With all the recent news related to Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) you might get the impression that commercialization of a virtualized evolved packet core vEPC is right around the corner.But if you step back to consider what it takes to test, deploy and operationalize a new technology in a mobile operator’s network, then you realize that we are at the beginning of a journey to deliver a vEPC solution.This virtualized EPC (vEPC) solution must not only be integrated into the mobile operator’s network environment but also must match or exceed the performance of existing packet core networks. This blog is the first in a series that I’ll write that covers the steps mobile operators, vEPC vendors and industry and standards bodies must jointly take in order to complete this journey successfully. In this first blog, I’ll talk about the initial services that are driving the transition to a virtualized EPC, and review some of the deployment options.
vEPC: Initial Service candidates
Mobile operators are currently evaluating which services are initially good candidates to be deployed over a vEPC.They are most excited about the rapid scalability and service creation flexibility that NFV promises.The vEPC will be able to quickly add more capacity whenever and wherever it’s needed, which opens up new markets and revenue opportunities. Also, by taking advantage of NFV’s design flexibility, operators will be able to run the vEPC networks ‘hotter’ with high performance and lower costs. At the same time, they have concerns about how the vEPC would impact the delivery of existing services.One option they are considering is to initially deploy the vEPC for new and emerging services.In this manner, operators can gain experience with NFV prior to migrating their main consumer production networks.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) is an emerging service that could be deployed over a virtualized EPC network.Enterprise customers have potentially millions of machine devices such as smart utility meters, telematics, and digital signage. These require not only rapid scaling and data connectivity but also value-added services such as device management, M2M communications control and data traffic optimization. To deliver this service, the vEPC will interface with the mobile operator’s Customer Experience Management (CEM) system, which itself can be virtualized. The vEPC provides high control plane scalability and a lower cost per connected device than can be offered with a traditional EPC.
vEPC On Demand
Another service that is being discussed is a “vEPC on demand” where the capacity and scale is contracted to the venue site, but only temporarily.This could be in support of a big sporting event like the Super Bowl, a national convention or a concert.Additional virtualized EPC capacity is dynamically configured in the local datacenter via cloud orchestration and SDN to support the large concentration of mobile broadband devices. Mobile operator benefit from the reduced costs to provide virtualized EPC capacity on demand, utilizing available virtual machine resources.
Mobile VPNs for Enterprises
Finally, mobile operators are looking to support enterprises of all sizes with mobile VPN access for their nomadic employees.Mobile operators often could not justify the capital and operational costs to support small/medium enterprises to deliver this service. But with NFV a virtualized enterprise gateway that’s configured for each business customer makes it possible. Also many enterprise applications have transitioned from the corporate IT data center to the cloud.Nomadic mobile employees can now gain access to these business critical applications from their mobile device.With this transition to cloud-based applications, mobile operators can offer additional value added services to these enterprise customers above VPN access.
Deployment Options for the vEPC
Many factors will determine the path that mobile operators take to NFV. Some will move quickly while others will take their time. Many will operate in a hybrid environment where some mobile core functions are virtualized and others remain on dedicated platforms.As noted in the M2M example, an overlay virtual network such as the virtualized EPC may be deployed while other services continue to operate on dedicated platforms.For this reason the vEPC must have the same operational look and feel as the non-virtualized version and smoothly integrate into an operator’s existing network – with no surprises in performance.
To find out more about Alcatel-Lucent’s approach to the vEPC read our The Journey to Packet Core Virtualization application note. We are already making elements of our solution ‘cloud-ready’ by moving the EPC functions to an NFV infrastructure platform, and we have multiple customer trials underway. These trials will take some time to complete, not only to understand the differences in performance of a virtualized EPC built on an NFV infrastructure but also to understand the operational changes that must be implemented.
vEPC White Paper: The Journey to Packet Core Virtualization Alcatel-Lucent Mobile Meets Cloud solution page Alcatel-Lucent IP Mobile Core solution page China Mobile selects Alcatel-Lucent for strategic transformation to all-IP ultra-broadband network press release
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