CableLabs has made progress with a working group focused on emerging hybrid MVNO (H-MVNO) models that aim to weave together access to third-party mobile networks and a cable operator's own Wi-Fi network and, potentially, its own 4G or 5G networks running on licensed spectrum.
Update: CableLabs confirmed that the group was formed in December 2020 and completed the project in August 2021.
As cable operators in the US and abroad enter the mobile game or look to enhance their existing mobile services through MVNO partnerships, the working group's intention is to "create an evolved architectural blueprint for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)," Omkar Dharmadhikari, wireless architect at CableLabs, explained this week in a blog post.
"The working group's aim is to explore new converged architectures that will benefit our members' wireless deployments while highlighting the benefits, impacts to existing deployments and features needed to be supported by both mobile network operator (MNO) and MVNO networks," Dharmadhikari added.
Light Reading has asked CableLabs how the working group's activity might be adapted by cable operators, and if the result of the initiative will include reference architectures or possibly a new set of specifications.
Dharmadhikari's blog post focuses on a key challenge that cable operators will face as they extend beyond a traditional MVNO model and seek to offload traffic on their own Wi-Fi networks or their own mobile radio infrastructure in specific geographic areas. In such a hybrid MVNO scenario, Dharmadhikari explains, cable operators will be forced to contend with a set of disparate wireless infrastructures:
- The cable operator's community Wi-Fi network
- The mobile network operator's 4G/5G network
- The cable operator's own 4G/5G network
It's already happening
While CableLabs working group's focus on the hybrid MVNO challenge is new, several cable operators, including a group in North America, are already pushing down that path.
Comcast and Charter Communications, for example, have MVNO deals with Verizon, operate their own metro and in-home Wi-Fi networks, and have secured CBRS licenses in areas where mobile traffic is anticipated to be heaviest. Charter plans to launch a field trial involving "thousands" of CBRS small cells in one market in early 2022, and use that as a blueprint of sorts for deployments in additional markets.
Canada's Cogeco plans to enter the wireless business in Canada via a proposed H-MVNO framework. Tied into that plan, Cogeco secured 38 spectrum licenses in the 3500MHz band at auction, and says it now has spectrum licenses to cover about 91% of its broadband footprint.
H-MVNOs intend to offload as much traffic as possible to help offset the costs of going to their mobile network operator partners. But they'll also need a new converged network architecture and related capabilities to ensure a consistent user experience and the enforcement of uniform and personalized policies as customers move in and out of these different networks, Dharmadhikari explains.
Centering on the SIM
The working group is exploring H-MVNO architectures that use dual-SIM and single-SIM approaches.
Dharmadhikari acknowledges that dual-SIM devices offer one way for a hybrid MVNO to maximize the use of its own network, but argues that this approach is also saddled with some shortcomings.
"[L]everaging the reseller MVNO with dual-SIM capabilities doesn't offer the H-MVNO any real-time insights into their subscribers' data usage statistics and patterns," Dharmadhikari explains. "Also, H-MVNOs have no control over policy, subscriptions, mobility or user experience management when their subscribers are outside H-MVNO network coverage."
He said that has led to an evaluation of new, evolved Dual-SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) architectures that use standardized 3GPP interfaces to overcome some of the limitations of the traditional reseller MVNO and provide more policy, subscription and user-experience control to the hybrid MVNO.
Dharmadhikari notes that the new technical working group is also evaluating single-SIM architectures that enable the hybrid MVNO network to support seamless, low-latency mobility for data applications across the MNO and H-MVNO networks.
"An ideal architecture for offering mobile services with single-SIM device usage is to combine the roaming architecture and a mobility interface, both of which are standardized in 3GPP," Dharmadhikari explained.
However, the targeted nature of hybrid MVNO mobile deployments can increase the signaling load on MNO mobility management core network elements as customers move in and out of H-MVNO network coverage, he adds. To overcome that issue, the working group is evaluating new MVNO architectures that use dedicated network elements in the MNO domain to handle H-MVNO subscriber traffic. That, he said, can isolate H-MVNO traffic from the MNO subscriber traffic and eliminate the increase in signaling load on core network elements that serve MNO subscribers.
CableLabs is also evaluating voice-handling scenarios in which H-MVNOs don't want to deploy their own voice platforms.
"One option is to offer voice via a third-party voice service provider; another is to enable additional interfaces between the MNO and the H-MVNO network to leverage the MNO's voice platform," Dharmadhikari explained.
Mobilizing on convergence
The MVNO-focused working group builds on other recent mobile and network and service convergence activity at CableLabs.
In April, CableLabs sparked two projects involving service providers (the Mobile Convergence Committee) and suppliers (The Convergence Council) designed to drive further collaboration and scale around network and service convergence.
In January, CableLabs introduced Intelligent Wireless Network Steering (IWiNS), an access network-agnostic platform designed to help mobile users seamlessly move across Wi-Fi-, LTE, CBRS and, potentially, C-band-based wireless networks on an application-by-application basis.
Kyrio, a unit of CableLabs, took that a step further last month with the launch of Adaptive Route Control (ARC), a platform that provides operators with more control of the quality of experience as customers switch from one type of network to another, covering both wired and wireless networks.
- CableLabs connects with operators and suppliers on convergence
- CableLabs takes on role of convergence catalyst
- CableLabs forges agnostic wireless connection for operators
- CableLabs' Kyrio unit sets sights on network convergence
- Charter tests high-splits, preps CBRS field trial for early 2022
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading