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NFV Nuts and Bolts: Tap NFV & lifecycle service orchestration to meet last-mile connectivity demands


Author: Senthil Kumar Subramaniam Lead Architect – NFV Solutions


In today’s mobile-first world, smartphones, tablets, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are consuming exponentially greater volumes of mobile data. But consumers don’t want to pay more to get additional bandwidth. As a mobile operator, that puts you in a tough spot. With competition and price pressures mounting, you need innovative ways to optimize and expand coverage to meet subscriber demand—and do it profitably.


For many mobile operators, delivering last-mile connectivity remains a challenge, because providing high-speed, high-bandwidth services to subscribers in remote areas or where physical restrictions exist is costly. And as mobile data volumes rise, more traffic must be offloaded through the existing wired network.


Network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are a natural fit for last-mile networks. That’s because of the dynamic nature of the components and different players involved in the ecosystem of the last mile—from the customer to the service provider to the fixed network operator.


But to use NFV and SDN successfully in the last mile will call for distributed orchestration across domains using standard APIs.


Small cell, big connectivity


Wi-Fi and femtocells are commonly used for the last mile and to provide connectivity in large public areas like airports, sports venues, and shopping malls. Wi-Fi and femtocells can provide users easy connectivity for their favorite mobile devices via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular. Their small physical footprint makes them easy to deploy for the venue. Both Wi-Fi and femtocells require backhaul networks on top of the wired connections to provide access to the backend gateways, which in turn provide access to the mobile operator’s core environment.


For Wi-Fi-based last-mile networks, users can be seamlessly authenticated using their mobile device’s SIM credentials. Operators can use an EAP-SIM/AKA-based approach to intelligently validate the user device by communicating with the AAA system for authentication, authorization, and accounting. On the backend, Wi-Fi offloading requires a Wi-Fi access gateway and access network discovery and selection function (ANDSF). The Wi-Fi access gateway and ANDSF can be deployed as virtual network functions (VNFs) so they can be scaled as needed.


Femtocell-based solutions provide 3G/4G connectivity for users’ devices, but are typically used for smaller distances and to handle only a few concurrent connections. In this approach, femtocell CPEs are connected to the backend gateways, such as a femtocell security gateway and femtocell access gateway, using the existing wired network. These gateways can be deployed as VNFs, so they can be scaled as needed.


The diagram shows the end-to-end view of the last mile solution and domains involved in the ecosystem.




Simplify the last mile with NFV


The NFV model is ideal to bring flexibility to the last mile and enable service providers to increase operational efficiency while meeting the exploding demand for capacity.


Both Wi-Fi- and femtocell-based solutions need a CPE device for local aggregation of multiple Wi-Fi access points or femtocells, and these functions can be virtualized. In this model, the CPE hosts additional VNFs to perform key functions at the access level. Using VNFs gives service providers the flexibility to add new functions without the time and expense required for a truck roll.


Your chosen NFV platform should support data plane features like SR-IOV for I/O virtualization and Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) so the VNFs can do optimal packet processing. Your NFV platform also should provide PCI pass-through capabilities to the VNFs to offload IPsec processing to crypto cards on the NFVI hardware.


Backhaul providers that provide wireline Internet access from local last-mile aggregation sites to the core network can use NFV to deploy VNFs that perform routing and VPN functions. Backhaul providers can use NFV to accelerate deployment whenever their customers need additional backhaul capacity.


Last-mile solutions open the door for MVNOs to offer differentiated services by partnering with mobile service providers. In this scenario, MVNOs need to sign up for backhaul access from Internet service providers for connecting the aggregators to the mobile operator’s Wi-Fi or small-cell gateways.


Orchestrate services across the ecosystem


An NFV last-mile solution involves multiple players, which demands efficient provisioning and traffic steering at all domains. NFV and SDN have their own well-defined APIs; however, there is no standard high-level cross-domain API that a service provider or MVNO can use to request provisioning of services across all these domains. To close this gap, the Metro Ethernet Forum has initiated Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO), which covers ordering and fulfillment of services that spans multiple operators and providers.


The diagram below illustrates how LSO can be applied for last-mile provisioning across multiple operators.




Future services require not only standard NFV APIs within an operator, but also across operators to fulfill the service using in an agile, orchestrated, and dynamic way. Your chosen NFV platform also should provide carrier-grade, distributed NFV infrastructure to fulfill distributed virtual CPE services for building last-mile solutions.


Learn more about HP’s integrated NFV platform.


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