IoT management at the network’s edge

IoT has enabled users to access control over a multitude of “smart” devices while also unlocking unlimited possibilities for operators in new markets, such as farming, utilities and transportation. A Gartner study claimed that by 2020 there will be around 26 billion IoT connected devices. Imagine the data they collect and the necessary technology required to process it.

Until recently, cloud computing was the answer for storing and processing data collections from IoT applications. However, despite being a cost-effective model in appearance, the handling data in a centralized cloud site is facing new capacity, data management and security challenges. Analysts at Gartner have also raised the alarm on the inefficiency, from both a technical and economical standpoint, of sending all of the gathered data to a single site for processing.

Fog Computing is a new technical solution that allows data to be aggregated in larger number of smaller remote data centers for the initial analysis, and only afterwards sent for storage into the cloud. The term “Fog Computing” is recent and refers to a technology that is an extension of cloud computing. It’s main characteristics are: the geographical distribution of a large number of processing nodes (application servers), its extended mobility, a low latency and location recognition, wireless access and the predominance of real-time applications.

Fog Computing is a virtualized layer between the IoT devices and the conventional data centers in the cloud, that delivers processing, networking and storage services. It is also known as edge computing, because it is usually located at the edge of the network. It allows for a new set of applications and services solely dedicated to routing, managing and analyzing IoT data, relieving data centers from processing and storing the large volume of measurements collected from IoT devices and sensors.

This is where our SDMN YateBTS-powered solution responds to the current needs of IoT data management. To deploy a fully functional Fog Computing ecosystem, operators can install scalable application servers distributed in each cell site for data analysis and monitoring, without the traffic cluttering the core network. They are geographically distributed and connect to each other to perform a “close to the ground” intermediary layer between IoT devices and the cloud, providing security, low latency and high resilience.

SatSite base stations can redirect the traffic locally to the application server, based on the IMSI specific to the device.

fog_computing

Main features:

  • geographical distribution – Fog Computing nodes in application servers are located in each cell site and cover a wide portion of the field.
  • large number of nodes – closely connected to the geographical distribution
  • real-time connectivity – all the Fog application servers communicate directly with the SatSites located in their proximity, ensuring that they interact with client devices without passing through the core network for each IP data session

Our simplified mobile network architecture allows an easy deployment of Fog platforms to deliver real-time analytics, localization services and resilient applications. It reduces the processing burden in cloud data centers without overcharging the core network, making it ideal solution for IoT networks.

Extending LTE networks the easy way

We’ve often stated that YateUCN, our unified 2G/4G core network solution, can be used to extend existing LTE networks or upgrade GSM deployments to 4G LTE. And that’s correct. In this post we will take a closer look at how that happens and why YateUCN is more profitable than current solutions for operators moving towards LTE networks.

YateUCN is designed as a unified equipment that replaces all the functions performed by separate hardware components with one software application running on commodity hardware. This has the advantages of reducing the infrastructure costs, minimizing the equipment’s time to market, and increasing network resiliency due to a simplified management of software.

Let’s look at two scenarios where YateUCN can be integrated in existing networks.

Extend 4G LTE networks

For operators looking to increase access to 4G services YateUCN is a flexible, cost-effective solution. It drastically reduces initial equipment investment, allowing them to roll out more networks in a shorter time, to better serve growing consumer needs.

This can be done easily because YateUCN integrates all the LTE-specific functions and protocols, so that it interconnects with any existing operator setup. Every hardware component in the EPC – the MME, SGW, PGW, PCRF, and PCEF – is replaced with software running on a single piece of equipment.

The MME function handles UEs trying to connect to the network. It is responsible for subscriber authentication and uses S6a interface (Diameter) to connect to the operator’s HSS. The MME is also in charge of mobility management, allowing UEs continuous connectivity and active sessions as they move through the network.

YateUCN is fully compatible with any eNodeB, using S1-AP interface to manage inter-MME handover.

The SGW function allows YateUCN to manage data traffic routing over S1-U interface, ensuring communication between the eNodeB and the PGW, which establishes and maintains the IP session. The PGW interconnects with the charging solution of the operator using Diameter and Radius interface, allowing AAA management for wireless access.

The PCRF in YateUCN maintains QoS levels and charging policies, enabling mobile operators to control bandwidth usage while their subscribers are roaming. The Policy and Control Enforcement Function, PCEF, performs policy enforcement and service data flow detection, making sure the data flow through from the PGW is accessible.

The unified nature of YateUCN leads to large equipment savings, and makes it easy to manage the network capacities with a software upgrade.

Upgrade networks to 4G LTE

2G/3G networks can be upgraded to 4G LTE using YateUCN core network and SatSite for the radio network. A new LTE network with YateUCN and YateENB SatSite significantly reduces overall network roll-out costs. SatSite operating on YateENB is an eNodeB communicating with the MME in YateUCN over S1 interface and with any other eNodeB over X2 interface.

Since YateUCN also unifies all the layers of the GSM/GPRS core alongside the EPC, it also acts as an extension of existing 2G networks, achieved at no costs for additional 2G core equipment.

SatSite can run on YateBTS and YateENB at the same time, so each cell will act as a mixed 2G/4G site. As a result, operators can choose to use SatSite in mixed 2G/4G networks, without needing a new 2G core. What’s more, since in 2G mode YateBTS SatSite unifies both the BTS and the BSC layer, it communicates directly with YateUCN core network, using the SIP/GTP protocols.

The MSC contained in YateUCN allows subscribers to be handed over from the YateUCN – SatSite network to the operator’s current 2G deployment in the case of CS services mobility. Subscribers can roam from the YateUCN/SatSite network to any existing MSC serving the roaming area to ensure voice services continuity.

YateUCN can be integrated in any system already deployed by the operator. Used together with SatSite, it serves to build complete 4G LTE or mixed 2G/LTE networks with a low infrastructure and operations investment, ensuring consumers consistent access to both voice and data services.

Software-defined radio for frequency reuse in LTE

The expansion of 4G LTE challenges operators who have limited spectrum; as some decide to take down existing 2G (and even 3G) deployments in favor of 4G, bandwidth allocation in an area must be carefully planned to match the quality requirements of LTE.

In 4G LTE, spectrum is a crucial resource. Performance is dependent on the proximity between the radio network and the devices. The closer the radio tower, the higher the data throughput. This means that the more cell towers operators build, the better they can cover the area.

Frequency reuse is a widely adopted solution for LTE; essentially, a given area is served by more cell towers using the same frequency. An easier and more efficient approach to this is software-defined radio.

Cell edge interference management using YateENB

Cell edge interference management using YateENB

Frequency reuse means splitting an area in several new, smaller cells. In LTE, to maintain a high throughput, the same frequency is allocated to all the new cells, at the expense of higher interference at the cell edges. Since all the new cells have equal power, two or more cells meeting causes interference around the cells edges.

Apart from that, building and maintaining additional infrastructure required by frequency reuse results in high capital and operational expenses.

SDR in the LTE base station (eNodeB) can be a solution to these limitations. The fact that SDR implements the communication protocols in software and uses general-purpose hardware has several benefits.

The most important one is the effect on infrastructure costs. Base stations built on special-purpose hardware need heavier equipment and hence larger towers, which are expensive to install and operate. An eNodeB using general purpose hardware relies on more lightweight equipment, meaning that smaller towers can be deployed more densely in an area and provide better coverage. A lower power consumption associated with SDR-based BTS equipment also contributes to reducing the overall RAN costs.

Another major benefit of SDR is flexibility. SDR-based eNodeBs can be configured more easily to manage spectrum use at the edges of the cells, and thus minimize interference. Frequency sub-carriers can be selected at two cell edges in such a way that they do not overlap as in the case of conventional systems.

What’s more, SDR permits an adaptable power management so that different services can be assigned optimal QoS depending on the context.

Another aspect of SDR is the ability to build mixed networks. Base station equipment can be programmed to support different technologies at the same time and using the same hardware, serving more users with virtually no infrastructure investment. You can read more about this topic in this previous blog post.

SDR: the next big thing?

SDR systems can accurately be catalogued as ‘software-defined’ if they run on general purpose hardware, in a context where many existing technologies define themselves as SDR while running on special-purpose equipment.

With the adoption of more demanding technologies such as LTE, operators need to handle more traffic and deliver higher quality, meaning that mobile infrastructure needs to be run more efficiently and more profitably.

How can cost savings, resource efficiency, and flexible management be achieved in the mobile network? Our solution is the software-defined SatSite base station.

The reason for turning to SDR is the inflexibility of special-purpose hardware and software currently used in conventional base stations and what this entails in terms of costs, power consumption, and equipment.

sdr_2015-7-1_version6.3

Large expenses to upgrade, reprogram, or add new functions to the network

Because they are physically larger, base stations using conventional DSPs are more difficult to manage. What’s more, DSP boards can’t be modified to perform new functions or improve existing ones, so extending the RAN infrastructure usually requires new equipment to be added, leading to increased capital investment. Used on commodity hardware, SDR systems have lower manufacturing costs, making them more profitable when compared to the current heavy, static network equipment.

Increased power consumption

Special-purpose hardware products designed to perform complex functions come with high power demands. SDR allows more functions to be added to the same board, leading to the use of smaller equipment, with a lower power consumption.

Equipment supplier constraints

Another disadvantage of special-purpose equipment is that it is usually produced, serviced and supported by a particular vendor. In this case, operators are limited in recurring to different suppliers, as new equipment needs to inter-work with existing set-ups. SDR has the advantage of running on commodity hardware to avoid the use of specialized components and allow more flexibility to reconfigure or repurpose the hardware.

Dedicated staff training

Specialized hardware/software usually comes with specific vendor training and support. SDR offers operators more autonomy in configuring and managing base station equipment, relying entirely on their personnel.

SDR allows a high level of flexibility in designing and managing the RAN, with network functions being upgraded or reprogrammed with the simple use of software. While it is not a new concept, most base stations continue to use chip sets like DSPs, which are built on special purpose hardware, keeping equipment heavy, costly, and inflexible for changing traffic needs.

SDR is essential for the expansion of mixed networks to provide access across multiple technologies, such as 2G/4G, and prioritize service allocation depending on the needs. SatSite base station simultaneously provides 2G and 4G coverage using from the same equipment.

Built on general purpose hardware and using a non-proprietary operating system, SatSite allows operators to build smaller cell towers, with lower costs. SatSite cell sites can be suitably disposed to match the traffic needs in any area, and network performance can be improved remotely and easily, with a simple software change.

SatSite uses a high level language which enables it to support more complex functions than a conventional base station using a DSP. In highly populated areas or situations, increasing the network capacity to serve more subscribers usually requires a higher density of cell towers. SatSite can be dynamically reprogrammed to meet higher subscribers capacities by a software configuration for multiple-TRX.

Due to the flexibility, capacity, power and cost efficiency SDR brings to mobile networks design, its future probably holds good news.

Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Software-defined radio.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Jun. 2015. Web. 2 Jul. 2015.

Off to greener networks

Going green is not just good for the environment, it’s also good for mobile operators.

It is common knowledge that the share of energy drives the largest costs in mobile network deployments – about 50% of the total OPEX in emerging markets. While diesel power systems play a large part in the high level of expenditure, according to a 2014 GSMA Green Power for Mobile report, they account today for nearly 90% of power solutions used in off-grid and unreliable grid sites.

Operational fuel costs, logistics (transportation, depositing), diesel pilferage – which alone increases costs with about 15%-20%, the need for continual service in areas where power outages are frequent, all add up to operators’ investment and operational expenditure, reflecting eventually in a higher service cost for users and therefore in a drop in use of mobile services.

green power SatSite

60% of the overall network infrastructure costs is attributable to building and powering cell towers [1], so saving on energy requires the choice of equipment that uses makes a more efficient use of power resources.

Deploying cell sites using green energy is easy when using a base station like SatSite, which requires a low power input (45W) and is ideal for installing in remote areas with unstable or no electrical grids. Cell towers using SatSite in either single or 3-sector configuration are a lightweight deployment which allows it to serve isolated or remote locations, relying only on the existing natural resources.

SatSite’s design differentiates from that of traditional base station by integrating a passive cooling system that makes its use independent from air conditioning or ventilation units. The power required for air conditioning makes up for a large part of the overall input needed to run operate a site. Eliminating air conditioning also frees up space to make cell towers more resilient.

Over diesel power systems, solar panels and wind turbines, for example, have a much longer life expectancy, that can range to 20-25 years. Combined with diesel power in hybrid energy systems, operators can achieve a longer and more reliable operation of cell towers, driving down fuel costs to save more than $10 billion annually.

Shifting to green towers has major implications. First, it reduces operators’ costs and allows them to extend mobile networks in places in areas that are completely deprived of coverage due to the lack of an adequate infrastructure. Then, it reduces the negative effects on environment; GSMA reports that an off-grid site in Africa has an average annual consumption of 13,000 litres of diesel, adding as much as 35 tons of CO2 emissions to the environment.

If they choose green energy for telecom towers in remote areas, operators must move to smaller, more autonomous cell sites; profitability will come not only from power savings and a rise in service use, but also from reshaping the overall network infrastructure to better manage power factors.

 

[1] Telecom infrastructure sharing, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Telecom_infrastructure_sharing&oldid=624429583 (last visited June 10, 2015).

Off-grid technologies for sustainable mobile network deployments

Energy costs amount to 15% up to 50% of the total OPEX of deploying mobile networks in areas without power grid. Operators in developing countries, as those in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, need cost-effective solutions to face this issue, otherwise they will find it impossible to install new networks.

When we first heard about Tesla’s latest innovation we were impressed. It seemed the perfect solution for what households need right now. But then we gave it more thought and realized that Powerwall batteries are also an answer for mobile operators. We now know they would make a great match with our SatSite base stations.

Depending on the type of deployment, cell sites equipped with SatSite units have the following average consumption levels:

  • lightweight site, with omni antenna – approximately 45 Watts
  • three-sector site – less than 150 Watts
  • three-sector site with tower mounted booster – approximately 350 Watts

tesla_SatSite

A Tesla Powerwall battery offers either 7 or 10 kWh power output, is rechargeable with aid from solar panels and can be mounted indoors and outdoors. It also has a 10 years warranty and requires no additional maintenance costs. A single 7 kWh battery is enough for running 3 SatSite units.

Recent initiatives, like GSMA’s Green Power for Mobile, have stressed the importance of deploying network infrastructures powered by green energy (in most cases solar) in developing areas and regions beyond the electrical grid.

Since both equipments can be powered by solar panels we consider this pairing an easy and seamless solution, particularly in areas where connection to the electricity grid is an issue. It can also successfully replace diesel-powered telecom towers, reducing costs and environmental pollution.

Not only does this solution work well in rural or isolated areas, but it would be a great fit for urban areas in developing nations that have an unreliable power grid. Cell towers equipped with SatSite base stations could use Powerwall batteries as a dependable and renewable backup plan in case of power outage. National blackouts affecting hundreds of millions of people, like those in India (2012), Turkey (2015) or United States (2003), will no longer restrict vital mobile communications if operators choose self-sustaining power alternatives.

The Case for the Unconnected Billions

Sending text messages, going on hour-long calls, or live-streaming videos are such an integral part of our lives that most of us take them for granted. And yet around 3 billion people live, today, in areas without access to basic infrastructure – be it remote islands in the Pacific, developing extra-urban areas, or isolated rural areas everywhere around the world.

Mobile communication can connect these people with one another and with technologies that can prove to be vital. Mobile data enables job seeking in wider area ranges, instantly accessing health care information in case of emergency or risk, or keeping farmers in line with market prices and trends.

In remote, unconnected markets, bringing voice and data coverage can be best achieved using GPRS, which provides wider coverage than 3G, and is easier to adapt to rural, remote, or low density areas. In such places, traditional cellular networks have the disadvantage of being economically counterproductive to deploy, and operators are unlikely to invest in hefty infrastructures that generate relatively little revenue from usage compared to the networks’ lifespan maintenance costs.

The YateBTS technology addresses these issues differently than most other approaches to mobile networks. 2.5G networks using SatSite and YateUCN are a simplified, flexible, and low-cost solution that can be adopted anywhere in the world.

Lightweight, low-power sites

SatSite is smaller than typical base stations which makes it easy to build lightweight cell sites that are especially profitable in higher density networks. SatSite’s low power requirements allow operators to plan self-sustaining mobile networks running on solar or wind energy, avoiding the use of costly power grids or diesel systems.

Bandwidth-efficient backhaul

Unlike traditional networks, a YateBTS/YateUCN mobile network allows bandwidth savings of up to 60%, by using the GTP protocol across the entire network.

bring_cov_2015-6-4_version1.2SatSite acts as a BTS/BSC communicating with the YateUCN core network over GTP, without using any additional network nodes, to simplify the network architecture and minimize the backhaul load. Data sessions in networks using YateBTS SatSite can be established either locally, by assigning the IP directly in the SatSite, or in the YateUCN core network, adapting to the constraints of each location.

SatSite unifies the BTS and the BSC from traditional radio access networks architecture, to eliminate the Abis radio interface used to direct traffic between the BTS and the BSC. In conventional cellular networks, the BSC handling all the communication between the core network and the devices leads to high costs and a substantial load on the network. SatSite base station can communicate with YateUCN over satellite, using GTP to replace the signalling interfaces normally used inside the radio access network and to/from the core network.

A satellite backhaul architecture is adapted particularly to sparse networks in areas with a low density populations, where cell sites are far from the core network; satellite allows operators to serve any location, and improve bandwidth performance for both voice and data services. Combined with the light design and an autonomous operation of the SatSite base station, backhaul over satellite makes YateBTS/YateUCN networks ideal for extending connectivity to uncovered areas.