Light Reading

Softbank Asks Ericsson for Congestion Relief

Sarah Thomas

Japanese mobile giant Softbank has enlisted the help of Ericsson to build software to dynamically manage network congestion in its heavily trafficked markets.

Together, the duo has come up with Mobility-based Policy software that they say will allow SoftBank Corp. to dynamically allocate radio resources on a per-user, per-terminal basis while also reducing network-wide signaling traffic.

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) says the software works by creating a direct connection between its SGSN-MME and its policy controller, enabling the exchange of mobility management and policy decisions to flow between the two. The network then uses that location, user and device data to optimize how it allocates its resources and reduce overall signaling traffic.

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Ericsson already supplies the LTE Radio Access Network (RAN), Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and small cells to Softbank, as well as powering VoLTE for the operator. Mobility-based policy is still in the demo stages right now, and Ericsson showed it off this month in Tokyo. (See SoftBank Trials Ericsson's Dot Indoors, Softbank Deploys Ericsson for EPC and Softbank Picks Ericsson for 4G & Packet Core.)

Why this matters
Network congestion management, driven by network awareness, is a crucial technology for mobile operators, especially in crowded cities like Tokyo. Right now, their options for doing so are typically centered on expensive probes in the network from the likes of Ericsson and the other major hardware vendors.

Procera Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: PKT) announced a similar software-driven alternative to RAN congestion management last week, but the fact that Ericsson is jumping in suggests more will follow suit as well. It's a technology that operators are asking for, as evidenced by Ericsson's collaboration with Softbank and the fact that Procera is already in trial with a number of operators in Europe and Asia. (See Procera Offers RAN Management Via the SIM.)

Ovum Ltd. analyst Daryl Schoolar points out that while Procera and Ericsson are looking to solve similar problems, Procera is focused on how to get the network data while Ericsson is tackling the real-time decisions that can be made from it. The analyst says that while he's heard other vendors talk about this type of per-user policy-based network control, Softbank is the first operator he's seen put it into action -- but it won't be the last.

"I believe as operators look to fully optimize their networks and create a more consistent user experience we will see more per-user policy-based network solutions," Schoolar says. "Of course this means plenty of mobile operators are going to need to update their PCRF."

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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
8/13/2014 | 8:16:40 AM
Working towards congestion relief
I also agree with the fact that Ericsson's solution was to put together the smaller vendors' technology. I also think that Softbank made a very wise step when they involved the Ericsson's in their project towards building a software that dynamically manages network congestion in some of its heavily trafficked markets. This project, which is driven by network awareness, is a great relief to the mobile operators, especially those who reside in some of the world crowded cities like Tokyo.        
User Rank: Moderator
8/11/2014 | 4:21:53 PM
Re: vendor wars
Hi Sarah,

I bet that the Ericsson solution is most likely integrating smaller vendor's technology. Where I believe a Procera-like SW only and Gi based solution is limited (Procera is just an example, there are other companies with similar approach, like Sandvine, or other original DPI vendor etc) is it would only show usage and L7 KPIs, which may not be granular enough and be synchronised well enough to actually show the real congestion at cell level. In addition, at application level, you may see problems that are not any longer in Softbank's network, but in the internet; i.e. you may see a congested server, but it does not mean the cell is the limiting factor, even if everyone under that cell approaching that specific application server would feel congestion (Softbank would not be to blame there).

Typically the way a Gi DPI tool work is it would show only L7 and at best half TCP type of analysis (i.e. just the internet part of the protocole, not the other half down to the end-user). SW only solution need to filter lots of information out of their analysis, because they cannot keep up with a heavily loaded traffic you would see in an operator the size of Softbank.

As far as the network goes, the most relevant part of the analysis would come from the other half of the TCP handshake down to the user, but I doubt Procera's solution would show you that on every subs of the network. You would have to do this analysis unfiltered on every single user on the network all the time, with great synchronisation to be able to clearly show cell congestion.

In the specific case of Softbank, I believe Ericsson is a managed service partner, so there is a chance they are acting as the operations and engineering department of Softbank. But I agree with your comment that usually the best solutions in our industry are driven by start ups and there is definitely a common trend at operators to use big OEM or consultancies as political buffers against potential technology delivery blunders.
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