Enhancing the enterprise mobile experience

AttoCore’s mobile core software products, AttoEPC and AttoEdge, combined with small cells radiating in shared spectrum, such as that enabled by the USA’s CBRS program, are the building blocks for enterprise grade mobile networks. These networks are cost effective, easy to deploy and operate, solve known problems, conform to the same 3GPP standards which underpin the public networks and facilitate a wide range of services and applications.

Market projections suggest a multi-billion dollar market for such networks.

But mobile technologies have been around for a long time. Why is the enterprise grade mobile network currently the exception and not the rule? And why is this about to change?

BIG MOBILE NETWORKS

For the overwhelming majority of users, their experience of “mobile” is entirely gained through their usage of the national networks, owned and operated by the MNOs. These networks are ‘big’ and the equipment required to create the network has to be big as well. It comes as no surprise that the equipment vendors that supply this big equipment are themselves big and the prices that they charge for this equipment – yes, indeed, those prices are big too.

Such scenarios create a requirement for large investments, which are only possible to undertake with a degree of certainty that there is a much bigger financial return. Much of that certainty has been provided by the national regulator. By allocating spectrum through beauty contest, or through auction, regulators create an environment, which naturally favours bigger companies and, in particular, favours established service providers.

The result of all of this is that the majority of mobile service provision follows the “predictably big” model and, in the business world, the consequence of predictability and the delivery of service by big companies, is lack of innovation. The networks that are built, the products that are used to create them and the services that they offer all look alike.

All of which is fine, if you are a typical consumer, looking for a typical service, at the best possible price.

But what if you are an enterprise looking for more than the mobile coverage provided by the MNO and whatever services the national network provides?

SMALL MOBILE NETWORKS

AttoCore knows that not all people want to be part of the same monochrome ‘big’ ecosystem. It’s 4G and 5G mobile core software products have been specifically created to address the Network Edge use cases which are beyond the capabilities of the legacy mobile core vendors for reasons of scalability, flexibility and price.

AttoCore customers often run small mobile networks and those networks frequently use small cells. The flat 4G architecture caters for the needs of small cells much better than the hierarchical 2G and 3G architectures. Small cells have had lukewarm acceptance from the big MNOs and yet small mobile networks based on small cells and with flexible, scalable, edge friendly cores are being deployed:

  • Command and control vehicles used by the emergency services create bubbles of 4G mobile coverage, for use by first responders.
  • Rural service providers in underserved areas use 4G to provide mobile broadband services over Fixed Wireless Access Networks.
  • Merchant shipping and passenger liners can use any 4G capable spectrum, once outside of national waters, to offer a range of voice, data and IoT services.
  • Industrial verticals, such as oil and gas companies, open cast and underground mines, use closed 4G networks to carry data and provide communications between buildings, vehicles and employees.
  • The military embed 4G software into radio products carried in backpacks, or in vehicles, or on drones, planes, or helicopters.

THE CBRS OPPORTUNITY

As with any mobile network, there is no benefit in having an enterprise mobile network if the radios can not be turned on and to turn them on, you need to have the ability to use radio spectrum.

Until recently, almost all LTE deployments were in licensed bands and all licences have been acquired by MNOs, for use by their big networks. Unless you were in a location where spectrum was not owned (such as in international waters), or where the law or regulation allowed access (in an underground mine perhaps), if you wanted to build and operate a small mobile network, the chances are, you would not be able to use LTE, or would need MNO permission to do so.

The great change which has happened to spectrum availability is the opening up of spectrum which is unlicensed, or light licensed, for use on a shared basis. Small quantities of such spectrum have been available before. In the Netherlands and in the UK for example, the “DECT guard band” has hosted small private LTE networks, with great success. New service providers have emerged, bringing with them a new generation of suppliers and an enhanced level of innovation.

Across the world, there is now a growing move amongst national regulators to make available LTE capable spectrum, which can be used by service providers, systems integrators and enterprises without needing to work with major MNOs. In the USA, a significant regulatory process concerned the redesignation of the CBRS spectrum bands. This has led to the opening up of spectrum which is well  suited to use by enterprise mobile networks.

ENTERPRISE MOBILE NETWORK SOLUTIONS

Move into the CBRS world and you move into a world in which the enterprise mobile network is no longer just a DAS enabled adjunct of the MNO macro network, but is an intelligent entity in its own right – one over which the enterprise itself can have a lot of control.

The two principal components of the enterprise mobile network, common to all instantiations are:

  1. Small cells. The small cell is a base station in its own right and, whilst it presents the need for a degree of planning, deploying small cells in the enterprise provides significant benefits. More intelligent coverage, handover between cells, support for future services, lower latency, all of the benefits of the 3GPP standardisation process and improved throughput are just some of these benefits.
  2. Software at the network edge. This is a key advantage of the enterprise mobile network over DAS. Software adds intelligence to the network and gives it the ability to support additional services over and above the capabilities of the macro network, whereas DAS merely extends those macro network capabilities. It is this ability to host software which allows for the deployment of AttoCore products at the enterprise network edge.

Whilst the availability of deregulated shared spectrum is the catalyst for the creation of the enterprise mobile network, there are in fact two options when it comes to the deployment.

The enterprise mobile network can be created as a private network, physically and logically separate from the public network (Private LTE). For such a network to function, it needs to operate in unlicensed spectrum, such as that provided by CBRS. As with any LTE network, there is a need for a core and to meet the requirements of the enterprise network, the core needs to be one which can cost effectively downscale to the much smaller network sizes which exist in the enterprise. AttoCore serves this market, with its flagship Evolved Packet Core (EPC), AttoEPC.

The private network is owned and operated by the enterprise, by a systems integrator, or by a service provider other than the national MNOs. New capabilities such as IoT can be rolled out in the enterprise, independently of the commercial offerings of the national MNOs. Such a network would be deployed using multiple eNodeBs, transmitting one of the CBRS frequencies. As with any mobile network, the presence of an EPC would facilitate handover between eNodeBs, delivering on the promise of a network which is as capable as WiFi in carrying data traffic, but with the addition of quality of service and seamless handover. The network would use private SIMs and, depending on the network implementation, there may be restrictions on the services provided to users with public (national MNO) SIMs.

The alternative to the deployment of a private network is the public network extension. This basically follows the DAS principal of extending into the enterprise the coverage of the MNO macro network. However, unlike the DAS network, the mechanism for improving coverage is the deployment of intelligent small cells, with optional capabilities including local data offload. AttoCore also serves this market sector, with a specialist S1 concentrator and data offload product called AttoEdge.

The public network extension could be owned by a third party and could implement a “multi operator” model, where support within the enterprise is provided for each major operator. This model could be implemented by having intelligent small cells transmit more than one PLMN, or might just require the deployment of duplicated (or triplicated etc) small cells. The network extension could also be owned and operated by the national MNO and although it could be implemented in unlicensed, or light licensed CBRS like frequencies, it could also be implemented in the licensed frequencies owned by the MNOs. The core network function, which is provided by an on-site EPC in the case of private networks, is provided, in this case, by the standard macro core products, already owned and operated by the MNOs. As an extension of public networks, BYOD would be the normal mode of operation and public SIMs would also facilitate most public network services, as normal.

Deploying AttoEdge along with this public network extension decouples the enterprise network from the MNO’s macro network. This shields the MNO’s macro core from the flood of new S1 connections which would result from direct connection of numerous enterprise networks. The AttoEdge S1GW (AttoS1GW) presents to the outside world a single S1, suggesting to the macro core that the enterprise network is in fact a single eNodeB. Handover between small cells within the enterprise is also locally managed, again offloading the macro core.

CAPABILITIES OF ENTERPRISE MOBILE NETWORKS

The building blocks of the enterprise mobile network create a solution which would be instantly recognisable to telecoms professionals familiar with the 4G mobile network architecture. The 4G small cell, which provides the enterprise with in building, or campus wide radio coverage, is a base station. Unlike the hierarchical approach of 3G, the small cells connect into the network core in the same way as a macro base station, using the well defined and highly reliable S1 interface.

The EPC (Enhanced Packet Core) used by the enterprise mobile network is a well known component of the 4G macro network. Being based on the same 3GPP standards as the macro core, in theory this enterprise mobile network core could be used to run the MNOs own macro network.

In practice, the enterprise mobile network core has been created specifically to address the network edge, stripping away many requirements of the large public network. In parallel, you also strip away size, complexity, installation and support requirements and of course, cost.

As they are created from products adhering to 3GPP standards, enterprise mobile networks have the potential to offer the same range of services as traditional 4G based macro networks. However, there are some which have particular relevance in the enterprise environment:

  • Push To Talk (PTT). The deployment of PTT without “mission critical” elements does not require any particular capability in the network, as it would be implemented by a third party application and carried as data across the private network. Closed user groups in particular are major users of PTT and it is not difficult to imagine communities such as security guards or maintenance personnel making good use of PTT in the enterprise environment.
  • Implemented within the enterprise, a private network provides that enterprise with the ability to carry IoT data between devices without needing to transit the public network of the MNO. That data may be private, or latency sensitive. It may not be possible to use the MNO networks, due to lack of coverage, or the national MNO network may not support IoT. With IoT being viewed as one component of a broader Industry 4.0 ecosystem, the private network may in fact have superior capabilities to the national MNO network and become an essential component of the “fourth age of industrialisation”.
  • Control and security. Locating the mobile network within the enterprise gives that enterprise significant control over all aspects of the network. This would include how to deploy the network, to provide maximum benefit to the enterprise users. Operational control would extend to the security of the network. Many enterprises view themselves as best placed to secure their own mission critical information and extending this practice to the mobile network by removing dependencies on the public network would allow them to overlay their own security measures, tailored to their own requirements and competencies.

DATA OFFLOAD

A principal benefit of both the AttoEPC enabled private network and the AttoEdge enabled public network extension is the introduction of the ability to provide data offload. Historically, the de facto standard for data offload has been WiFi based. However, the LTE based approach enabled by AttoCore has significant advantages:

  1. It provides an enterprise grade solution, which offloads directly from the mobile network to the internet or corporate network, both of which are purpose built to carry large quantities of data. Latency, especially over FTTx networks, is significantly lower. There is no need to pass through insecure WiFi. Offloading onto WiFi is actually offloading from one wireless access front end onto another, whereas the real aim is to offload onto the data network itself.
  2. Historically, capital costs for WiFi access points have been significantly lower than 4G base stations (including small cells) and WiFi networks are certainly cheap to deploy. However, the innovation created by the release of new LTE capable spectrum and the volume potential of enterprise networks deployed on a massive scale will fuel price competitiveness.
  3. LTE has a significant, permanent mobility advantage over WiFi. WiFi has never really mastered mobility and still faces technical challenges, which are difficult to overcome. In comparison, mobility is the very essence of LTE.

Both AttoEPC (in the case of private enterprise networks) and AttoEdge (in the case of public network extensions – shown) provide a mobile core interface (the S1 interface, to be exact), which allows direct connectivity to a network of small cells. And by incorporating AttoCore’s Local Gateway component, AttoLGW, they both provide the ability to divert user plane traffic from the radio access network, directly onto the internet, or corporate data network.

This data offload occurs in the network. Unlike typical WiFi offload, the data offload is transparent to both the end user and the end user’s device. It is easier to implement than WiFi based approaches and gives more control to the enterprise network administrator.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE ENTERPRISE

Spurred on by programs such as CBRS, across the world, national regulators are making available on an unlicensed, or light licensed basis, LTE capable shared spectrum. This newly available shared spectrum has facilitated the creation of a new breed of private network in the enterprise and by the establishment of multi operator public network extensions, has been the catalyst for the reaction of the national MNOs. As these networks are based on products implemented to 3GPP standards, they have access to all of the benefits of the 4G mobile ecosystem and as the standards continue to evolve, so will these benefits. 5G based enterprise solutions will further enhance these benefits.

The key components of the enterprise mobile network are small cells and flexible, scalable, cost effective mobile core software. Highly interoperable and supported by long term relationships with small cell vendors, through its flagship AttoEPC and AttoEdge products, AttoCore is ideally suited to support the deployment of both private networks and public network extensions. AttoCore products are deployed today, proven in enterprise networks and ready for the brave new world of innovation at the enterprise network edge.

steve.coppins@attocore.com

Meet AttoCore at MWC Barcelona, February 24th-27th, Hall 7, Stand 7A11-7