Diameter Diaries: Introducing a Software-based Approach to the Signaling Environment

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With the proliferation of next-generation devices, mobile operators are increasingly dealing with congestion, overload and latency in their networks due to nonstop signaling requests generated by chatty apps, video streaming and HD games. In a previous blog entry, we saw how Diameter signaling routers are addressing these problems as they enable faster and efficient communication between network components through centralized routing, load balancing and proxying ability.

That brings us to the next predicament; with so many proprietary, box-based Diameter signaling products to choose from, what criteria should operators choose in their search for the most reliable product?

The answer lies in the question itself: the very idea of a proprietary, hardware-based solution suggests a closed, rigid approach in which the operator must depend on a single source vendor for all their interoperability, routing and scalability requirements. While that should theoretically ease access to support services, in practice it will mean increased hardware costs since customer demand for mobility and bandwidth is seeing a relentless growth, greatly eroding operator profits as the legacy Diameter hardware cannot scale up to match this bandwidth demand to support next-generation services and applications.

Each time there is a hardware upgrade in the Diameter Signaling Controller, operators will have to introduce manual changes in the network to connect new devices, a time consuming affair that takes several weeks or months greatly impeding operator ability to roll-out services faster as per dynamic subscriber needs. Since, the legacy, non-scalable, hardware-based and vendor-dependent Diameter product cannot be integrated with every network element in a multi-vendor scenario, operators have less control over their network infrastructure when it comes to allowing optimizations and modifications and generating new revenue opportunities.

Clearly, a smarter approach would be to have a software-based approach in which the signaling control plane that takes decision about where traffic has to be sent is executed through a software-based GUI and not hardware. This allows the operator’s network administrators to flexibly shape network traffic or change data traffic rules on the fly.

Consider a 7.5 kg washing machine with a generous-sized drum which was designed to wash only as much load in order to provide very high spinning performance so that it remains silent with less vibration and increased stability. What if there the household size increases and the overall load goes up to 10 kg, would it be cheaper to buy a new washing machine (a new hardware) or simply increase the machine’s capacity without affecting drum configuration, size or overall dimensions of hardware?

However, unlike a washing machine, the advantages of a software-based approach in Diameter signaling go far beyond network capacity. For one, it enables better end-user experience as applications exploit centralized network state information to seamlessly adapt network behavior to user needs. It also offers a flexible network automation and management framework that automates many management tasks which were previously done manually. With software-based approach, it is possible to automate control of the network with high-level policies, rather than low-level network device configurations, thus eliminating manual configurations. Finally, it enables increased network reliability and security with through uniform policy enforcement and fewer configuration errors.

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