Webinar Recap: Building the Agile Mobile Network

The network doesn’t lie. But if you can’t hear what it’s saying, you’re operating deaf. With a bit of paraphrasing, that was essentially how Kelly Hill, Editor at RCRWireless News, kicked off a webinar last week exploring what it takes to build an agile mobile network. Watch the full replay, or if you’re strapped for time, here’s a summary. 

Hill noted that networks are becoming denser and more dynamic, while operators are dealing with tight, and tightening, performance requirements and increasing focus on the user experience. This means that as network control overwhelms humans, self-optimizing networks (SONs) are necessary to achieve agility and ultimately competitive differentiation.
Michael Rezek, VP Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at Accedian, said that to understand the implications of these trends for mobile network operators, it is first necessary to define several often-used words:
  • Scalability – meeting expected demand for services with minimal upfront cost.
  • Agility – network software and hardware self-controls across devices that support services.
  • Elasticity – dynamically adapting to resources demanded for service delivery.
Ultimately, this means being able to optimize quality of experience (QoE) on a per-application basis—meaning that performance assurance instrumentation becomes ubiquitous. 

“The instrumentation layer is going to become increasingly valuable,” Rezek predicted. “You can’t control what you can’t see. You can’t see what you can’t measure.” 

As more, and different types of, traffic strain mobile networks, control must become increasingly ‘smart’ and automated, noted Patrick Lopez, Founder and CEO, Core Analysis. If not, quality suffers—as is often seen with video delivered via mobile networks. 

“Video is the dominant service on mobile,” Lopez said. “Having that service being the lowest quality is a problem for everyone involved in the value chain.”

This is why the potential cost reduction and agility of software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are so attractive to operators. These new technologies will be used to build, and instrument, networks differently. 
Lopez elaborated that operators can avoid reinventing the wheel by looking at how other industries, with similar challenges, have solved similar problems. For example, Google’s data center architecture (which uses semi-randomized, end-to-end testing and machine learning to identify, quarantine, and fix problem areas) or Netflix’s use of intelligent failure induction tools to maintain a more resilient network. 
For mobile operators, Lopez said, those principles should be applied starting in the design phase, and the design should include physical and virtual probes injected throughout the network for proactive testing and to establish a performance point of reference.  
Rezek, and Nick St. Pierre, Vice President, Off the of the CTO at Sandvine, explained in some detail the technologies and mechanics required to instrument and manage a network as Lopez envisioned. 
In short, the demonstration described (featured at Mobile World Congress; more here) applies the principles of SDN and NFV to performance assurance, with both distributed (Accedian smart SFP and module probes as part of the FlowBROKER™ solution) and central (Accedian VCX, Sandvine DPI/policy controller) components working together to establish broader and deeper insights into application performance across the network. 
Hill concluded with several key points:
  • Networks and traffic patterns are getting more dynamic, dense, and complex
  • Video is driving significant network utilization growth
  • The coexistence of diverse applications on a single network challenges QoE
  • Real-time, ubiquitous visibility at all locations and layers is a prerequisite for effective QoE
  • Next-gen networks will put analytics to work deriving network policies and control, using virtualized instrumentation
  • Operators moving toward 5G are following the path of major cloud providers as they built these capabilities into their networks

The main webinar was folllowed by a Q&A that focused mostly on the value and impact of agility in practical, real-world terms; and the ways in which encryption impacts network visibility and agility.

Ready for a deeper dive into mobile networks QoE?