Feature Article

November 06, 2013

Get your Head End in the Clouds: Making the On-Net as Valuable as the Off-Net

Let’s face facts. These days carriers are doing all they can to meet “the need for speed.” Also, if you listen to the commercials in the U.S. for wireless carriers you will hear words such as “largest” and “reliable” and “fastest,” and they all talk about the network, but when it comes to where you want to go … it’s the Internet. Next, listen to the ads for Internet destinations and you hear the word “cloud” and see reference to such processing services as AWS (where you can not only post your app but virtually run it as well).

When first I started working to provide an Internet service, the start-up cost was roughly $500,000 to build out the data center and related facilities. Today, though, it is possible to offer an app/service worldwide on the back of your credit card, without needing to own or maintain a single piece of network equipment.

So we have this gap between the cloud and the carrier that does not yet seem to connect. ASOCS and ARM, however, offer a vision of a Cloud Radio Access Network, or C-RAN as ASOCS CEO Gilad Garon and ARM VP of Segment Marketing Ian Ferguson referred to it in an interview. We spoke of many benefits in our discussion, including the ability to deliver on software defined radios (SDRs), which would be at the RAN level and is the reason why some of our friends are looking to create an Open RAN architecture. Whether you own the base stations or not, though, this architecture is of significant interest for all the data services, representing a better blending of On-Net services by carriers, Content Management providers, and even our Web services friends.

In theory, it is possible to see Amazon’s AWS becoming an MVNO without further need for relying on a single carrier within jurisdictions. Before we get near the Net Neutrality discussion and whether these differentiated services become anticompetitive, however, I should point out that most Web services and content management services are highly distributed and built to optimize the user experience, and the architecture could be embraced by the Web services side before the physical carriers do so. Also, this would present opportunities for the Internet of Things to explode with devices tightly integrated to the data services they use. Imagine an inventory device – e.g., Symbol – that is part of a Web service with which an app developer can concoct a unique application and bundle the whole system via a C-RAN service, or a physical carrier offering a cloud API that enables them to virtually deliver resources to where the demand is greatest. 

So now we have seen architectures that bring Blade servers to the Base stations and Software Defined Networks, all of which point to the carriers’ awareness that the network can do better than just providing transport. Thus, off-load may be in today’s forecast, but it looks as though we will have a cloudy future.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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