This is a challenge faced by all mobile broadband carriers, with multipronged remedies for those without the option to snap up rivals – the greater spectral efficiency of 4G and small cell architectures; offload to Wi-Fi and femtocells; greater use of unlicensed frequencies; and most importantly, ever more sophisticated approaches to identifying, prioritizing and handling different types of data.
Initially, the carrier's need to increase quality of service for high value transmissions and customers – and offload those with little ARPU potential – led to intense interest in a bigger, more complex centralized packet core. But now the trend is to make mobile networks as distributed as possible, with intelligence placed nearer to the edge and the end user, reflecting the norms of wireline broadband.
Start-ups like Stoke and majors like Nokia Siemens have refocused traffic and policy management towards the edge and the latest supporting this trend is Bytemobile, which is expanding from its video optimization heartland into a broader adaptive traffic management offering for wireless operators.
Its new T3100 platform, its first to be based on dedicated hardware rather than blade-based software, ticks many of the boxes which are starting to appear on carriers' ticklists – intelligence pushed to the edge; optimized boxes rather than “Swiss army knife” platforms; and the ability to handle all forms of traffic in a uniform and integrated way, while supporting a myriad of different policies and priorities, often adapting on the fly to changing network or user conditions.
With the T3100, the company is moving out of the safe waters of its video optimization comfort zone, and promising a wide array of functionality on its platform, including smart caching, DPI (deep packet inspection), load balancing, traffic steering and analytics.
Bytemobile knows that this will be a crowded space and that companies are moving in from many areas of the core network market – “we are the first in many ways, but we certainly won't be the last,” comments VP of global marketing Ronny Haraldsvik, contemplating challenges from specialists in load balancing, policy management and the GGSN space, as well as the net-work giants.
He believes there will be strong opportunities to partner with Ericsson, Cisco et al, despite product overlap, as they assemble best of breed solutions, and indeed this may prove vital to fend off similar functionality from specialist rivals.
The trend to put everything on one big router rather than investing in multiple boxes is proving flawed for the functionality required in 4G – as Haraldsvik said in a recent interview: “Cisco has DPI and they are saying anything can be done on the GGSN. We know better and operators know better; they can't just put everything on a Cisco 5000 or 9000 box and wish it's been taken care of.”
In a potentially crowded sector, it is important to have some differentiators, and Bytemobile cites three key ones. One is its long experience in handling huge quantities of mobile video efficiently, with its Unison system, and many of the techniques used there are now applied to the broader T3100.
Second is its ability to manipulate (as opposed to merely inspect) traffic at every IP layer including L6 and L7. This is what enables the T3100 – the first of a planned family of elements – to adapt traffic policies dynamically as conditions change, rather than imposing blanket policies.
Like companies such as Stoke and Continuous Computing (now part of Radisys), Bytemobile believes that effective offload and DPI strategies rely on distributed intelligence, rather than the sledgehammer approach of doing packet analysis in the central core and then imposing the results on all parts of the network.
While traffic management today happens on the Gi interface, Haraldsvik expects to see it distributed deeper into the RAN and associated access networks, taking place on every element. Third is the wide range of functionality packed into a single box and the level of integration will be important. As Peter Jarich of Current Analysis points out in a research note: “Bytemobile isn't introducing radically new capabilities; there‟s no shortage of vendors already delivering the capabilities the T3000 platform promises - but not necessarily in the same packaging or combinations.”
By cramming DPI, load balancing, caching and optimization capabilities into one element, Bytemobile says it is creating a new class of network component, which addresses the fragmented approach to traffic management seen at most operators. “We are in a sense not doing anything new, we are just bringing this together in one element, reducing TCO by up to 50% in doing so,” responds Haraldsvik.
The ultimate aim is to take a holistic view of all the traffic and content on the network at any one time, rather than analyzing it byte-by-byte. Haraldsvik said that, in video, “beyond looking at the first few packets we looked at the whole content and we shaped the content to make it better.
Doing that allows us to take a more important role in the network.” The new product looks beyond video to all the applications on a user‟s device and how these affect performance and network congestion.
As Bytemobile knows, there will be hot competition to create more integrated, distributed and intelligent traffic management solutions and a wave of mergers and acquisitions can be expected. Already, Amdocs has bought Bridgewater, while Ericsson is partnering with Vantrixx on policy management and Juniper with Openwave.