In five years from now, over 3.5 billion ‘things’ will be connected on mobile data networks. Whether it is 3G, 4G or 5G, or whether it is LTE-M, NB-IoT, EC-GSM or Massive IoT, mobile networks will be flooded with traffic that pass data from one end to the other, navigating through a complex web of mobile and wireline networks and more than half a million of data centers and innumerable servers around the world.
The mobile core network in particular, which is tasked with session management, service functions, policy control and service control of traffic will be dealing with the most disparate traffic it has ever seen – from few bytes of keep-alive packets received from a connected street light to gigabytes of data transmitted to a tablet during the streaming of a 4K UHD video.
With the emergence of the Internet of Things(IoT) and Industrial IoT(IIoT), mobile data use cases will become even more divergent, requiring Mobile Operators to actively manage the ensuing traffic with the deployment of an increasing number of network services and policies to maintain network performance and efficiencies at all times. This includes the move towards carrier network virtualization with the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) now moved from traditional dedicated hardware to CoTs servers, creating the virtualized EPC (vEPC); and with network services such as load balancers, threat detection and network address translation (NAT) deployed as virtualized network functions (VNFs). The adoption of the new virtualized packet core enables Mobile Operators to match up to the pace of growth in mobile data traffic with networks that are increasingly agile, flexible and responsive.
In this aspect, one of the most important network functions supporting the vEPC and its network services is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) which helps with the detection and classification of traffic in real-time. It plays the critical role of reading and classifying every data packet that passes through the EPC network, enabling dynamic provisioning and effective application of various network services and policies – down to application and subscriber level, even for encrypted traffic – such that Mobile Operators can ensure a high quality of experience for their mobile users. On top of this, DPI also enables the enforcement of various security policies including unified threat management comprising next generation firewalls, identity and access management, content filtering and protection against malware, ransomware and DDoS attacks.
While these functions enable Mobile Operators to seamlessly manage the increasing traffic load on their networks, what Mobile Operators are more excited about is the use of DPI for monetization of their mobile services, especially on 4G, 4.5G and the upcoming 5G networks. Monetization opportunities are closely tied to service innovation, service differentiation and the end-user experience, and these three goals are dependent on Mobile Operators’ ability to manage their traffic intelligently and enforce hundreds of policy rules, which in turn hinge on accurate real-time traffic visibility – a function delivered exclusively by DPI.
Monetizing Quality of Service
The ability of 5G to offer differentiated Quality of Service(QoS) will allow Mobile Operators to support new and emerging services. With DPI in vEPC, applications that require ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency, low jitter and low packet loss can be provisioned in real-time on superior, low-latency pathways. This, when combined with 5G’s network slicing and edge computing capabilities, allows Mobile Operators to support ultra-low latency applications and services. They can, for example:
Expand their m-health portfolio to include support for robotic surgeries and remote surgeries on both mobile and fixed wireless connectivity
Offer standalone gaming plans priced at a premium, especially games leveraging augmented reality/virtual reality features
Offer a wider range of mobile data plans defined by different QoS tiers, targeting high-spending customers who will pay a premium for faster connectivity
For each of the above, DPI does deep flow and packet level inspection with further detection of the metadata and subscriber identity to enable the vEPC to route different applications through different QoS pathways to ensure the highest quality of service and quality of experience. While gaming and remote surgeries receive ultra-low latency performance-guaranteed pathways, applications which do not prioritize real-time response, for example, are delivered on standard, service-guaranteed pathways.
Monetizing Speeds and Bandwidth
There is a strong growth in services that require faster and more flexible provision of speeds and bandwidth. With the proliferation of 4.5G networks coupled with the advent of 5G, Mobile Operators can offer different speeds according to the application and subscriber plan with the goal of augmenting revenue streams across all market segments. By deploying DPI within the vEPC, Mobile Operators can for example, offer:
Video streaming plans on mobile devices for their subscribers
Application-specific quota plans where speeds are automatically throttled down on selected applications once thresholds are crossed
Connectivity for 24X7 video surveillance and monitoring services on remote cameras
Huge cloud storage plans for personal use with customers being able to upload large video files and photo albums; and transfer large files between computers (>100megabytes)
Connectivity for outdoor live broadcast services
Data backup services for large enterprises via bandwidth-on-demand plans
For the above, DPI uses its traffic classification capability and granular visibility to support vEPC in provisioning bandwidth in real-time for both fixed bandwidth and bandwidth-on-demand applications to cater for all scenarios of traffic usage – one-off, peak and off-peak, seasonal and fixed. Inputs from DPI also help Mobile Operators implement automatic compression, optimization and caching on heavy content such as video traffic without impeding the speed or quality of service while saving on bandwidth. DPI hence enables dynamic provisioning of bandwidth and content-based policies such that both low bandwidth applications such as general web browsing, public emails and VoIP calls can be delivered alongside high-bandwidth applications with consistent performance across all traffic categories.
With more and more critical and sensitive information being delivered on mobile data connectivity and with privacy becoming an increasingly demanded feature, businesses and end-users are ready to pay a premium for enhanced security. In this regard, DPI becomes a key tool to scrutinize every packet that flows in the network, even when it’s encrypted, thus allowing Mobile Operators to:
Offer secure connectivity for Mobile Operator digital services such as mobile banking and mobile wallet
Enhance their enterprise cloud services portfolio with premium features such as advanced security protection, identity and access management and firewalls
Offer content filtering and parental control features on mobile plans
With DPI, Mobile Operators are able to automate security enforcement based on the information detected by DPI, invoking a set of security VNFs chained together when but only when, it is necessary. Whitelisted applications and traffic sources for example are allowed to pass immediately, ensuring speed on performance on ‘safe’ applications while suspicious traffic is routed through rigorous security scan for enhanced screening and inspection.
Big data is big business and real-time analytics are Operators’ newest assets. Real-time analytics when combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence provide the very information that is critical to understand customer behaviour, content preferences and spending patterns, and this information is valuable for any business which shares the same customer base as telecom Operators’. By capturing and owning this real-time analytics, Mobile Operators are able to:
Carry out contextual marketing for example location-based services
Facilitate Mobile Operator business decisions for example in developing new data plans, optimizing traffic on specific content type and bundling of content, device and digital services
Offer SMEs and enterprise customers market research services leveraging insights on the use of mobile data and mobile content by demography, geography and device types
Power Mobile Operator and third-party advertising platforms and advertising networks with real-time customer analytics
With DPI, Mobile Operators can mine data traffic across all their networks (data and IoT-specific) to produce large sets of anonymized data by types of application and content, subscriber, device and location. DPI’s visibility at flow and packet level enables this, timely and efficiently.
Becoming 5G ready
With 5G taking off in a couple of years and with video content, advanced digital services and mission critical IoT and IIoT applications commanding higher QoS and network performance standards, DPI’s role in the monetization of Mobile Operators’ network will become increasingly critical. The vEPC specifically, will rely more than ever on DPI’s capabilities to intelligently manage mobile data traffic in real-time and deliver both network performance and monetization for Mobile Operators now and over the years to come.
To know more about how DPI delivers competitive service differentiation and how it transforms markets focused on network agility, intelligence and automation, download Rohde and Schwarz’s latest whitepaper on ‘DPI for vEPC Vendors: Real-Time Analytics, QoE & Security’