Can Standardization Help the IoT Data Overload Coming Our Way?
The year 2020 is widely cited as a turning point in our global path towards home automation, autonomous automobiles, industrial automation and the entire Internet of Things (IoT). In April 2016, Bell Labs published a study that predicts that in 2020, 19% of the world’s consumption demand for data services will not be able to be met. The answer, they say, is to accelerate the industry’s move to 5G and cloud-based technologies along with new business models.1
In order to move faster towards 5G, the industry needs to ensure that standardization efforts are aligned. Additionally, standardization at both the transport layer and the services layer must produce specifications and tools that developers can use to turn those specifications into globally interoperable products and services at an ever-increasing pace.
International Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) such as ETSI, 3GPP, NGMN, GSMA, and ITU, have begun work for the next-generation mobile standard: 5G. As these SDOs begin to converge on the definition of 5G, it is widely agreed that this new network must provide improvements in capacity, deployment, and operational costs and ecological impact.2
Standardization efforts are already underway to enhance the core network, including Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Networks Functions Virtualization (NFV). However, detailed implementations are still in a state of flux with a proliferation of SDN controllers and even multiple orchestration platforms across diverse domains. This creates significant challenges for applications and service developers who must deal with a new Service Layer Architecture and multiple API’s that could complicate software development.
While the effort to define and standardize network layer functions is beginning to take shape, it is also important that the mobile industry comes together to define and standardize the services layer that will be deployed to allow operators to migrate legacy services, deploy new services, and recoup their investment.
SDN/NFV Architecture Changes Everything
The SDN/NFV architecture has implications on the way home automation, and, in fact, all services will be deployed. The NFV “Telco Cloud” architecture turns transport specific applications from vertical “silos” into horizontal “slices” where each solution is integrated with new NFV middleware so that it can operate transparently across any transport, Operating System (OS), or service platform on shared hardware.
This architecture for SDN/NFV enables operators to launch new combinations of services functionality very rapidly for both end-user and network applications. Functional elements, referred to as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) can deliver service capabilities across platforms, and functions can be mixed and matched to create new services on the fly.
Traditional applications (See left side of Figure 1.) leverage separate middleware and operating systems to request network resources. In NFV these applications will place requests to a Northbound Interface (NBI) API of the new SDN controller to access a shared operating system and virtualized network resources. (See right side of Figure 1.) The major telecommunications equipment vendors appear to be implementing different variations of this architecture with varying NBI API functionality.
Mobile ecosystem software players could find themselves with a new applications development environment and an enormous variety of new APIs for both open platform service enablement and legacy functionality. This could seriously complicate the migration of current services to new networks, as well as slowing down the rollout of new services.
Key Services Through 2020
The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) sponsored a survey of leading industry players to begin to define a vision for mobile services in 2020. The survey found that in the next 4 years, next-generation network architectures significantly impact both legacy mobile services and emerging ones.
Going forward, a number of existing services will expand, some significantly, others only a little. Current legacy services include “native” mobile services — Voice, HD Voice, Push to Talk (PTT), SMS, MMS, IMS and RCS-e joyn™ services — along with “walled garden” and other approved operator services for multiple vertical markets, as well as former WAP Forum and SyncML™ applications.
These services are referred to as legacy however in 2020 they are still projected to account for nearly US $85 billion in revenue. (See Figure 2.) To avoid revenue losses these legacy services must continue to be fully operational and interoperable across next-generation networks, while achieving seamless backwards compatibility with today’s 3G and 4G networks.
Emerging End-User Services
Emerging Services include Over the Top (OTT) and Session-Initiation-Protocol-(SIP)-based services that may be integrated with the above capabilities as well as the emerging plethora of Home Automation, mCommerce, Automotive, Location, and Internet of Things (IoT) services.
Service enablers that are inherent in SDN will create significant opportunities for new operator revenues, especially as SDN ultimately enables on-demand services to be assembled — or at least instantiated from existing service logic — on the fly. These services represent the critical value added side of NFV/SDN. If operators are to afford the migration to 5G they must focus on lowering CapEx and OpEx, and target new services that improve margins and grow new revenue portfolios.
Figure 3 describes a number of services identified by mobile operators through OMA’s survey that are likely to be deployed by 2019. The percentages indicate the portion of respondents who predicted that a particular service would be commercially available in a given year.
Standardization of the Next-Generation Service Layer
These emerging services will likely be dominated by agile development of technology and platform prototypes often in open source, collaborative projects that put a premium on “code first”. In the highly competitive world of application developers, where Open Source Software (OSS) is relied upon to produce the more than 1.3 million apps available on iOS alone,3 the procedures and output used to create legacy services can be seen as archaic and slow to market. Legacy services were standardized by SDOs, which provide the industry with a business and legal framework, ensure interoperability and backward compatibility, while helping to prevent industry overlap and fragmentation.
Clearly, SDOs play a fundamental role in defining our complex system of reliable, interoperable mobile voice/data networks and services across the planet, however the working styles of the standards communities and the developer communities are vastly different. The standards community has typically worked to define a solution for a relatively complex problem, and to create a permanent solution that helps ensure integrity and interoperability at the network and applications service layers. Upon completion, SDOs have typically produced a document, often in PDF, published for the industry at large to absorb and adhere to when developing their products or services.
Application developers like to create applications that take advantage of these standards. But they also want to work with socially connected tools that allow for coopting, adapting, and republishing their work and the work of others. Performance of the network layer, and even middleware, is taken for granted. The vitality of the entire mobile ecosystem demands that the standards development community and the application developer community bridge the gap in work practices and deliverables to ensure efficiency and interoperability across the mobile value chain.
So as the telecom industry begins to specify the services that will run over 5G networks, how can SDOs adapt to better enable application developers to take advantage of the standards they produce in a timely manner? Many individuals in the SDO community believe that standards development processes and the output of SDOs can and must evolve to meet the needs of the new mobile ecosystem including app developers. New initiatives from SDOs provide tools such as client/server emulators, editors to create profile data, GitHub code repositories, examples of how to use standards, sandbox servers for testing implementations, user communities, and listings of open source projects based on standards.
As the mobile value chain evolves toward next-generation network architectures and a business model emerges that includes the application developer community, SDOs must evolve to include them as well. To do this, SDOs should provide the application developer community with tools that allow them to take advantage of the specifications they produce quickly and easily. In this way SDOs can help accelerate the industry’s migration to 5G-based services in order to meet data consumption demand in 2020 and beyond.
2. Luis Jorge Romero, ETSI Director General; Connect World Europe