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Addressing the Needs of Mobile & Wireless Networks Through SDN

Dan Pitt
Dan Pitt

I recently developed a list of software-defined networking (SDN) predictions for 2014, and I placed the increasing role of telecom companies near the top of the list.

I strongly believe that this year, telco service providers will help drive SDN uptake. For example, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Domain 2.0 announcement, perhaps the defining SDN announcement of 2013, called specifically for SDN and NFV (network functions virtualization) support and included demands for the separation of hardware and software. (See AT&T Puts SDN/NFV in Driver's Seat.)

Clearly, industry interest in the application of OpenFlow-based SDN technologies to wireless and mobile networks has increased significantly since the founding of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) in 2011.

Challenges faced by mobile and wireless networks include growth in mobile data, the need to simultaneously operate over multiple wireless technologies, and the rapid evolution of the mobile services market. Due to their existing separation of control and data planes, wireless and mobile networks are ready candidates for OpenFlow's enabling of scalable solutions. However, there has yet to be a full exploration of these networks' requirements. To address this need, ONF has announced a new Wireless and Mobile Working Group. (See ONF Group to Explore SDN in LTE.)

Initially, our explorations into wireless and mobile use cases for SDN began as a project in our Market Education Committee (MEC). Under the leadership of Orange's Christos Kolias and co-authored by Huawei's Serge Manning (now the chair of the Wireless and Mobile Working Group), an ONF solution brief, published in September 2013, explored motivations and applications of OpenFlow-enabled SDN for mobile and wireless networks. Considering service provider and vendor interest in this topic was so strong, we decided to form an ONF Discussion Group shortly thereafter to continue the conversation and explore the use cases for wireless and mobile network use of open SDN technology, with deeper technology considerations.

This group, led by Kolias along with Manning, identified an initial sample of 17 wireless and mobile use cases to be addressed. The group then drafted a charter to become an official ONF Working Group. The typical Working Group charter is around four to five pages long, but because of their considerable work in identifying use cases, this particular charter included nine pages of information -- shortened from 55 pages(!) -- to focus the efforts of the group on the highest-impact situations first. If that isn't a compelling case to become a Working Group, then I don't know what is.

The Wireless and Mobile Working Group was thereby chartered in October 2013, and we formally announced the group along with chair Serge Manning in January 2014. Over 260 representatives from more than 60 member companies participate in the Working Group, including end users and operators. The reception of and industry reactions to the establishment of this ONF Working Group have only vindicated our decision to dedicate time and effort to further explore relevant use cases and architectural frameworks for wireless and mobile.

Manning brings more than two decades of experience in the telecom industry as chair of the Wireless and Mobile Working Group. He is currently senior manager of corporate standards at Huawei, and previously held positions within both the vendor and operator communities, including software development, systems architecture, and technology evaluation. ONF is always grateful that its members devote such top talent to our activities.

Ultimately, the Wireless and Mobile Working Group aims to foster the adoption of SDN technologies for wireless and mobile network domains, encouraging innovative solutions and improving the speed at which products address the requirements of the market. Specifically, the group will focus its 2014 efforts on three particular use case categories: wireless transport networks, cellular access networks, and enterprise networks. Information gathered from our research into these use cases will be available to the public shortly. We are at present addressing the architectural frameworks that will encompass different elements of OpenFlow-based or OpenFlow-oriented wireless and mobile network domains. Once this work is finished, we will release a summary document to the public, and the group will address additional use cases later on.

Additionally, the group will work with other ONF Working Groups to generate OpenFlow specifications, ensuring that all wireless and mobile work is harmonized with additional OpenFlow development. By the end of 2014, we hope to see proofs of concept or feature demos from member companies -- in alignment with our goal of producing real, actual results from our work.

For additional information about the ONF Wireless and Mobile Working Group, including the group's charter document, please visit this page.

— Dan Pitt, Executive Director, Open Networking Foundation

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