subscribers and partners. This is no exception with VoLTE, and fraud management teams must therefore be extremely agile to ensure they’re able to quickly and efficiently respond to a changing fraud landscape. Currently, the most common types of fraud faced in VoLTE are related to charging bypass, call spoofing, mobile malware, and call reselling, IRSF and Wangiri.

To cope with new types of fraud in VoLTE technology, it is vital that MNOs implement faster techniques, such as machine learning. While there are limitations to machine learning, machines are much better than humans at dealing with, and processing, large datasets. They are able to detect and recognise thousands of features on a network event, instead of the few that can be captured by manually creating rules. These systems must be capable of finding patterns of behavior that are different from the normal VoLTE subscriber, and be able to identify suspicious activities and/or fraud attempts, no matter how they are perpetrated, regardless of the scheme used, or the origin/termination point of the fraud.

To address these key capabilities, leading Fraud Management Systems (FMS) nowadays rely on algorithms. These can be designed and tuned to immediately identify the differences between fraudulent and legitimate events, to predict whether an event is likely be fraudulent before it is completed. As a result, a behavioural learning-based FMS is highly beneficial for MNOs, as it dramatically increases their knowledge of fraudsters’ behaviour, and quickly and efficiently generates potential fraud alerts.

Protecting VoLTE

For MNOs to support real-time data (voice) services, high volume and best-effort data in the same packet-switched domain, they will be burdened with huge capital and operating expenses from two separate networks. For most operators, VoLTE is the solution to this dilemma.

The volume of services and technologies available to fraudsters makes it a constantly evolving and multi-faceted issue. Actions taken to eliminate fraud modify the fraudsters’ behaviour, leading to ever-changing patterns and renewed threats to operator revenue. In some markets, existing solutions are so ineffective and costly that it is easier to accept the losses than resolve the problem.

This real-time VoLTE environment therefore needs to be supported by innovative and cheaper approaches to effectively protect and monetise not only VoLTE calls, but all customer data traffic. New processes, controls and mechanisms are required for mobile operators to efficiently protect their network against fraud attacks, effectively mitigate risk, prevent revenue leakage and keep customers satisfied. Intelligent controls will enable MNOs’ operation teams to efficiently protect, detect, treat and analyse fraud.

As fraud is becoming more complex and harder to identify, early investigation and detection will be key to helping MNOs tackle fraud faster, sharper and smarter. This will allow MNOs to better protect their network against the increasingly complex fraud schemas brought on by VoLTE.


Viavi Solutions sees an evolution of network monitoring to meet demand from 5G, VoLTE, NFV

18 Jan

As 2016 dawns on the wireless industry and operators continue coping with the challenge of improving customer experience and reducing costs, four aiding technologies will take center stage: network functions virtualization; voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling; self-organizing networks; and the rise of “5G” networks. While we’ve been hearing about these next-generation technologies for some time, the challenge in the next year will be ensuring they are all working to maximize business opportunity profitability. And this will require granular, end-to-end real-time visibility across all devices and parts of the network.

Today we are poised to see a real revolution in networking over the next year where network operators now have the potential to intelligently and efficiently manage the ebb and flow of traffic and exploit under-utilized resources without compromising infrastructure or the customer experience. But it will take advancements in real-time visibility to do so. As end users come to expect flawlessness from their providers, assuring service will become much more detailed than simply checking to make sure everything’s plugged in.

Network functions virtualization
NFV can significantly lower network operating costs and increase flexibility and service velocity. Today, industry guidelines are for the most part in place to allow introducing the virtualized functions themselves, but management and orchestration standards for the self-configuration required to truly enable NFV are still in their infancy.
While 2016 will see a significant increase in NFV deployments, these will primarily revolve around semi-automatic configuration – in other words, not the full-blown automation required to realize 100% of NFV’s benefit. The NFV industry is therefore likely to put a great deal of effort into developing guidelines for the management and orchestration side of NFV deployments.

The benefits of NFV will only be realized if network performance management tools can access these new, virtual network interfaces. Operators will need to invest in solutions that ensure they can satisfy quality-of-service needs, including resiliency and latency in initial virtualization deployments. This next year should show a major ramp-up in the availability of test and assurance solutions able to provide truly actionable performance insights for virtualized network environments.

Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi
The fast growth in VoLTE rollouts will continue in 2016, as it becomes the de facto voice service over the legacy voice service. But VoLTE cannot exist as an island. It needs to evolve to reflect the way people communicate today, which comprises not just voice but also data, messaging social media, video and other multimedia-rich services. This implies that assurance systems must empower more granular and flexible control over performance parameters and thresholds to meet the needs of these different applications, alongside the visibility to react in real-time to unpredictable user behaviors.

The interaction between VoLTE and VoWi-Fi will mature, characterized by soft and seamless handoffs between the access methods. Managing VoLTE end to end – meaning understanding service quality from handset to the radio access network to backhaul to core – will be a key operator goal as they ensure that their services deliver high customer quality of experience. This means deploying sophisticated assurance platforms to know in real time where VoLTE services are performing poorly and where there is a stress in the network.

Self-organizing networks
Self-organizing networks are essentially the key to a connected future. By automating configuration, optimization and healing of the network, this frees up operational resources to focus on what’s truly important – better quality of experience and aligning revenue to network optimization. And, with the number of connected “things” positively exploding, managing and keeping up with the sheer number of devices requires an automated approach that also yields a new set of network-assurance challenges operators will have to deal with in 2016.

Today, many SON techniques simply baseline a network. In 2016, as the extreme non-uniformity in the network becomes more apparent, it will take a new, end-to-end approach to SON to keep these benefits coming.

The network will become more sporadic and this will manifest in several forms: time, subscriber, location and application. For example, take subscriber and location: a recent Viavi Solutions customer study found just 1% of users consume more than half of all data on a network. The study also found 50% of all data is consumed in less than 0.35% of the network area. To achieve significant performance gains via SON, operators can apply predictive approaches using analytics that reveal exactly which users are consuming how much bandwidth – and where they are located. This level of foresight is key to not only unlocking the full potential of SON in the RAN, but also to maximizing ROI for software-defined networking and NFV in the core.

2016 will be the year that at least the term “5G” proliferates, but we’re still a ways off from actual implementations. A future filled with driverless cars, drones that can deliver packages and location-based IoT products will require always-on networks with less than 1 millisecond latency – and that’s what 5G promises on paper. But 5G is imminent, and 2016 will reveal many advances toward building and delivering it to end users and their applications.

The race to 5G is bringing with it advancements in the network that inch us closer to always-on, always-fast and always improving networks. This work is pushing the industry to develop new tools and solutions that offer real-time troubleshooting and network healing, faster turn-up times and the ability to instantaneously respond to traffic spikes driven by external events. These new solutions may, at the same time, encourage new revenue streams by supporting the delivery of location- and contextually-relevant applications and services. Examples of these include mobile payment support and security as well as smart city applications for public services and emergency support.

The move to 5G is not an evolution, but a revolution – and major challenges exist across every stage of the technology deployment lifecycle and every part of the end-to-end network.

To move the needle on 5G development in 2016, operators need a partner with a wide breadth of expertise and solutions to collaborate on strategic planning and development in consideration of the significant dependencies and coordination needed for successful deployment.

Edge network configuration must change and move towards ultra-dense heterogeneous networks. Front- and backhaul transport require lower latency. These and other factors present significant challenges for commercial 5G evolution; however, the train has clearly left the station. And it will gain substantial momentum in 2016.

To 2016 and beyond

It’s exciting to watch the networking revolution – with myriad new capabilities and services surfacing thanks to evolving end-user habits and demands, the network simply cannot remain stagnant. And as new approaches – from hyped technologies like SDN/NFV or 5G – come about, operators need more sophisticated ways of ensuring it’s all working. In 2016, expect not only to see the network evolve, but also ways organizations capture and leverage analytics for assurance and optimization.

Photo copyright: wisiel / 123RF Stock Photo


Ericsson’s LTE-Advanced helps T-Mobile continue to expand LTE Network coverage and capacity

26 Sep

(ENP Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ENP Newswire – 25 September 2014 Release date- 23092014 – Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) has been selected to provide equipment and services to help T-Mobile continue expanding its nationwide 4G LTE network, improve in-building, highway and rural performance, and expand the availability of high-quality VoLTE services, which offer faster call setup times than a non-VoLTE call, and enable customers to access the LTE network for data services during a voice call.

The contract is an expansion of T-Mobile’s groundbreaking 2012 network transformation project with Ericsson and includes RBS 6000 base station equipment, installation and integration of 700,1900 and 1700/2100 MHz LTE-Advanced radio sites and tuning services.

Neville Ray, CTO of T-Mobile US, says: ‘We are constantly working to enhance and grow our network for our customers. With the help of Ericsson LTE equipment and services, not only have we rolled out the fastest nationwide LTE network in the US in record time, we’re able to continue advancing voice and data performance at an unprecedented pace.’ T-Mobile is the first U.S. wireless carrier to deploy enhanced Single Radio Voice Call Continuity (eSRVCC) technology, which enables a seamless handover of VoLTE calls in LTE to existing 2G or 3G networks, ensuring a customer’s experience is seamless[1]. As voice remains a critical service for LTE networks, Ericsson has delivered its Session Border Gateway (SBG) and Ericsson Media Resource System (MRS) to support voice handovers using eSRVCC.

As T-Mobile expands its lineup of devices that can support handover of voice calls between LTE and Wi-Fi, Ericsson has enabled Wi-Fi calling through its evolved Packet Data Gateway (ePDG)1 and interoperates with T-Mobile’s existing IP Multimedia System and Evolved Packet Core network infrastructure.

Additionally, Ericsson’s Services organization will help T-Mobile achieve OPEX reduction through the decommissioning of MetroPCS sites and ecological repurposing or recycling of removed site material.

Angel Ruiz, Head of Ericsson North America, says: ‘We are pleased to provide T-Mobile with both equipment and services to support its dedication to innovation and rapid deployment plans.’ Ericsson is the market leader in LTE. Today, 50 percent of the world’s LTE smartphone traffic is served by Ericsson networks, more than double the traffic of the closest competitor.

To meet the growing demand for mobile broadband, Ericsson is delivering LTE-Advanced solutions to expand LTE coverage and capacity. These include carrier aggregation for delivering high-speed mobile data across the network, advanced antenna technologies for better coverage and cell data throughput, and small cell integration to deliver real network performance within heterogeneous networks, in addition to other LTE enhancements.

Ericsson has supported the majority of the world’s first commercial VoLTE launches and is the market leader in Evolved Packet Core with more than 150 commercial contracts in 70 countries and has more than 115 commercial IMS contracts.

NOTES TO EDITORS T-Mobile selects Ericsson for billing solution and new customer experience: Ericsson maintains leadership in the Magic Quadrant for LTE Infrastructure 2014: Download high-resolution photos and broadcast-quality video at Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society – a world leader in communications technology and services. Our long-term relationships with every major telecom operator in the world allow people, business and society to fulfill their potential and create a more sustainable future.

Our services, software and infrastructure – especially in mobility, broadband and the cloud – are enabling the telecom industry and other sectors to do better business, increase efficiency, improve the user experience and capture new opportunities.

With more than 110,000 professionals and customers in 180 countries, we combine global scale with technology and services leadership. We support networks that connect more than 2.5 billion subscribers. Forty percent of the world’s mobile traffic is carried over Ericsson networks. And our investments in research and development ensure that our solutions – and our customers – stay in front.

Founded in 1876, Ericsson has its headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Net sales in 2013 were SEK 227.4 billion (USD 34.9 billion). Ericsson is listed on NASDAQ OMX stock exchange in Stockholm and the NASDAQ in New York. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT Ericsson Corporate Communications Phone: +46 10 719 69 92 E-mail: Ericsson Investor Relations Phone: +46 10 719 00 00 E-mail: [1] Available on selected T-Mobile smartphones.


Telephony – Telco service or Internet application?

9 Jun


When comparing different forms of VoIP, one risk comparing “apples and oranges”. Broadly speaking, we can divide VoIP into two main categories. First, the service can be implemented as a faithful copy of circuit switched telephony; in a network with full control over performance and quality. Second, VoIP can be implemented as a standalone application used over the open Internet.

Originally published in NetworkWorld Norway.


3GPP and IMS

3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) has played an important role when VoIP has become a recognised substitute for traditional telephony among telecom operators. 3GPP standardises the mobile technologies 2G, 3G and 4G, and they have done so based on the general IP technology standardised by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force).

At first 3GPP concentrated on developing mobile networks as an evolving telecommunications architecture, following a vertically integrated model for provision of telephony. As the Internet revolution influenced the telecom market, the focus has shifted more towards IP-based services of various kinds.

IP networks and the Internet are not equivalent concepts. As IP technology was introduced in the mobile architecture, this was done in a way that maintained telecommunications networks’ support for QoS (Quality of Service). They had a clear view to continue provision of telecom services, as opposed to Internet applications, but based on a new IP-based network.

The service platform which was standardised as part of the mobile architecture was named IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem). IMS is based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), the VoIP protocol from IETF, but extended with a comprehensive architecture for QoS. IMS has an “open” interface for service development, but requires a business agreement with the mobile operator. So this is a completely different kind of openness than the one found on the Internet where “everyone” can develop their own services.


The basic mobile architecture has undergone a tremendous development by 3GPP. Now we are in a phase where LTE (Long Term Evolution) is being adopted, often referred to as 4G despite the fact that it is not “real” 4G. LTE is the first 3GPP architecture that has eliminated the circuit switched domain, appearing as a pure IP network. Therefore there are great expectations for VoIP in this architecture, a functionality called VoLTE (Voice over LTE).

The transition from traditional telephony to VoIP has been going on for a long time. In mobile networks this has taken longer than expected. IMS has been around as a part of the mobile architecture for many years already. Furthermore, VoLTE includes options that could still delay this transition; LTE phones will initially combine LTE with older mobile technologies, allowing telephones to fall back to these older technologies. There is also a quasi-solution that transports traditional telecom protocols encapsulated in IP packets, so-called VoLGA (Voice over LTE via Generic Access).

The telecom industry also promotes advanced VoIP services that can stimulate the transition from traditional telephony and SMS to IP-based “equivalents” called RCS (Rich Communication Services). RCS provides services such as voice and video telephony, presence, instant messages and more, integrated in a unified user client for mobile phones that will provide seamless user experience of multimedia communication.

RCS is based on the IMS platform using SIP and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions). Thus, the basis of this is IETF protocols, but implemented in an architecture that is intended to replicate the telecom network in the shape of an IP-based multimedia network. RCS is promoted by GSMA (GSM Association) and OMA (Open Mobile Alliance). OMA is the descendant of the WAP Forum, if there are still some who remember WAP.

QoS and Policy Control

RCS seems like an impressive technology, and what is the big deal? What distinguishes this from the applications that are already in use on the Internet? A major difference is that RCS can benefit directly from the mobile network built-in mechanisms for QoS. But it is difficult to predict what will give the best user experience, multimedia services integrated in the mobile architecture or free choice among different applications offered over the Internet.

A well-known characteristic of the Internet is that it is “best effort” and can’t guarantee the quality of the communication. In the mobile architecture, QoS is a key feature across the entire design. The underlying IP network will typically be based on DiffServ (Differentiated Services) and MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), both well-known technologies from IETF supporting traffic management and QoS.

In the LTE architecture, QoS is policed by a function called PCC (Policy and Charging Control). As the name suggests, not unnaturally, management of QoS and charging are two sides of the same coin. PCC controls establishment of user sessions with various performance levels, and charging information is generated based to the capacity used by the different sessions.

Initially, IMS was specified for mobile networks, but in retrospect it has been found very useful extending the scope to include fixed networks, giving a combo solution which is often referred as NGN (Next Generation Networks). This facilitates convergence between fixed and mobile networks (Fixed-Mobile Convergence).

Over-the-top (OTT)

The traditional telcos are operating in a market that is completely changed because of the Internet. This leads to a situation where the business that telecom players envision, is facing strong competition from Internet players. The Internet model is based on decoupling of applications from the network layer, as opposed to the telecom model that relies on the services that are vertically integrated with the network.

Innovative solutions that can be used “over-the-top” without specific facilitation from telecom operators, enables virtually unlimited choices for end users. Internet applications, even real-time applications such as VoIP, work fairly well without the quality architecture of NGN. Congestion control mechanisms regulate traffic load of the Internet, sharing the available capacity between users.

However, users’ choice is not easy. Such innovative solutions in some cases evolve into isolated “islands” that are not compatible with each other. Major players are trying to create their own closed ecosystems consisting of operating systems or app stores for example. On the other hand, some traditional telecom operators introduce OTT solutions to meet the competition, making use of similar means.

The future will show which model is most adaptable. Net neutrality is tasked to ensure that the Internet model can develop freely. Meanwhile, the Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality are balanced, allowing the telecom model to evolve in parallel. This is often referred to as “specialised services”, as opposed to the Internet access service that works as a general electronic communication service.


VoLTE subscriptions will reach 59.6 mn in 2014 and 1.2 bn in 2019: ABI Research

1 Jun

The number of VoLTE subscriptions will reach 59.6 million in 2014 and more than 1.2 billion in 2019, said ABI Research.

LTE-related cellular subscriptions will grow at a CAGR of 36.6 percent between 2014 and 2019, to exceed 2 billion. Nearly 56 percent of LTE-related cellular subscriptions will be using VoLTE services by the end of 2019.

LTE-related cellular subscriptions surpassed 230.9 million last year, 3.3 percent of mobile subs.

“For VoLTE to be a success, there needs to be adoption of the technology by handset vendors and not just the operators. It is anticipated that Apple will incorporate VoLTE into iPhone 6,” said Marina Lu, research analyst at ABI Research.

Growth of LTE-enabled handsets shipments was 222 percent to 335.4 million units in 2013.

In 2014, LTE-enabled media tablets are expected to ship 12.8 million units annually along with 10.6 million USB dongles.

LTE network will cover around 64 percent of the world’s population by 2019.

In Asia-Pacific, South Korean operators have used LTE to boost profit margins to 9.4 percent.

In the United Kingdom, Everything Everywhere has gained four times as many LTE subscribers as the nearest competitor.

Meanwhile, Dell’Oro Group said that Carrier IP Telephony market revenue grew 20 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Market expansion was primarily driven by technologies delivering VoLTE capability to carrier networks.

AT&T, NTT Docomo and Hong Kong Telecom recently announced early commercial availability of VoLTE, suggesting that technical and integration risks can be overcome.

Chris DePuy, vice president of Carrier IP Telephony research, Dell’Oro Group, said: “Multiple equipment vendors participated in each network roll out, signaling the importance that collaboration will play in the success of these new ventures.”

The overall Carrier IP Telephony market, which includes devices used to serve both circuit switched subscribers, Voice over IP (VoIP) and VoLTE subscribers, topped $1.7 billion in the first quarter 2014.



VoLTE: Progress and problems

18 Apr

Voice over LTE has been one of the most highly anticipated network features to come along in recent years. As it stands, LTE is only used for data services, with voice being routed over legacy circuit-switched networks.The ability to offer voice over IP service via wireless offers operators a path toward a flatter, less expensive and more efficient network, with the ability to eventually sunset their 3G networks.

Operators have been talking about VoLTE for several years now, with expectations that roll-outs would begin last year in earnest — only they’ve been delayed again and again as carriers grapple with the real-world performance of VoLTE not being up to the quality expectations set by 3G networks.

At last week’s LTE Innovation Summit in Del Mar, Calif., it was clear that VoLTE is still coming together, and many pieces that have to work together in order to make this radical jump in technology.

In a technical track session, Rob Wattenburg, SwissQual product sales manager, played recorded good and bad CDMA and VoLTE calls from the field. The good VoLTE call had excellent audio quality, markedly better than the CDMA calls even at their best. But even minimal, temporary packet loss in a VoLTE call caused words to drop out mid-sentence, making it obvious why the technology is not yet in prime-time and the very small margins for error that operators are dealing with.

On the bright side, though, Wattenburg made note of the fact that VoLTE devices are widely available to wireless engineers for testing in order to advance the technology – in fact, he floated the idea that getting functional devices into the field for wider testing before they are launched, as is being done with VoLTE now, may be a way for the wireless industry to cut the overall amount of testing needed for successful deployment of new devices. The Global Mobile Suppliers Association’s most recent report said that there are nearly 60 commercially available VoLTE-capable devices globally, and Rohde & Schwarz certainly had no shortage of devices from major U.S. carriers to use in its demos for VoLTE testing.

Call audio quality isn’t the only issue. Peter Seidenberg, managing director of P3 Communications, spoke of the bench marking that his company has been doing with major operators worldwide who are trying to roll out VoLTE. The news is not encouraging. Call set-up times for VoLTE can run from mediocre to completely unacceptable – Seidenberg said that in some networks, VoLTE calls can take as long as 30 seconds to connect.

“If you don’t solve this problem, forget about the innovation in LTE — your customers will run away,” Seidenberg said. He also noted that switching the device between 2G, 3G and LTE networks can also lead to an unacceptable amount of time that a phone is unable to be reached. It may only be five to 10 seconds at a time that a device is unable to be called, Seidenberg said, and the industry might be tempted to write off that small amount of time. But, he said, those network switches are likely to be happening many times per day since LTE is not yet ubiquitous, and should not be underestimated.

Many of the issues can be reduced or solved by proper configuration, he noted, but “‘it’s really hard work.”

“LTE is just a capacity technology” as most operators are currently using it, Seidenberg said — meant to deal with the data crunch while operators maintain voice coverage on their 3G networks. LTE services do have promise, he added, but “it is a bumpy road to get there.”

Doug Makishima of D2 Technologies also pointed out another degree of the connection complexity, speaking on VoLTE as well as the rich communications suite services that hold potential for operators to recapture some of the messaging and presence engagement that has been dominated by over-the-top players. He spoke of the desire for a “green button” experience – i.e., a user hits the green call button and everything works. However, he also noted that phones have more than one native dialer – a user can place calls from the main phone dialer, as well as directly from their address book. They can also place calls from applications, such as mapping or navigation apps, that operators and device manufacturers have limited control over, but that need to be able to connect a VoLTE call in a timely and seamless manner before the feature can be widely launched.

The interface that Makishima displayed for RCS (which has been launched in limited areas as Joyn), showed the power of integration and it was obvious why RCS holds appeal for operators. The user interface for calls had additional buttons to allow users to choose between starting a traditional call or a video call, as well as presence indicators for contacts in the address book and the ability to directly send SMS or files – very sleek, well-integrated and designed to make carrier services the most convenient to access in order to trump OTT apps for the same features.

For videos from the LTE Innovation Summit, check out our YouTube channel.


Global VoLTE revenue to touch around $3 bn by 2017, says Infonetics Research

10 Apr

Infonetics Research projects that the VoLTE revenue is expected to reach around $3 billion by 2017, while VoLTE subscribers will be around $160 million during the period.

The number of global LTE subscribers is expected to more than quadruple to 755 million between 2013 and 2017, and the number of VoLTE subscribers to grow 17-fold during this same period, said Infonetics Research.

“The mobile broadband industry’s rapid migration to LTE has opened the door to malicious and non-malicious threats due to fundamental vulnerabilities in the all-IP LTE architecture. As the adoption of IPsec encryption for transporting LTE traffic continues to grow significantly, there is increasing need for security gateways,” said Stephane Teral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.

VoLTE subscriber and revenue chart from Infonetics

Recently, Heavy Reading research revealed that more than 70 percent of operators believe their existing policy control systems will require additional features or upgrades to meet the stringent requirements for VoLTE.

Graham Finnie, chief analyst at Heavy Reading, said: “Specialized policy solutions that can co-exist with legacy PCRFs will allow operators to leverage existing investments, and could give them a time to market advantage for VoLTE service introduction.”

Infonetics earlier said the global policy management software market reached just over $1 billion in 2013 and is on target to become a $2.5 billion market by 2018, with mobile deployments driving much of the momentum.

VoLTE continues to be a major driver behind policy management growth as operators seek to ensure quality of service (QoS) for voice traffic.

VoLTE to gain momentum in Africa, America, Asia

ABI Research earlier said African LTE cellular subscriptions are projected to multiply at a CAGR of 128 per cent to surpass 50 million by end-2018. Nearly half are expected to be able to use VoLTE services.

American telecoms are focusing on VoLTE, but subscribers are clueless about benefits. In the U.S., MetroPCS became the nation’s first telecom operator to launch VoLTE via the LG Connect smartphone in 2012.

Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility position VoLTE to better customer experience for their subscribers.

SK Telecom and LG Uplus in South Korea have also launched VoLTE.

Juniper Research said with the arrival of 4G, most MNOs will adopt VoLTE, increasing their network efficiency, though direct revenues will be limited.

Dell’Oro Group, a telecom market research agency, expects significant expansion of VoLTE services in North America in 2014, after the initial 2013 launches in Korea and Japan. The implementation of these services has already driven hundreds of millions of dollars of capital spending.

Chris DePuy, vice president of Carrier IP Telephony research at Dell’Oro Group, said: “We expect other regions, including Western Europe and China to be drivers to similar capital spending in the next year.”

The overall carrier IP Telephony market, which includes devices used to serve both circuit switched subscribers, Voice over IP (VoIP) and Voice over LTE subscribers, topped $1.8 billion in the fourth quarter 2013.

China Mobile, the largest telecom operator in the world, is aggressive in the LTE 4G space. To verify the performance of VoLTE in its TD-LTE network, China Mobile recently set up parallel VoLTE trial projects with several mobile broadband equipment vendors in different parts of the country.

Broadband network vendor NSN completed the first TDD eSRVCC video call on January 4, 2014, and an extensive set of tests on January 29, 2014, to demonstrate the benefits of providing voice services as an integral part of the LTE network.

A video call made in an LTE network that utilizes eSRVCC allows a high-definition (HD) call that is established in the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) over VoLTE and then handed over to 2G/3G using voice continuity. This means the voice portion of the call can continue seamlessly even if 4G coverage is no longer available, said NSN.

VoLTE space is facing security related challenges. Infonetics Research says there is an increasing need for security in VoLTE networks and presents solutions for mobile operators looking to prevent unauthorized access into the evolved packet core (EPC) and enhance the quality of experience of VoLTE services.



Security at the Speed of VoLTE

4 Apr

Infonetics white paper – The mobile broadband industry’s rapid migration to LTE has opened the door to malicious and non-malicious threats as a result of fundamental vulnerabilities in the all-IP LTE architecture. Consequently, security must be a foundational element of LTE network deployments. As the adoption of IPsec encryption for transporting LTE traffic continues to grow significantly, there is increasing need for a security gateway. This white paper discusses the evolving threat landscape, the economics and performance requirements of security solutions, and the role of the security gateway in LTE networks as subscribers ramp up by the millions every quarter and VoLTE services start to emerge.




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