Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Software Defined Networks and integration of Wifi with 3G/4G for R&E networks

[A number of R&E networks such as SURFnet, JANET, AARnet, etc are actively promoting mobile services and looking at integration of campus Wifi with 3G/4G networks using Eduroam.
Mobile wireless services promises to be major service offering for R&E networks as the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine (M2M) becomes increasingly critical for research. Applications such as personal medical devices on (or in) the body, environmental sensors, traffic monitors and even garbage truck tracking will need such networks. As well anytime, anyplace, any device education and research will be increasingly dependent on the integration of campus Wifi, community Wifi and 3G/4G networks. Public content and distribution networks will also be an integral component. And as I have blogged in the past such wireless integration allows the deployment of overlapping Green WiFi nodes – powered by solar panels which will be needed to adapt a warmer climate.

Here is a great article on OpenRadio a project from Stanford that hopes to use OpenFlow to create pools of available broadband from Wi-Fi, cellular and other networks. The project team is working with Texas Instruments to build $300-$500 base stations for the hardware component, while researchers try to build the orchestration software. Hopefully the base stations can be powered by renewable energy. R&E networks and campus IT staff could direct al bandwidth hungry applications to their WiFi networks while using much more expensive 3G/4G for e-mail and text messaging.—BSA]
By layering the orchestration software on top of the networks, operators can easily write programs that can help them optimize their networks. For example, an operator could limit Netflix or YouTube traffic to only 40 percent of the LTE airwaves and save the remainder for other data traffic and voice.
Right now, operators have to buy expensive gear and make tweaks across their entire network to allocate their bandwidth for certain services. OpenFlow makes the network programmable and easy to tweak using higher-level programming languages. Katti says that by using programs to manage the flow of traffic across a pool of network resources, operators could alleviate the so-valled “spectrum crisis.” From a consumer perspective moving form a Wi-Fi to a cellular network would become seamless under the OpenRadio vision.
Katti’s ideas are compelling, especially for less traditional operators such as Republic Wireless or Free in France. Both operators offer mobile phone service that rely primarily on the Wi-Fi networks around a user and use the 3G networks as a last resort. Given the right hardware and the OpenRadio software they could make managing their networks easier for them and for their users.
But for carriers, while this might address their spectrum worries it also is a threat to their business model, which is built around perceived scarcity. Verizon held off on including Wi-Fi in its phones for so long because it wanted to shunt consumers to its cellular network, where the costs per gigabyte of data used are higher. If OpenRadio takes off, it’s easy to envision companies trying to buy service from a wholesaler (maybe Sprint will step up) to create wireless networks out of Wi-Fi, white spaces or other airwaves. Enterprising carriers or hot spot operators might even set up roaming agreements that make such coverage global. I’d love to see OpenRadio make it out of Stanford into the real world.

R&E Network and Green Internet Consultant.
email: Bill.St.Arnaud@gmail.com
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blog: http://billstarnaud.blogspot.com/
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