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14 February 2017

Nokia’s Cloud Packet Core is a cornerstone of its IoT push

Nokia’s virtualized EPC (evolved packet core) is a crucial element of WING, and its broader IoT services strategy, as it can be adapted to support the specific requirements of each vertical.

The biggest element of the Finnish company’s series of pre-MWC launches was an upgrade to the managed version of its Cloud Packet Core, and this will be at the heart of the M2M Core which will be the brains of WING. Nokia said its enterprise and operator customers will be supported on a multi-tenanted basis, with each of them gaining access to their own segment of the virtualized core. That will enable those groups to support their users and devices as they move around the federated wireless grid.

The new version of the Cloud Packet Core supports a longer list of access technologies than before, reducing the focus on cellular in order to support the diverse needs of global IoT users as flexibly as possible. It can now work with fixed connections; cellular networks including the latest LTE flavors (what Nokia labels 4.5G, 4.5G Pro and 4.9G – in other words, 3GPP Releases 12 to 14); WiFi; and solutions for unlicensed and shared spectrum such as MulteFire and CBRS.

“Broadband evolution to 5G and IoT/Machine Type Communications will place a diverse set of service characteristics and requirements on the network,” said Sri Reddy, head of the IP routing and packet core business unit. “These services will need to be concurrently delivered across the widest range of fixed and wireless technologies to provide a seamless service experience and support extensive personalization.”

Nokia says its packet core will act as the anchor point for all these different connections, allowing for services to be delivered transparently across them with no performance compromises. The firm notably avoids the term ‘virtualized core’ and instead stresses the ‘cloud native’ label, which is becoming increasingly important in operators’ RFPs. Carriers are concerned that just virtualizing existing functions does not guarantee telco-grade performance and that new systems must be designed specifically to run in the cloud.

For instance, about a year ago, Vodafone’s head of SDN/NFV, David Amzallag, said the operator would henceforward only buy VNFs (virtual network functions) designed specifically to work in the cloud. Other operators have responded to the call, issued by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, for more telcos to be involved in its activities, feeding their requirements into the process. Deutsche Telekom and Tele2 (a Cloud Packet Core customer) have been among the activists.

One of their issues is that VNFs which are just converted from existing dedicated appliances are unwieldy and sub-optimal; another is that this approach, while it can save time, makes operators too reliant on the NFV infrastructure (NFVi) and virtual infrastructure management (VIM) to guarantee performance. The latter is often OpenStack, which is increasingly popular among telcos, and underpins platforms like AT&T’s ECOMP. However, most operators believe that, while OpenStack is relatively easy to deploy and has strong cross-industry support, it must be combined with more specialized telco-friendly elements to avoid severe performance and reliability compromises compared to dedicated appliances.

So Nokia claims its upgraded Cloud Packet Core, with its cloud native architecture, offers the “flexibility, performance, scalability, reliability and improved operations for organisations to embrace and profit from mobile broadband, IoT/MTC and coming 5G opportunities.”

While Cloud Packet Core is, of course, targeted at traditional Nokia customers, promising operators a smooth migration towards virtualization, it is also a cornerstone of the vendor’s push into ‘adjacencies’ in the chosen vertical markets. Initially, this means using the virtualized core architecture to support multiple, effectively private networks so that large enterprises or service providers can have the advantages of discrete, optimized connectivity without the cost of a fully private platform.

This is an early nod towards 5G network slicing, which will allocate a slice of capacity to a particular enterprise or service provider, on-demand, optimized for the needs of that sector.

But network slicing requires considerable development from suppliers and standards bodies, not to mention real world business models, so is unlikely to be fully commercial in most countries until the mid-2020s or later.

But the verticals which Nokia is targeting need to connect their machinery and sensors long before that. LTE may work for them – especially now that it has specialized strands for low power wide area networks and for public safety – but the public network will not. They require optimized network behaviour and guarantees on security and availability, which only a private network can provide.

So Nokia’s Cloud Packet Core is designed to ease the process of ensure that each customer’s network is fully adapted for their requirements (and of course, they will pay accordingly). It is set to support specialized vertical strands of LTE, such as LTE-R for railways or LTE-V for automotive, along with its other fixed and mobile options.

The Cloud Packet Core supports access from up to 50,000 devices at once, and up to 100 base stations or small cells, supporting mobile broadband or IoT services. The solution leverages the Cloud Mobility Manager (CMM) and Cloud Mobile Gateway (CMG) software from Nokia’s original Cloud Packet Core, so that the private and localized networks can interconnect with MNOs’ macro networks for wide area roaming and network operational continuity.

The vendor is particularly talking up its capabilities for city authorities, to “accelerate the move to smart cities, improve the safety and efficiency of employees and expand mobile applications across a variety of industries”.

In an extreme example, Nokia says its core will allow organizations in the mining, oil and gas, transport and utility sectors, as well governments and regional operators, to deploy an LTE network easily in remote or emergency situations; or to run localized or larger private networks for smart cities and other environments.

This offering mirrors some already available from more specialized providers such as Quortus, whose virtualized packet core can be deployed on a small cell, PC, vehicle or backpack.

Though Nokia is prioritizing very large enterprises, the cloud approach does give it the opportunity to support smaller, more localized organizations which could not afford to deploy networks inhouse.

Nokia said: “Private LTE networks are increasingly becoming the preferred approach to deliver business and mission-critical services in industry segments such as railways, aviation, the energy sector and with governments. Estimated by some analysts to surpass $800m in global investment by the end of 2016, the private LTE network market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 32% by 2020*.”

Target markets for Cloud Packet Core:

Transportation : operational services such as train control (an important safety feature) and real-time CCTV video feeds and alarm notifications, as well as passenger services such as mobile ticketing, broadband access for infotainment services and more.

Oil and Gas : control and monitoring of oil/gas processing in the refinery, with real-time processing and relaying of rig production information to Nokia’s Network Operations Center (NOC). Provide mission-critical Push-to-Talk voice, video and data services for end users.

Mining: provide end-to-end visibility for controllers and schedulers at the NOC. Offer a high-bandwidth, low-latency CCTV view of operational plant equipment, real-time alarm notifications and control equipment monitoring, and optimize vehicle movement throughout the mine with real-time positioning as well as automating mining operations via driverless vehicles and other measures.

Utilities: Establish Field Area Networks (FAN) to provide high-speed data links to connect sensors, sub-stations, facilities, intelligent electronic devices and other grid components; help ensure the safety, reliability and resiliency of electrical distribution grids.

Next week Wireless Watch will analyse Huawei’s pre-MWC announcements for this year, and particularly the progress of its all-cloud strategy for mobile operators.

Nokia joins AT&T and IBM in IoT security initiative:

Nokia, IBM and AT&T are the leading lights of the new IoT Cybersecurity Alliance, which has been formed to “research and raise awareness of ways to better secure the IoT ecosystem”. Other founder members are Palo Alto Networks, Symantec and Trustonic.

AT&T said the trigger for action was its observation of a 3,200% increase in the number of attackers scanning for vulnerabilities in IoT devices. Yet, in a survey of enterprises which it commissioned, it found that 58% were not confident in the security of their IoT devices.

“Be it a connected car, pacemaker or coffee maker, every connected device is a potential new entry point for cyberattacks,” AT&T chief security officer Bill O’Hern said. “Yet, each device requires very different security considerations. It’s become essential for industry leaders and innovators like those in the founding members of this Alliance, to work together to help the industry find more holistic security approaches for IoT.”

Activities will center on security challenges which cross verticals like the connected car, Industrial Internet, smart cities and healthcare. The partners say they will study and solve problems at every layer of security from the endpoint to the connection and up to the cloud and the application layers. They will aim to influence security standards and international best practice among companies and governments.

UK’s fourth MNO to deploy Nokia core network in cloud:

Nokia has announced its latest cloud-centric network deal, with Hutchison’s 3UK. The  operator will deploy a core network in the cloud, starting work in several of its data centers during this year.

It will be using a range of Nokia platforms, some of them valuable jewels in the Alcatel-Lucent dowry, such as CloudBand and the Nuage software-defined network (SDN). Other elements will include the AirFrame data center patform, IP routing, network management, security, IMS, evolved packet core, session border controller and Shared Data Layer.

Graham Baxter, COO at the operator, said in a statement: “Three carries 35% of mobile data traffic in the UK today. The cloud core network will enable us to scale even further and continue to offer great value and service innovation to our customers.”

Another MNO which is evaluating cloud-based core networks with Nokia is Elisa in Finland, while velcom, Telekom Austria’s Belarussian subsidiary, has moved its core to the cloud in partnership with ZTE.