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The Mobile Network Is Becoming a Cloud Service

Phil Harvey

At Mobile World Congress Americas, the cloud and 5G loomed large and, frequently, were part of the same story.

One example: Affirmed Networks Inc. announced a "Mobile Network as a Service" offering, wherein it made its virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) available to mobile operators on Amazon Web Services Inc. (See Affirmed Networks Launches 'Mobile Network as a Service'.)

With that offering, in theory, a network operator could secure spectrum and begin offering mobile voice and data services in any geography where AWS is accessible without needing to build their own network. Enterprises and MVNOs can, as an example, take an offering like Affirmed's and provide IoT connectivity for their own devices or as a service to other customers.

"This is a very logical extension of the Affirmed NFV platform into a cloud platform and what we're announcing now is… all the things that service providers love about our platform -- the automation, the time to deployment, the same levels of reliability -- now apply all of those on AWS," said Amit Tiwari, Affirmed Networks’ VP of strategic alliances and systems engineering.

This sort of offering combines all the things we love about the cloud, with the freedom of mobile computing. It creates an opportunity for service providers but also adds some pressure on them to deliver services at different, competitive price points.

Eventually, network operators of all mobile services are going to have to justify the cost of running their networks against "public cloud pricing or public cloud benchmarks," according to Gabriel Brown, principal analyst for mobile networks and 5G at Heavy Reading . As more mobile network operator functions are subsumed into the cloud, that day gets nearer.

Also, this is an important announcement from Affirmed because it gets them out in front of the conversation, a valuable thing when you're a network infrastructure specialist.

"I think it's safe to say they're competing against four other vendors -- Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco and Huawei," Brown said. "It's definitely safe to say that all four of those vendors are investigating the model -- and I would say Nokia and Cisco have probably made more progress [out of that group]."

Other vendors might be in this ballpark already. Expeto, for example, offers an LTE core network via a Platform as a Service offering. Also, Athonet offers what it calls a software-based mobile packet core solution "for centralized or highly distributed edge-cloud deployments." Either one of those two vendors could very likely be offering a mobile network as a service, but the potential customers and use cases might differ from what Affirmed is targeting.

Affirmed has one customer talking about the need for this kind of service, but it doesn't yet have a paying customer using the Mobile Network as a Service in AWS, as announced. The company hopes to be able to talk about some case studies soon -- and that's where I think the story gets really interesting.

— Phil Harvey, US News Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
9/22/2018 | 1:04:11 AM
Re: Costs
For IoT or an MVNO who wants to start out with thier own EPC (smart move), this can be a good entry option - despite the costs - due to no lag time for servers, networking, etc. Not worth flogging the dead horse argument that renting servers is cheaper. TCO in AWS is a matter of scale, and it takes a lot to get close.
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/20/2018 | 12:05:45 PM

AWS is probably wildly inappropriate to use to offer these kinds of services.  The cost to rent the hardware is dramatically higher than dropping servers in data centers.  Go run the math.  You will see it is about 3x the cost.  The reason to use AWS here would be some form of peak load challenges whether that is turn up of major new traffic, working around network failures or some other form change based challenge.

If you are renting spectrum and deploying radios just to smack yourself in the head and say "Hey we should have bought some routers.", then your company has much bigger problems.  Unlike Enterprise networks, service provider networks need to optimize for cost.  AWS has nothing to do with building low cost anything.


User Rank: Light Sabre
9/20/2018 | 2:54:36 AM
Web clouds cannot replace telco clouds
AWS or any other web cloud may be good for some things, but it is unable to provide carrier-grade reliability, responsiveness, latency, etc. Not to mention connectivity and other parts of the equation.

On the other hand, if you add telco capabilities to web clouds and harden the connectivity, it looses the initial cost attractiveness.

So, what's in it for MVNOs?

Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/19/2018 | 5:02:43 AM
Re: Secure spectrum and offer mobile services without needing to build a network
the major barrier to entry in mobile and 5G is spectrum and the radio access network

You don't need to be an expert to figure that out! For the most part right now we are talking about IoT and enterprise core networks using leased radio access. MVNOs and operator sub-brands are also candidates.
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/19/2018 | 4:59:00 AM
Re: Secure spectrum and offer mobile services without needing to build a network
if you had signficant user plane traffic you might find hosting the EPC yourself was cheaper than using AWS.

Yes, this is a major barrier, alhtough perhaps less acute for IoT. Cloud platforms will have to reduce cost signifcantly to carry 4G/5G user-plane. There are a few options  for this.
User Rank: Blogger
9/19/2018 | 4:19:04 AM
Re: Secure spectrum and offer mobile services without needing to build a network
I tend to agree with James. I am not the expert here (Gabriel?) but I was under the impression that the major barrier to entry in mobile and 5G is spectrum and the radio access network, which seems to account for the vast bulk of the cost. And then, as James says, you need that fiber in the ground for backhaul and transport - also expensive.
User Rank: Light Beer
9/19/2018 | 4:02:00 AM
Good Article
In my opinion, in the near future, cloud services will contain 90% of all information, on the one hand it's good, the internal memory of the device will not be so important and you will always be able to restore data, and on the other it will be difficult to ensure the security of information stored in the cloud
User Rank: Blogger
9/19/2018 | 3:20:32 AM
Secure spectrum and offer mobile services without needing to build a network
Leaving aside the challenge of buying spectrum, wouldn't you also need to build a radio access network and transport links? Perhaps you mean secure an MVNO agreement and then with an EPC running on AWS you can start offering a service. It is an interesting way of lowering the barriers to entry although I expect if you had signficant user plane traffic you might find hosting the EPC yourself was cheaper than using AWS. 
User Rank: Lightning
9/18/2018 | 9:07:37 PM
VMware has been doing Network as a Service for a few years.


Going forward 

Google Kubernetes made the Container only Services Model statement with RedHat:

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