Today’s service providers face three critical challenges: getting to market quickly with high-value, converged multimedia services, optimizing infrastructure costs and delivering true carrier-grade performance. To best serve their subscribers and drive new revenues, service providers are transforming their intelligent networks into intuitive networks — that are device-aware, application-aware and access-aware. New differentiating service bundles are being prepared with attractive applications, such as rich voice, gaming, presence, instant messaging, video conferencing and sharing and personalized mobility.
The build out of today’s 4G networks such as LTE requires a dramatic increase in computational resources to adequately deliver flexible telecommunications services to mobile subscribers. Yet business conditions also necessitate that new markets are approached incrementally. The challenge for telecom carriers is to reduce the cost of serving the first subscriber in small or cost-sensitive markets. The primary challenge in serving small LTE subscriber bases is that traditional core network architectures require high capital expenditures just to serve the first subscriber.
Networks, whether entry-level or full-scale, are traditionally built using separate network elements for each of several different functions. And most network elements have been deployed with a pair of carrier-grade servers to achieve redundancy with an active and a standby configuration. Thus, a new network with 10 network elements requires 20 servers just to provide service to the first subscriber. Furthermore, because the network is designed to eventually support a large population of subscribers, the servers would remain underutilized until the subscriber base grows to the expected population. The ROI for small and emerging markets has therefore been limited by these high capital outlays. High operating costs for maintaining the servers and providing data center floor space, power, and cooling have also hindered new service opportunities.
The greatest opportunity for revenue growth for wireless broadband presents itself in the form of smaller markets with less than 50,000 subscribers, thereby lowering the cost dramatically to serve the first subscriber and the breakeven point in the Operator’s business case . By dramatically lowering the cost to serve the first subscriber, new networks can be built on a campus or targeted community basis with new services tailored to the specific needs of these smaller, targeted markets.
In telecommunication parlance, a “carrier grade” or “carrier class” refers to a system, or a hardware or software component that is extremely reliable, well tested and proven in its capabilities. Carrier grade systems are tested and engineered to meet or exceed “five nines” high availability standards, and provide very fast fault recovery through redundancy (normally less than 50 milliseconds). A rule of thumb is to achieve an availability of five-nines: the system is available 99.999% of the time. This equates to a stringent downtime of 6 seconds in a week or 5 minutes 15 seconds in a year. System availability is dependent on the availability of its components. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus, if a system needs five-nines availability, then the software should provide six-nines availability and the hardware should provide six-nines availability (0.999999 x 0.999999 = 0.999998).
Scalability is often in reference to architecture. A system that has five units can scale to fifty easily because the architecture allows for it. On the other hand, a system designed specifically for five units cannot scale to fifty because its architecture is inadequate. A modular hardware architecture and decoupled software architecture enable you to deploy IMS services on a very small scale (a single node) or very large scale (a multi-node, high-capacity system). Various dimensions that govern system capacity (such as provisioning, database, transactions and signaling) can all scale separately, so you can apply investments very efficiently.
The global Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (ATCA) standard incorporates the latest advancements in high-speed interconnect technologies, next-generation processors and platform management capabilities. Computer equipment built to ATCA standards will work effectively in the network core of a wireline, wireless or cable provider. Service providers reap the benefits in faster time to market, lower costs and accelerated pace of innovation to introduce new features and services.A typical Service Engine forms the core of platforms built on the ATCA standard to incorporate hardware redundancy, a fault-tolerant software architecture and self-monitoring/ self-healing features. There are separate cooling zones for redundant components, separation of switch hubs to prevent accidental removal or damage, and enhanced fault detection and handling. The software used on ATCA products is enhanced to incorporate improved reliability mechanisms such as self-stabilizing and fault tolerance. Self-stabilizing software means that the system will more readily converge to an error-free state autonomously. This can be achieved through higher coverage of hardware and software faults, an approach that is derived from Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) military standards.
The message for service providers is clear : selected IP platforms are ready to deliver the reliability and availability necessary for real-time, multimedia-rich content, including voice. In an all IP world , multi-core processors coupled with powerful virtualization technology enables the consolidation of all the physically discrete carrier-grade servers into a very attractive platform for low-end scalability. Replacing 20+ carrier-grade servers with either 2 blades or 2 carrier-grade servers based on multi-core processors represents a dramatic way to lower the cost of the core network elements required to serve the first subscriber; this type of radical consolidation represents at least a 10:1 reduction in initial CapEx, plus a comparable reduction in recurring operating expenses.
Forward thinking Telcos must capitalize on the advantages of IP for converging voice, data, and multimedia services on a single unified, cost-effective core infrastructure running on ATCA carrier grade blades. The maturity of IP standards and quality of service (QoS) on IP networks opens up new possibilities for carrier applications. Converging voice and data services over a single IP backbone ( such as LTE ) maximizes network efficiency, streamlines the network architecture, reduces capital and operating costs, and opens up new service opportunities.
Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )