Everyone is busily preparing for GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, the theme for which is “The Mobile Horizon”. No doubt many operator discussions will focus on what’s next in LTE networks, and there most certainly will be an endless stream of “cloud” announcements.
These are exciting developments for the industry that hold great promise for better overall delivery (leading to improved customer satisfaction) at a reduced cost, but there is a cautionary tale in the background: you can’t scale your network through LTE upgrades or ‘cloud’ virtualization alone; your signaling environment has to be equally robust.
To understand this better, let’s unpack the market and network dynamics that got us to this point. As consumers rapidly adopt mobile devices and applications as part of their immersion into a digital lifestyle, the demand for bandwidth becomes outsized, leading to traffic chokepoints, even on important traffic. Soon everyone is unhappy.
In an effort to remedy this problem, operators have adopted strategies such as WiFi offload and creative offer packaging and pricing. These are good “holding actions,” but are not sufficient in the long term. Operators know this and are deploying LTE network capabilities in the hopes of being able to better serve these same demanding consumers with a more cost-effective (and eventually all-IP) network.
Finally, there is a great flurry of data center activity to put everything in a cloud environment for on-demand access to resources.
Likewise, software-defined networking (SDN) holds promise as a means to virtualize network resources in ways that will serve these varying levels of demand in the most dynamic, low-cost ways.
All of these are useful tactics, but they don’t really get the whole job done.
Recall that at the highest levels, SDN separates the control plane, i.e., the orchestration of resource allocation in the data center from the “data plane”. Inside the data plane, of course, resides the actual end-user payload. But a less-often discussed component – Diameter signaling –allows the great variety of servers, gateways and other network elements to set up sessions, authorize users and enable charging for the newest and potentially most profitable services.
Cloud virtualization certainly allows the two SDN planes to operate and scale in balanced, complementary ways so that one only spends what is needed to grow the network, but still serves user demand . At the same time, signaling must be even more robust.
According to the Tekelec LTE Diameter Signaling Index™, while data demand is growing at unprecedented rates, the signaling associated with this demand is growing three times faster!
Without an adequate signaling infrastructure based on a centralized, core Diameter signaling architecture, the network continues to be constrained by the communication path between elements such as gateways, charging systems and policy engines.
So while you’re noshing on tapas at the Fira Gran Via next week, consider not just your LTE network element and cloud needs, but the Diameter signaling requirements that actually ensure these investments deliver on their promise.