Consolidating Telco On The Cloud

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IBM helping China Mobile pilot Network Function Virtualization prototype
Editor’s note: This article is by Yong Hua Lin, Senior Technical Staff Member and Senior Manager for Cloud Infrastructure and Technology at IBM Research.
In 2011, China Mobile and IBM Research worked together to give telco a wireless cloud overhaul. Now, they’re collaborating again to use the cloud to move telco to a standardized IT infrastructure – versus today’s jumble of proprietary network equipment. And their first prototype will be demonstrated at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain at the end of the month.

The two companies are experimenting with a Network Function Virtualization (NFV) cloud prototype that can encapsulate the proprietary equipment built for different network functions. It works by consolidating specialized network equipment onto servers, storage and switches – translating network functions, such as connecting a smartphone to the Internet, into an optimized cloud platform. To do this, we used software define environment (SDE) technologies to provide agility, flexibility and programmability to the cloud infrastructure which greatly sped up the build out of this prototype.

Today, mobile telecommunications face an overwhelming influx of data via smart mobile devices (which is difficult and expensive to manage), while also facing shrinking profits from traditional voice calls. Consolidating disparate telco tech on the cloud would improve network efficiency because powerful servers can handle the data with much higher elastic capability to meet the growing complexity requirements; lowers cost by using less equipment that is simpler and faster for service innovation and productization; and adds features such as service availability management, disaster recovery management, and better user analytics.
Mobile World Congress 
The teams will also demo eMAP, and IBM’s iTrans voice recognition service at MWC as examples of mobile apps running on the NFV cloud prototype.
The prototype – a mini network built in the lab – currently uses IBM’s Power 7+, IBM OpenStack, and China Mobile’s LTE network functions. And so far, the results are promising. The cloud platform could ensure the real-time performance required by TD-LTE, support the elastic autoscale for network function, deliver the high availability as a service, and provide automatic deployment for new services.   
The cloud architecture could easily enable the coordinated joint processing for an LTE access network. Based on this, China Mobile could potentially provide a 70 percent throughput improvement across their network. Plus, their operators will be able to offer more intelligent mobile services over the SDE enabled cloud.
With their mobile infrastructure virtualized and managed on the cloud, China Mobile could create a virtual appliance market to software companies, big and small. This encouragement of innovation promises to bring new services and new revenue streams into telco – an industry long thought left to inflexible hardware, unable to adapt to today’s fast-moving, mobile-driven, data-intense communication.
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