A German company touting its evolved packet core (EPC) technology as a way to decentralize mobile networks has connected with about 60 customers – including mobile operators and handset makers, which have used it for EPC testbed installations.
Core Network Dynamics (CND) has raised zero funding from investors, and yet it is profitable from its EPC test installations, which it began rolling out as a part of the Fraunhofer Institute six years ago. Two years ago, it spun off from Fraunhofer and is now looking to influence the 5G network topologies just being designed.
“The company has funded itself and continues to fund itself from those test installations,” says Carsten Brinkschulte, CND’s CEO.
Brinkschulte joined the company in 2015 to help it commercialize its OpenEPC technology, which is designed to decentralize mobile networks from the current topology.
“We need to move away from a central star of stars,” he says, referring to current mobile network topology. “How you’re going to achieve that is by using network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) to distribute the core of the network. Rather than having everything backhauled to the EPC, you put the EPC at the edge.”
He says there is a lot of mobile edge computing activity that is bringing applications to the edge of the network. Network engineers involved with 5G are talking about using mobile edge computing to reduce network latency. But that’s not what CND’s technology is about. CND wants to bring the very core of the network to the edge.
LTE networks are centered around a main EPC, which is provided by vendors such as Nokia or Huawei, for example. “We’re talking about virtualizing that and replacing it with software,” says Brinkschulte. “Mobile operators can take their existing 3GPP core network architecture to the edge of the network, such that each base station can effectively become a self-sufficient mobile network.”
OpenEPC would place multiple EPCs at the edge of the network to handle functions such as signaling, data traffic management, authentication of devices and users, and security. It would include some hardware, which could be commodity hardware – even as small as a Raspberry Pi.
Besides saving money on proprietary hardware, decentralization avoids long packet routes through the centralized EPC, which speeds traffic and reduces latency. It could also prevent central network and backhaul overload.
This theme of decentralizing mobile networks is coming up a lot lately. Raj Singh, general manager of the wireless broadband group at Cavium, calls it “multiple hierarchies.” And Ericsson last week announced a move to make cloud radio access networks (C-RANs) more “elastic.”