Over the past several years, the Internet and mobile communications have drastically changed the way people communicate, stay informed and entertain themselves. As these drivers have now merged to become the mobile Internet, mobile operators have adjusted their business models to exploit the opportunity for increased revenue.
This evolution is now generating three major disruptions in the industry that, when combined, will result in a traffic tidal wave that must be addressed with a true, next-generation multimedia core network.
- Mobile broadband—EDGE/WCDMA networks are evolving to HSPA offering broadband speeds of 3 to 14 Mbps today – and 28 to 42 Mbps around the corner, with LTE not far off providing over 100 Mbps speeds. With HSPA and LTE, mobile networks reach true broadband speeds.
- Consumer-friendly billing plans—Market dynamics and competition are changing billing models from usage-based to flat rate and/or service-based. This results in increased network usage and a diversification in applications running over the network.
- Multimedia device usability—New multimedia devices and services provide drastically improved usability. Users now have devices that can easily access a wide variety of applications on the network.
These factors are fueling data traffic usage beyond expectations and are placing inordinate pressure on the packet core network. Over the next five years, the projected number of worldwide HSPA subscribers is expected to surpass 1 billion, with traffic growth an order of magnitude higher. HSPA moves from a minor portion of the network to the dominating technology for multimedia core networks. However, today’s non-HSPA packet core networks are designed to handle EDGE and WCDMA services that peaked at 384 kbps.
HSPA and LTE Evolution Options
With the multi-megabit performance of HSPA and the accompanying increases in subscribers and traffic, operators must design multimedia core packet networks that can handle this rapidly increasing usage. The packet core network also must change drastically to provide the intelligence, performance and scale required for HSPA mobile broadband – especially in the advent of always-on services. The networks also must be ready for LTE. As it stands today, traffic is increasing at a rate larger than revenue. To maximize profit, operators must look at HSPA and LTE products and technologies that lower the cost of the network as traffic grows.
One evolution option is to continually “throw” additional 2G/2.5G platforms at the problem to address the throughput, signaling and capacity requirements. While providing a temporary Band-Aid, this option makes the network more complex and expensive and provides inferior, just-good-enough performance with little to no intelligence. This approach also does not address long-term network needs. HSPA is a mobile broadband network that requires a next-generation multimedia core solution that meets today’s HSPA requirements and is positioned to address LTE requirements tomorrow.
A more favorable evolution option is to deploy a solution optimized for HSPA and LTE; therefore, significantly lowering the capital and operational costs per byte and session even as the traffic increases. For operators, making the wrong choice in HSPA infrastructure equipment will limit LTE deployment options.
For example, a new platform will be required for the LTE/EPC core elements, such as the MME, while existing platforms, such as the 2G SGSNs, will not be upgradeable nor support the scale required for the EPC functions. This eliminates the option of migrating to an EPC through software upgrades, while also eliminating network architecture flexibility, such as integrating network functions, for example SGSN and MME, on the same platform.
The HSPA core network solution must be designed to scale from HSPA to HSPA+ to LTE or directly from HSPA to LTE. By deploying a solution optimized for both HSPA and LTE, operators can have a platform that is only a simple software upgrade away from offering LTE EPC core solutions.
A tidal wave is about to hit your packet core network, driven by simultaneous, seismic disruptions to mobile operator business models. You cannot wait for LTE alone to save your packet core. The decision for the LTE Evolved Packet Core network is today. It is the HSPA decision.
Morgan is senior director of product marketing for Starent Networks.
Filed Under: Infrastructure