SDN in the Backhaul: 4 Takeaways for a 5G World

Ola Gustafsson SDN backhaul expert for Aviat Networks.

Aviat Networks Chief Product Officer Ola Gustafsson talks about SDN 5G backhaul during AfricaCom 2016.

The most pressing business need in many networks deals with delivery of new services.The biggest evolution today in the backhaul network is the trend toward integration of IP/MPLS intelligence into microwave. Software-defined networking (SDN) remains another more recent trend in backhaul. However, as we’ve posted many times, integration of IP/MPLS intelligence into microwave systems provides a number of benefits. These include lower cost, fewer boxes to buy/deploy/maintain and better network performance overall such as lower latency and better reliability.

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How an Integrated Microwave-IP/MPLS Solution Reduces Latency

How an Integrated Microwave-IP/MPLS Solution Reduces Latency

The point of this post is to determine the amount of latency reduction possible with a one box integrated microwave router solution when compared to a two-box (separate router + microwave) offering. By how much does the one box solution improve latency?

Latency is important to all network operators. The lower the end-to-end delay the better it is for all types of applications.

For example latency is critically important to mobile network operators (MNOs) for LTE Advanced features like coordinated multi-point (COMP) and MIMO, which require extremely tight latency. CRAN architectures are also demanding tighter latency from the backhaul.

In addition, for latency sensitive applications like Teleprotection, SCADA and simulcast in private markets such as public safety, utilities and the federal government will greatly benefit from lower latency network performance. For other customers, lower latency is critical for synchronization and HD video transport.

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Positively Sold on MPLS at the Cell Site

MPLS at the cell site via microwave routers will positively supercharge service revenues for mobile operators. Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomgehrke/9656826700/">Thomas Gehrke</a> / <a href="http://foter.com">Foter</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)</a>

MPLS at the cell site via microwave routers will positively supercharge service revenues for mobile operators. Photo credit: Thomas Gehrke / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mobile industry enthusiasts have been warned at length about the proliferation of LTE devices forcing backhaul to become markedly different than it is today, especially in terms of capacity delivery. Other challenges for the service provider include rising cost of capital, increasing network complexity and the ability to gracefully accommodate future technology shifts such as SDN, NFV and SON—Software-Defined Networking, Network Function Virtualization, Self-Optimizing Networks. A Layer 3 IP/MPLS topology has addressed many of these goals so far in the aggregation and at the service provider edge of the network. MPLS, Multiprotocol Label Switching, in particular, has offered converged service delivery, fast failure recovery and advanced Quality of Service.

So what’s next? The fundamental transformation needed next is at the cell site, which is evolving from its basic role of housing a base station to the new reality of enhanced service delivery hub. Why is this important? It’s simple: MPLS allows operators to offer enhanced revenue-generating services while simultaneously enriching the consumer experience and feeding an entire mobile ecosystem.

Battling rising costs by monetizing new services
The day of reckoning for operators is predicted to come with the confluence of rising costs and shrinking ARPUs, leading to unsustainable losses. Additional revenue sources are the key to profitability, provided they could be enabled swiftly and seamlessly. Fortunately, MPLS is available as a steppingstone to new services. As high capacity and scale infiltrate the end-to-end network, the traditional macro site can be considered the new point-of-presence for revenue generation. MPLS-enabled services include Layer 3 VPNs (L3VPN), Layer 2 VPNs (L2VPN) and Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS). L3 VPNs are attractive to customers (e.g. enterprises, government) who want to leverage the service provider’s technical expertise to ensure efficient site-to-site routing. L2 VPNs are attractive to customers who want complete control of their own routing. Finally, VPLS makes the service provider’s network look like a single Ethernet switch from the customer’s viewpoint, effectively making their WAN look just like their local campus.

For the mobile provider, the backhaul topology changes have already started to take shape, with Small Cell as one example of how cell sites will evolve, essentially becoming aggregation nodes as small cells (i.e., cloud RAN, IP, wifi) are added to network. This leads to a tangled web of complexity in a modern, heterogeneous network.

Technology flexibility to alleviate network complexity
To date, MPLS-enabled routers are the only proven solution to cost effectively converge multi-service interfaces onto a single low cost IP transport platform. The multitude of devices at the cell site includes legacy interfaces such as TDM, ATM and even Frame Relay. With its ability to decouple protocols from their physical transport medium, MPLS provides a single converged transport solution for all access technologies. As MPLS is generally deployed in core networks, adding it in the access is just an extension of the existing network transport architecture.

Beyond multiprotocol capability, the current hype of SDN, NFV and SON ushers in new challenges that are intended to optimize, virtualize and control the network—albeit with a significant operational learning curve. The capabilities of MPLS align with each of these goals, when they come. MPLS enables vendors to offer solutions that simplify management and protocols, provides fast adaptation for new services and eases the burden on personnel for general network turnup and maintenance—including tasks such as new base station provisioning, debugging, troubleshooting and performance monitoring

Benefits of IP/MPLS at the cell site
The benefits of IP/MPLS at the cell site are numerous, especially for LTE and LTE-A deployments. When compared to flat Carrier Ethernet networks, routers can scale to vast numbers of nodes. MPLS enables a scalable X2 network design. (X2 is the LTE interface used for Handover, Load Management, Mobility Optimization, Network Optimization and LTE-Advanced CoMP eNodeB coordination.) With eNodeBs on different subnets, routing is required between Layer 2 domains for a complete X2 solution.

MPLS-Traffic Engineering (MPLS-TE) provides operators with capability to steer traffic across backhaul networks, thereby increasing overall capacity and lowering latency for latency sensitive traffic flows—this is an important requirement for LTE-Advanced. MPLS-TE can increase backhaul capacity by 50 percent when compared to L2 networks.

How to Add IP/MPLS to the cell site
Introduction of IP/MPLS into the access network can be easily accomplished with networking platforms such as the Aviat CTR microwave router. The CTR 8540 is the industry’s first purpose-built microwave router—a unique concept that merges the functionality of an indoor microwave radio and a cell site router into an integrated solution, simplifying IP/MPLS deployments and creating a better performing network. The Aviat CTR helps operators avoid the investment of expensive standalone routers, translating to overall fewer boxes to buy, deploy and maintain. See more information on Aviat’s IP/MPLS solutions.

Louis Scialabba
Senior Manager of Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Transforming to the ‘Layer 3’ Connected Mobile Cell Site

Cell-sites-will-begin-transitioning-to-Layer-3-IP-services-and-will-need-an-integrated-solution-to-supply-it-Aviat-Networks-blog-March-16-2014

Cell sites will need to begin to transition to Layer 3 IP services. Photo credit: zdenadel / Foter / CC BY-ND

The entire wireless industry is on the cusp of a transitive time where Layer 3 IP services will be needed in the access portion of the network. And the backhaul will be needed to provide them.

Under the pain of restating the obvious, we have all seen the explosive growth of smartphones, tablet computers and other radio-frequency-loving gadgets like e-readers. All these new-fangled high-tech contraptions need Layer 3 IP/MPLS services in the access and backhaul in order to deliver a satisfying, seamless user experience—especially for enterprise services. The question is how will the mobile network operators (MNOs) be able to deliver these services from their thousands or tens of thousands of cell sites?

Typically, the answer would involve deploying a regular router for IP services at each and every cell site. But have you seen the prices of routers lately? Cisco didn’t get to where it is today without having some heavy pricetags attached to all the heavy iron it’s shipped over the last 20-odd years. Suffice to say, it would be a pretty penny if MNOs equipped all their cell sites with their own dedicated routers. So what else can be done, you query?

It just so happens that Aviat Networks’ director of corporate marketing, Gary Croke, has posted an article at RCR Wireless going over what to do in these types of situations. But we’ll give you a hint: the IP router function should be folded into a single multi-service, multi-layer cell site device. Read the rest and let us know what you think.

Related articles
Come Fly with Me: Aviat Microwave Over-the-Air at U.S. Landmarks (aviatnetworks.com)
The Rise of Tower Sharing in Africa (aviatnetworks.com)
How 2 Microwave Networks Survived Superstorm Sandy (aviatnetworks.com)
What Does it Take to Get the Most out of Your Wireless Backhaul? (aviatnetworks.com)

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VPN Services for Mobile Networks and Beyond

MPLS-VPNs-enable-multiple-applications-sites-and-customers-mobile-networks-Aviat-Networks-IP-expert-Said-Jilani-says-09Jan14

Photo credit: rfc1036 / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

VPNs are crucial for next-generation mobile networks as they enable 3G and 4G wireless to share a common IP infrastructure as well as support new services, according to Said Jilani, network solutions architect for Aviat Networks. And because Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can serve multiple sites, multiple applications and multiple customers simultaneously, Jilani believes that they will form the cornerstone for the great expansion of mobile services we are only now beginning to realize.

Serving as one of Aviat Networks’ resident IP experts, Jilani functions as an internal consultant for wireless network deployment and is able to leverage the experience working with different customers in different telecom verticals. And he has seen the impact that VPNs can have in all these markets—not just among mobile operators.

Multi Protocol Label Switching
The great revolution in VPN services for mobile networks is powered by Multi Protocol Label Switching, commonly referred to as MPLS, which offers mechanisms to provide scalable VPN networks, Jilani says. MPLS VPNs come in two main types: L3 and L2 “flavors,” as Jilani terms it.

L3 or IP VPNs, based on Internet Protocol, support very important functionality such as connecting customer sites by emulating a “backbone.” The service provider VPN connects sites in part by exchanging information with customer routers. Offering a robust solution, L3 VPNs easily handle traffic handoff from site to site such as is involved with LTE (Long Term Evolution).

More on L2 VPNs
In the video below, Jilani goes on to elaborate regarding L2 VPN emulation of edge routers and point-to-point Ethernet connections and how L2 and L3 VPNs can function together. Watch it for all the detailed information.

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Utilities Must Work Closely with Wireless Vendors on Smart Grid

At the UTC Telecom 2012 show, Aviat Networks was able to meet with utilities regarding their networking needs. Bottomline, utilities must work closely with their wireless backhaul and other solution providers in order to implement smart grid capabilities.

UTC Telecom 2012 is the annual show of the utilities industry in North America. New technologies and products were displayed to help the industry with its latest challenges. Also various utilities shared their experiences in implementing new networks to deliver leading edge smart grid capabilities.

The show was extremely well attended with a myriad of vendors including many consulting firms. The key message that I took away was the need for utilities to work very closely with their equipment vendors—especially wireless backhaul solution providers—and consultants to implement next generation networks capable of handling the multitude of applications associated with smart grid.

It was interesting to hear from AltaLink about the findings from its extensive lab testing and network implementation:

  • How far do you drive MPLS into the network?
  • How do you “tweak” the MPLS settings to accommodate microwave radios adapting in modulation?
  • What kind of MTU sizes need to be passed and how well do vendor capacities relate to the particular MTU sizes?

BC Hydro talked to the two critical issues it is struggling with: end-to-end management and security across the entire network. Balance the needs/wants of the IT dept., the communications dept. and various internal administrative groups is a real task! Some people think that only the commercial mobile networks must deal with overzealous users demanding unlimited bandwidth to address their video/gaming/voice applications…what happens when all the utilities’ departments find out that there is bandwidth available?!

Aviat Networks’ Eclipse Packet Node radios and skilled network engineers can help you find the right solution for your smart grid implementation. Whether your utility is just starting to look at the issues or ready to buy the critical components of the network, Aviat Networks is able to help.

Randy Jenkins
Director of Business Development
Aviat Networks

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