Cable operators becoming MVNO: a win-win scenario

In our previous blog post we opened up the discussion about cable companies staying relevant in a day and time where the subscriber trend is to become more mobile, at the expense of home-based data consumption. As a 2014 report from Adobe already showed, more than 50% of browsing on smartphones and 93% of browsing on tablet comes from WiFi.

Even as they expand their offer, cable providers still see usage limited to home or office hours. On their side, mobile operators continue to upgrade their networks to 4G (and future 5G) technology to deliver more high-quality media content; this makes them competitive in terms of service quality but also results in rising infrastructure investment.

In this post we’ll see how cable companies and MNO can start providing data services using a shared infrastructure, with YateHSS/HLR and the YateUCN unified core.

Mobile data offloading can be an opportunity for both operators and cable companies to provide data access to more users without incurring large expenses. Offloading enables operators to reduce the traffic load on their networks and reallocate bandwidth to other users in case of congestion, by assigning part of the traffic to a WiFi network. For cable companies, it becomes possible to serve subscribers in-between existing hotspots, making them rely primarily on the WiFi network, rather than on the cellular one.

YateUCN and YateHSS/HLR in a cable operator setup

This can be done through MVNO agreements between cable operators and one or multiple MNO, so that the cable provider would share the network assets of the operator to provide carrier-class WiFi access.

As MVNO, a cable company will provide its own SIMs, and its customers will register to and receive data traffic from the MNO’s network. Though some MVNO may choose to also operate their own core network, they are usually likely to hold control over billing, subscriber management and policy control functions, in which case they will only deploy an HLR and/or HSS. In fact, reports suggest that it is preferable for MVNO who offer triple or quad-play operating to deploy their own HSS/HLR (to which they can integrate policy control and AAA), because they need to provide a ‘consistent treatment of the user’ across terminals and technologies.

Providing ubiquitous data access between 2G/3G/4G cellular networks and WiFi hotspots requires offloading to be done seamlessly. Most mobile devices today attempt to connect automatically to an available WiFi network, which they will remember after the first connection has been performed. To connect, once the device has detected the SSID, it proceeds to authentication, which must be done instantly and securely.

In a network using the YateUCN core and the YateHSS/HLR, acting as a typical Home Subscriber Server/Home Location Register with an integrated AuC, SIM authentication is performed between the device and the Access Point, enabling the subscriber a one-time registration to the network using the IMSI stored in their SIM and the secure encryption key Ki. YateHSS/HLR and YateUCN support EAP-SIM/EAP-AKA authentication specified in the IETF standard for WiFi inter-working, securing the connection on both user and network ends.

Once the device is known to the core network, YateUCN communicates with the AuC in the YateHSS/HLR using the SS7 or Diameter protocol, depending on the type of services the user has access to. As soon as the SIM is authenticated, the HSS/HLR takes over and manages the SIM and its services.

YateHSS/HLR supports all the interfaces needed to communicate with the SGSN, EPC, and IMS at the same time, and provides advanced subscriber management options. As a combined HSS/HLR, it allows a subscriber to be located in simultaneous networks if, for example, they are registered to 4G LTE and paging for a CS service is required.

Of course, there are also challenges for cable providers who redefine themselves as WiFi access operators. One of the main concerns is related to the use of non-SIM devices such as laptops, which, even if able to authenticate to the AP in the same way as SIM devices, have no way to then connect to a core network.

While such aspects still need to be approached, the possibility of ‘WiFi-first’ networks seems a venture worthwhile for cable companies.

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.

quadruple_player_2015-6-30_version1.3

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.

SRVCC made easy

As promised in our last LTE technology post,  we want to tackle a new technology used in voice in 4G: Single Radio Voice Call Continuity. We’ll explain what SRVCC entails and give you an insight into our own approach towards this technology: inter-MSC SRVCC from 4G to 2G.

While most voice traffic in LTE  is provided with CSFB, today the next stage involves using VoLTE and a technology called SRVCC for providing seamless voice continuity from LTE to other 2G/3G networks in areas not covered by LTE.

One of the main issues for LTE for operators is that deployment is spotty and incomplete. Once the big challenge of deploying VoLTE has been achieved, operators have to use SRVCC to offer subscribers continuous voice traffic when they reach an area without LTE coverage.

SRVCC allows for inter-Radio Access Technology handover, while also providing handover between a packet data-only network to a CS network. As the name suggests, SRVCC removes the need for two simultaneous active radios in devices, as required by CSFB, preserving the battery life, and manages to maintain continuous QoS during voice calls which are in progress. SRVCC is also a mandatory technology for maintaining continuity during emergency calls.

Typically, SRVCC enables voice and data handover from LTE to legacy networks and viceversa. To enable SRVCC, operators need to upgrade their legacy MSCs, the LTE RAN and EPC and the IMS network for VoLTE.

We have a different, simpler approach to offer operators: our YateUCNserver handles SRVCC by performing and inter-MSC handover from 4G to 2G. Built to simultaneously be an MME/MSC and the IMS network for VoLTE, YateUCN performs SRVCC without the additional network upgrades (in LTE and 2G) mentioned above.

VoLTE_SRVCC_Handover

With YateUCN, the SRVCC handover will be performed as simple as an inter-MSC handover, without the additional investments normally required.

We are committed to innovation and believe in providing software-defined mobile network equipment, designed to cater to both 4G and 2G, while relieving operators from the huge costs of upgrade, maintenance and service. Our resilient and scalable YateUCN embodies this philosophy entirely.

Roaming in LTE – facing challenges with new opportunities

With LTE, operators are now able to offer their subscribers huge bandwidths and significantly improved quality of service, but they also have to face new challenges. LTE drastically changed the mobility architecture and led to the adoption of new interfaces, frequencies, protocols, which ultimately impacted on the state of roaming.

A 2013 Informa report on the market status of LTE Roaming found that most operators hadn’t even finished their roaming strategy. By 2015, operators who deployed LTE networks had data roaming only in a few countries.

Our answer to the LTE roaming dilemma is YateUCN.

So what’s different?

Roaming allows subscribers to use voice and data services when they are abroad. There are two main aspects to keep in mind when discussing roaming:

  • commercial  roaming agreements between operators
  • technical implementation SS7 (Camel/MAP) protocol in the case of 2.5G and 3G networks, and Diameter in 4G networks

Each roaming protocol requires new roaming and interconnect agreements, even with existing partners. Therefore, once an operator deploys a 4G network, it will need new roaming agreements for their LTE subscribers.

Operators who want to add an LTE network will have to face two challenges related to:

  • deploying a network with a radically different infrastructure, including new interfaces and protocols
  • setting up new roaming agreements for Diameter, since LTE roaming requires it

Our solution

YateUCN, our core network solution, allows 4G devices to authenticate to foreign partners over SS7 roaming agreements, to an HLR.

YateUCN is a mixed 2.5G/4G core network server, capable of replacing all the core network equipments associated to both networks, while also using both Camel/MAP and Diameter for roaming.

YateUCN_Network

 

YateUCN also makes it possible for 4G devices to be registered to a 2.5G network and a 4G network at the same time, if necessary.

With the innovative YateUCN, MNOs will tap the great opportunity LTE roaming is, while also using the standing roaming agreements with their partners. Operators will gain time to set up the right agreements, and at the same time will garner new revenues by encouraging their customers to use data roaming.

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 and YateUCN™ make a perfect match for SDMN

YateBTS and YateUCN can be used together to build complete software-defined mobile networks.

YateBTS is a software implementation of the GSM/GPRS radio network. It runs on any Linux and uses a generic digital radio board, the Nuand BladeRF. The entire physical layer is implemented in software, which is different from the usual FPGA- or DSP-based radio design.

For the core network there’s YateUCN, the unified core network based on Yate. YateUCN is a Linux application that can run on commodity servers. It implements the functions of 2.5G and 4G core networks and is easy to integrate in existing mobile operator infrastructure. Like YateBTS, YateUCN replaces hardware routers and transcoders with pure software.
Together, YateBTS and YateUCN form complete software-defined mobile networks, networks that are affordable to build and operate, and networks that can support 2.5G, 4G or even both at the same time.
There are several advantages to the YateBTS+YateUCN approach:
  • Upgradable – We can add new features, like EDGE, with software upgrades or even replace 2.5G GSM/GPRS with 4G LTE using the same hardware.
  • Manageable – Because the entire system is Linux, we can monitor and manage every aspect of the software in a flexible way.
  • Affordable – A pure software approach has much lower development costs and relies on commodity computing hardware.
  • Flexible – The hardware is protocol-agnostic and can be reconfigured to support any mix of technologies.
  • Scalable – The capacity of the core network can be increased just by adding more servers.
Compare this to a conventional mobile network, with its hardwired base stations in the field and big iron like the Cisco AR550 or an Ericsson Mobile Switching Center in the core. It’s all single-purpose equipment, expensive or impossible to upgrade, and all based on proprietary software and hardware with big licensing fees, special training and support requirements.