Mobile World Congress 2014: What Operators Should Look For – Mobile Packet Core

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • With nearly every network vendor gathered in one place, Mobile World Congress represents the best opportunity for operators to track network R&D evolutions.
  • With 4G and IoT dominating service thinking, the packet core deserves a particular focus.
  • In the mobile packet core, a handful of themes should dominate: NFV, feature functionality, scalability, and startup vendors.

When we launched our mobile network infrastructure practice around a decade ago, the mobile packet core was a central component of our initial product assessments and analysis.  3G mobile data was on the horizon and IP was beginning to make its way into the mobile network.  The mobile packet core sat squarely at the intersection of these trends.  Flash forward to our recently updated Evolved Packet Core product assessments and a trip down memory lane almost seems fun. 

Yet, with the 2014 edition of Mobile World Congress on the horizon, a trip down memory lane is probably less important than preparing for the craziness that awaits – and is being prepared for – in Barcelona.  Just as it has evolved significantly (and, often, unpredictably) over the past ten years, the mobile packet core continues to evolve and Mobile World Congress should put the course of that evolution in display.  If not, then vendors aren’t doing their job.  And if operators are doing their job, they need to be preparing for Mobile World Congress by getting ready to query vendors on their packet core strategies and solutions, particularly around some specific themes.

–    NFV and Virtualization: The mobile packet core looks to be one of the first places where vendors are getting ready to implement virtualization.  Operators will need to understand the timing around support, feature support, proof points, NFV ecosystem partners, and service support to help with new core architectures.

–    Service Functionality: Just like the debate between purpose-built and repurposed platforms in the core, debates around the integration of advanced services have been an inherent part of packet core marketing.  Does DPI belong in the core or deployed as a standalone appliance?  How about security or traffic shaping?  Where operators may have formed their own conclusions based on initial performance claims, these conclusions may need to be re-evaluated circa 2014, particularly if virtualization allows these functions to all be deployed in tandem.

–    Capacity: Operators and vendors might differ on the need for specific functionality out of the packet core.  What there’s no denying, however, is the continuing need for a focus on scalability.  Whether measured in terms of throughput, sessions, or session turn-up, the combination of ubiquitous mobile broadband and new Internet of Things (IoT) business models ensures all of these metrics will only grow in importance.

–    Startups and Software: If vendors still needed to marry capable packet core hardware with innovative software, the odds of any startup carving out success in the mobile packet core would be slim.  Thanks to virtualization, however, this isn’t necessarily the case anymore; startups can focus on the software side of things, leaving the hardware to IT players.  While they may have been longshots in the past, mobile packet core startups deserve a visit.

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