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.

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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.

Rethinking redundancy: a new approach to core networks

Mobile communications must provide uninterrupted mobile service at all times, but the costs to create network redundancy with current conventional equipment are restrictive. YateUCN unified core is a profitable and flexible solution for redundancy in 2G and 4G mobile networks.

Network redundancy ensures that as technology advances, the capacity of network infrastructures to support more subscribers without blackouts adapts accordingly. YateUCN is a unified core network allowing resiliency in 2G/LTE mobile networks using YateBTS and YateENB SatSite. SatSite acts as a BTS/BSC communicating directly with the MSC/VLR/SGSN/GGSN and EPC in YateUCN.

As a software-defined core solution, YateUCN replaces the heavy, expensive core equipment used in conventional networks with smaller, affordable, and easy-to-manage equipment. It is a software implementation of 2G and LTE core network layers, operating on commodity hardware.

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In typical networks, redundancy is achieved by supplying an additional core server for any given core server, causing costs to more than double, since supplementary costs for the configuration of back-up servers add up to the capital expenses.

YateUCN implements the core network functions and protocols in software, enabling any other YateUCN node to take over extra-traffic in case of failure of a node, or if the network capacity needs to be increased.

While conventional MSC/VLR in data centers are limited to serving a given number of BSCs in a defined geographical area, in a YateUCN – SatSite network the base station allows a device to connect to any YateUCN node in the network, irrespectively of the geographical location of the device/BTS and of whether the network is 2G or 4G. A list of available YateUCN units is configured in each YateBTS/YateENB SatSite.

Core equipment is usually designed to allocate specific core network functions (authentication, mobility, call setup, data routing) to separate nodes. Such equipment is heavy due to the large number of components, increases lead time, and requires separate back-up equipment for each node.

YateUCN unifies both GSM and LTE core layers, meaning that a single alternate YateUCN server provides full redundancy for any other server in the network. If a failover should occur in a YateUCN node, a device can register to a different YateUCN, remaining attached to the same base station, as shown below.

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A new YateUCN is chosen from the list of YateUCN units held in the base station. If a mobile device remains connected to the same BTS, registration to the MSC/VLR in the new YateUCN is performed whenever the device communicates with the network to perform an action. Registration to the new YateUCN is updated in the HSS/HLR.

If the device roams to an area served by a different BTS, they will connect to the new SatSite, but will remain connected to the YateUCN currently serving it, and a new query in the HLR is not required. This reduces the load on the HLR and allows it to support a higher subscriber capacity. This can be seen below:

MS connecting to a new YateUCN

MS connecting to a new YateUCN

Increasing traffic to a YateUCN core server is easily performed because YateUCN communicates with 2G base stations using SIP and GTP, and with eNodeBs over SIP/S1AP/GTP. SIP and GTP signalling protocols have the advantage of scalability and interoperability, allowing different service requirements to be served at the same time and with the same quality standards.

Because YateUCN uses commodity hardware, operation and servicing can be managed remotely, with minimal external support, significantly driving operational costs down. YateUCN provides simplicity and cost-effectiveness to building redundancy in mobile networks so that operators can provide high-quality service at all times.

New opportunities for cable companies: the MVNO route

Cable companies have had an increasing interest in tapping new market opportunities, as consumption of voice and data sees unprecedented growth.

For most cable providers, going from triple play to multi-play is the logical move on customer demand, so the MVNO route naturally seems the next step.

New needs and use patterns on subscribers’ end make the integration of home and mobile services anytime and anywhere necessary. But as cable operators opt to provide WiFi hotspots to their customers, they also need to offer mobility options if they want to turn them into dependable subscribers.

That’s why it goes without saying that rolling out small, private WiFi networks is not enough for most cable operators. If they want to stay in the competition and provide a mix of media services, voice, and data, they need access to the mobile network capabilities by associating with an MNO.

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Partnering not only between a cable company and a mobile network operator, but also between cable providers, is becoming more and more common. On their side, cable companies rally up to ensure they secure themselves a share of the market.

Major players on the US cable providers market, for example, part of the CableWiFi alliance, were estimating the deployment, early 2015, of as many as 10 million new WiFi hotspots around the country, in both homes and businesses. Dual-SSID access points in subscribers’ homes allow the provision of a separate signal for outsiders, who can use that home hotspot without slowing down the network or being granted access to the subscriber’ home network. All the members of the CableWiFi alliance allow their subscribers to use each others hotspots, so, between the five, this could act as a self-reliant WIFI network that uses cellular networks to fill in the ‘gaps’.

Major benefits are evident; cable operators will acquire more customers for their new offerings, while subscribers will gain from getting all their services in one place with reduced subscription costs. But the success of this model still depends highly on cable companies getting to partner with MNOs, who have the necessary network resources to make this model work.

As for mobile network operators, more connected subscribers equals more revenue, which for now may be more to work with than nothing.

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.

YateBTS in the age of IoT

These days, everybody’s talking about the Internet of Things. And it’s no surprise that everybody loves it; from operators, who see a chance to attack new markets and better retain customers, to urban consumers who can connect a whole range of devices to an app on their smartphones, and farmers who can use technology to optimize their activities and maximize production.

Bringing IoT to such different audiences while maintaining a high quality of service and an efficient use of network resources is a challenge for most carriers’ current infrastructure capabilities and cost strategies. In fact, a critical concern when it comes to creating IoT infrastructure for new areas is laying the ground for that infrastructure – that is, mobile network coverage.

The number of IoT applications designed for farming and livestock breeding is on the rise, but their actual penetration in rural areas is limited to regions with existing GSM/GPRS infrastructure. Remote and rural areas offer mobile operators enticing prospects not only in terms of IoT coverage, but also in terms of connecting these new customers to their entire range of services such as voice, SMS, or data. But due to the high investment requirements for equipment, civil infrastructure, or maintenance, operators are still reluctant in building mobile networks in there areas.

The success of carriers setting up new networks in remote locations depends greatly on keeping investment and operational costs down, as well as on basing their network equipment choices on redundancy, power efficiency, and flexibility. A reliable IoT infrastructure amounts to operators providing continual service, seamlessly, and in very variable weather and terrain conditions. The geography of each area and the specific needs of communities influence every decision going from civil infrastructure to power supplying and equipment maintenance. In areas with low infrastructure where grid power isn’t available, for instance, carriers must rely on alternative power sources to successfully deploy new networks.

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YateBTS-powered IoT applications

A base station like the YateBTS SatSite offers a reliable and flexible solution for carriers to bring mobile coverage to remote rural areas. SatSite is a 2.5G low-power, lightweight base station that allows it to be easily installed anywhere from hill tops to outlying crop fields. Practical for lightweight cell sites, it can be operated in single or three-sector sites using a single solar panel. This generates a substantial reduction in operators’ initial investment costs but also in operating cell sites in the long-run.

SatSite’s low operating costs make it a particularly suitable solution for small farms and rural households, where resources are more scarce and used less efficiently. Access to IoT applications can support these communities in rendering farming activities more productive and sustainable. The flexibility of SatSite’s architecture suits the requirements of specific IoT solutions. Used for any range of applications and devices, from water pumps and soil measurement sensors, to herd tracking and monitoring, SatSite optimizes resource allocation to allow carriers to efficiently adapt their networks to the specific demands of each location.

In rural areas, access to IoT infrastructure can make it possible to attain better farming results, optimize productivity, and increase the overall quality of life. Basic mobile services can create new standards for health care, education, as well as social and economic development of these areas. Operators can play the leading role in this process, provided that their decisions successfully combine cost effectiveness for themselves, and service quality for consumers.

Self-Organizing Unified 2G/4G Networks

The IWPC workshop on self-organizing networks is in two weeks and we are excited about participating. Most of the people there will be talking about self-organizing networks for 4G LTE, which is all good and well, but we are also working hard on SON for 2G GSM networks. Why fit a new idea like SON on an older technology like GSM? Because there are still places in the world that need basic 2G service and a lot of those places don’t have access to any technical staff.