ETSI addresses mobile-broadcast convergence as it extends its reach

Europe’s ETSI has transformed itself in recent years from a sleepy organization to a genuine trailblazer in defining new network architectures. Its NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) project has created a widely accepted basis for carrier-grade virtualization and accelerated adoption to a surprising degree; its related MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) initiative is a key element in harnessing the convergence of telecoms and IT, and enabling new operator models based on the distributed cloud.

The group is not standing still either. Both NFV and MEC prefigure key concepts which will underpin 5G, and the organization sees itself having a part to play in pushing the discussion on from academic R&D to deployable commercial solutions. It has helped to do that in NFV – which will be part of commercial trials and roll-outs for over one-third of MNOs by the end of next year – and is now turning its eyes on 5G.

Last month, it brought together researchers from many R&D programs within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 initiative in a workshop focused on getting 5G research projects into the standardization process. There were sessions on 5G mobile technologies, future network architecture and virtualization techniques.

And as the mobile network platform increasingly overlaps with IT, cloud, IP and other broad areas of technology and standards, ETSI is always considering what its next initiatives may be. Candidates for new ISGs (industry specification groups) include fog computing, which would build on the MEC work and create an essential bridge with the Open Fog Alliance to push intelligence and cloud services to the edge.

Other possibilities, according to the workshop proceedings, include cross-domain orchestration, to extend some of the MANO (management and orchestration) work currently under way within the NFV initiative; combining fronthaul and backhaul in Cloud-RAN; and tactile networking.

ETSI has already embarked on several new projects this year. Its latest is the Mobile and Broadcast Convergence (MBC) ISG, announced last week. This will focus on deployment of converged networks, as mobile screens become increasingly important for traditional TV providers and for delivery of other broadcast or multicast content such as sports services. The ISG will define real world specifications based on the technical and business model requirements of a range of stakeholders including satellite, mobile and terrestrial broadcast network operators; the broacasters themselves; content owners and providers; and vendors of consumer equipment and network infrastructure.

The group says it will study the means of delivery for media, including linear and non-linear content, over converged networks. Increasingly, users watch linear and non-linear content interchangeably over different networks, including WiFi, and from mobile devices. As David Hendon, convenor of the new ISG, puts it: “Broadcasters and mobile operators will have to adapt their business models to these changed bandwidth flows and there is uncertainty about the optimum technology choices. This ISG is to allow all interested parties to engage with the technical debate now, ahead of whatever standardization work will be needed subsequently.”

The MBC ISG will hold its first meeting on June 22 at the UK’s Institute for Communication Systems at the University of Surrey. The UK was also the location for the inaugural meeting of another new ISG, Next Generation Protocols (NGP), in January.

The premise of this initiative, which is chaired by EE’s principal network architect, Andy Sutton, is that wireless and wireline access networks will be unable to deliver their full potential if the underlying protocol stacks do not evolve in parallel. For instance, if the protocol architecture is not considered at the same time as the 5G RAN and core, the performance improvements envisaged for the new mobile network could be severely compromised.

“The TCP/IP protocol suite has undoubtedly enabled the evolution of connected computing and many other developments since its invention during the 1970s,” said Sutton at the announcement of the new group. “NGP ISG aims to gather opinions on how we can build on this momentum by evolving communication systems architectures and networking protocols to provide the scale, security, mobility and ease of deployment required for the connected society of the 21st century.”

As a result of that effort, the ISG will identify the requirements for next generation protocols and network architectures, ultra-low latency use case requirements (including automotive), energy efficiency and e-commerce. It will seek input, including the results of early trials and research, from operators, vertical industries, vendors, standards bodies and industry alliances.

Its topics include:

• Addressing
• Security, Identity, Location, Authorization, Accounting/Auditing and Authentication
• Mobility
• Requirements from Internet of Things
• Requirements from video and content distribution
• Requirements from ultra‐low latency use cases from different sectors (automotive)
• Requirements from network operators (e.g. challenges with E2E encrypted content)
• Requirements from ecommerce
• Requirements for increased energy efficiency within the global ICT sector.