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The foundations for the future network architecture

Telecoms architecture is designed to support the delivery of products to a network operator, supporting business interfaces between operators and making it possible to purchase equipment from different suppliers.

Yet this is changing, and rapidly. New technologies, such as virtualization and SDN, are shaping the future of network architecture, allowing traditional structures to be broken down into customizable elements that provide just the right level of connectivity. This will extend the network architecture model across different industries – from the way we manufacture goods, to the way we access media and entertainment. 

What is network architecture?

Buildings

Architecture refers to the complete framework of a structure; for instance, a building is made up of a floor plan, a façade, plumbing and electrics, etc., which fit together to form its infrastructure.

Similarly, network architecture provides a detailed overview of a system's components, and identifies how these elements work with each other. Good network architecture should include narrow and stable components, which divides complex problems into less complex components, allowing us to focus on the separate elements instead of the entire solution at once. This way, when new functions are added to the system, there are rarely any changes made to the existing components.

Fulfilling the values of architecture

We have identified 5 core values that good network architecture should fulfill to address the various industry challenges and trends:

woman looking at tablet
  • The network architecture should bring a long-term perspective to the evolution, aid the introduction of new technology, and be modular enough to prepare for whatever the future might bring
  • At the same time, the architecture should reuse and build on what is already available
  • Its interfaces need to be open enough for anyone to implement

High rise buildings
  • Architecture should be able to work in different usage scenarios, such as high to low capacity, widespread to small area, very dense coverage to spotty coverage, indoor and outdoor, etc.
  • It needs to be scalable, flexible and modular, with the ability to scale upwards and downwards depending on the network strategy
  • The architecture must also take into consideration the cost of acquiring, installing and operating a telecom network

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  • Infrastructure needs to support a user with the expected experience, every time they access the network – balancing price, cost and performance
  • Essentially, a user or customer to the network should always get what they pay for
  • The term user should be used in the widest context – anything from a person to an actuator, a sensor, a data center, etc.

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  • The network needs to work 24/7 for authorized users, delivering the expected level of service, but it must also ensure that unauthorized users cannot get hold of the information being communicated
  • Whatever happens, it should always ensure that there is a solution to either prevent or mitigate the problem
  • The architecture must also be able to allow authorities to lawfully intercept the network for crime prevention and detection

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  • Architecture success is measured by the amount of new value creation it enables, along with how efficiently the network can be operated
  • The architecture should ensure that technical interfaces are aligned with business needs and act as an enabler for a shorter time to customer
  • Networks must also work towards a more sustainable environment; for example, via lower power consumption, minimal use of rare and toxic materials and alternative energy solutions, such as solar power

The reality of virtualization

The cloud is distributed across the entire topology, enabling functionality and data to be processed and stored where it is best suited.

Added to this, the architecture itself supports network slicing, which allows networks to be logically separated. Each slice provides customized connectivity, and all slices run on the same, shared infrastructure.

It is virtualization and SDN that make network slicing possible in the first place, although there are several challenges to overcome first:

  • The architecture needs to achieve a fast launch speed, as well as low CAPEX and OPEX
  • The interfaces must address the division between businesses to boost interconnectivity
  • The architecture must support the different needs of different industries as they go digital – from factories and manufacturing, to media and entertainment

Subsequently, a traditional approach is no longer an option, and we've been busy building an industry blueprint to future-proof network architecture.

Different traffic types to be supported by the network architecture

Different traffic types

Enabling interoperability

Global architecture

Providing various types of functionality across different physical locations, the global architecture model features:

Horizontal domains

  • Application cloud for supporting external applications, utilizing the cloud infrastructure for execution and storage
  • Management and monetization for running the network itself and supporting customers
  • Access, mobility and network applications for securing fixed and mobile access, as well as network-integrated applications like telephony and messaging
  • Cloud infrastructure for secure processing and storage of network functionality and applications
  • Transport for transmitting data between sites and within sites

Vertical domains

  • Devices/local networks, as setup by a user or enterprise outside the control of the operator
  • Access sites, which are as close as possible to the users
  • Distributed sites for execution or transport efficiency, or for local breakout
  • National sites that are centralized within an operator's network
  • Global sites, which are publicly accessible from anywhere – typically a large data center

This diagram illustrates two different instances of the architecture being run by different cooperating operators.

Cooperating operators

The architecture supports various types of business interfaces as highlighted in red above:

  • Service exposure of network capabilities to application cloud
  • Network access and transport for devices and local networks
  • Roaming and interconnect between operators

Discover more about foundations of network architecture