For Carsten Brinkschulte, one of the big problems with today's mobile networks is that they are simply not mobile enough.
Using the NFV-based technology developed by Core Network Dynamics GmbH (CND), the company Brinkschulte leads, an operator could run an entire core mobile network on a Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer about the size of a credit card. "You could put the core network into a vehicle, attach an antenna to it and then have a true mobile network," he says. "Wherever the vehicle goes, you have a mobile network, and if you have a fleet of vehicles connected using a mesh network, you've got resilience."
It is the kind of technology that could turn the telecom industry on its head, with major implications for traditional operators, equipment vendors and end users.
Take public safety networks, for example. A number of governments are now looking to replace their old-fashioned TETRA systems with 4G technology. Instead of investing in new cellular infrastructure costing billions of dollars, authorities could turn police vehicles into miniature mobile networks at a fraction of the cost. "Why not put an antenna into every police car and just a few core base stations in the country and you don't need to deploy 30,000 radio towers?" says Brinkschulte.
CND's technology could also be used to build mobile networks in remote locations, such as at an oil rig. The orthodox approach would be to invest in a lot of specialized hardware from the likes of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) or Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), even though a relatively small number of people would be using that network. A much more cost-effective and more flexible alternative, says Brinkschulte, would be to use a standard Linux server running CND's OpenEPC-branded technology. "It does the same thing and will be a lot cheaper -- you won't pay a million for it," he says.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for CND is the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT), which will force operators to completely overhaul the way they design networks, according to Brinkschulte. "The network topology has to change for IoT," he says. "If 2 billion devices are connecting to the same centralized core network, it will become smoking hot." A decentralized infrastructure, based on the same principles as in the example of the police cars, would help to distribute the load.
These use cases are among several that CND is targeting as it looks to move its technology out of R&D environments and into live networks. Spun out of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute in 2013, CND currently has about 60 testbed customers, including major Tier 1 service providers like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Orange (NYSE: FTE), Telefónica and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). There is nothing, however, to stop any of those players from using OpenEPC in a commercial setting -- and not just in the scenarios that Brinkschulte presents but in more typical environments, too.
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