Heavy Reading

Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE

Wireless networks are defined in terms of generations of radio technology and how over-the-air data rates impact and enable end-user applications. Now with radio access data rates increasingly robust, the capabilities of the supporting wired network elements radio controllers, packet gateways, transmission, and the IP core are equally critical to network performance.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in mobile data services. The emergence of 3G High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), and soon Evolved HSPA and next-generation LTE (a.k.a. 4G) access, is enabling an entire new class of mobile broadband services and generating traffic volumes that are unsustainable using the classic hierarchical network architectures originally designed for mobile voice and low-speed data.

To efficiently deliver mobile broadband services, operators require a network infrastructure that simultaneously provides lower costs, lower latency, and greater flexibility. The key to achieving this goal is the adoption of flat, all-IP network architectures. With the shift to flat IP architectures, mobile operators can:

Reduce the number of network elements in the data path to lower operations costs and capital expenditure
Partially decouple the cost of delivering service from the volume of data transmitted to align infrastructure capabilities with emerging application requirements
Minimize system latency and enable applications with a lower tolerance for delay; upcoming latency enhancements on the radio link can also be fully realized
Evolve radio access and packet core networks independently of each other to a greater extent than in the past, creating greater flexibility in network planning and deployment
Develop a flexible core network that can serve as the basis for service innovation across both mobile and generic IP access networks
Create a platform that will enable mobile broadband operators to be competitive, from a price/performance perspective, with wired networks

Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE examines network architecture evolution in response to rapidly growing 3G data traffic and the planned introduction of Long Term Evolution (LTE) and System Architecture Evolution (SAE) technology now also known as Enhanced UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network (E-UTRAN) and Evolved Packet Core (EPC), respectively in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe. The report focuses on the Third Generation Partnership (3GPP) technology track and specifically on the network elements that make up flat radio access networks (RANs) and the next-generation mobile packet core.


The steep rise in data traffic volumes being carried by wireless network is unmistakable. Heavy Reading research published in 2006 noted that traffic transported across a large Western European 3G operator's network was on the order of 250 GB per day. By mid 2007, larger operators offering 3G HSDPA service in the big five European markets were transporting 1,000 GB per day as a baseline, with peaks substantially beyond that, according to multiple operator and vendor sources. By October 2007, several networks were transporting more than 2,000 GB per day.

In September 2007, Ericsson released figures on the average throughput on its radio network controllers (RNCs). (A typical RNC would support 200 Node Bs.) Ericsson's figures, which are considered representative of the world average, showed that from February to July 2007, throughput increased as follows:

All traffic up ~50 percent to 37.5 Gbit/RNC/hour
Packet traffic up ~100 percent to 20 Gbit/RNC/hour
HSPA traffic up ~240 percent to 12 Gbit/RNC/hour

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Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE analyzes data from network operators and technology suppliers to determine how continued growth of data traffic volumes will affect mobile network performance. The report then delivers a detailed analysis of the technology options available to enable network operators to make the transition to flat IP networks. The report covers the full range of issues facing mobile network operators, including:

Economic drivers for migrating to all-IP networks
Mobile broadband service pricing trends
The need to prepare for 4G technologies
The effect of non-3GPP technologies (including UMA/GAN and femtocells) on carrier networks
Direct Tunnel architecture strategies
LTE/SAE architecture and Evolved Packet Core
Mobile packet core issues and deployments, including deep packet inspection

The report also delivers a competitive analysis of product and migration strategies of 14 of the world's leading mobile IP technology suppliers.

For a complete list of technology suppliers reviewed and analyzed, click here.

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Report Scope and Structure

Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE is structured as follows:

Section I is an introduction to the report, with complete report key findings.

Section II examines the economic factors that are forcing mobile operators to rethink their network architectures to manage surging traffic growth and relentless retail price pressure.

Section III provides an overview of the classic 3GPP mobile network and discusses recent enhancements to that architecture.

Section IV analyzes the Direct Tunnel architecture (a.k.a. One Tunnel) as the first step to a flatter, more efficient network topologies and explores how Direct Tunnel can be paired with flat RAN architectures in preparation for a move to LTE/SAE.

Section V examines the emerging LTE/SAE architecture and the all-IP Evolved Packet Core.

Section VI analyzes recent trends in the mobile packet core market and investigates demand for traffic management capabilities based on DPI technology.

Section VII presents the views, and analyzes the product strategies, of leading mobile network equipment suppliers on the evolution of network architectures.

Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE is essential reading for a wide range of industry participants, including the following:

Mobile technology suppliers: How will soaring mobile data traffic volumes affect demand for infrastructure products in coming months? Which regions are going to see the most activity, and which network operators will be leading the way? Which technology choices are emerging as the front-runners in the move to flat IP architectures? Are your products and marketing messages in line with customer plans and expectations? Or are there significant gaps in your product line coverage that need to be addressed to meet future demand for mobile broadband data networking solutions?
Mobile network operators: How do your plans for mobile broadband data network expansion compare with anticipated increases in traffic volumes? How does your IP migration strategy compare with the strategies of your competitors? Does your migration path deliver the best cost-performance option, or are there other alternatives that will deliver greater efficiency? How do your projected costs and migration timetables match up with the rest of the industry? What is the competitive threat posed by other operators using other technologies?
Investors: Which technologies are emerging as the winning solutions for mobile data broadband services, and which companies are the leading providers of those solutions? How will the migration to flat IP mobile architectures affect profitability for the mobile sector in the coming months and years?

Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE is published in PDF format.

PRICE: $3,995
Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading
Gabriel Brown tracks wireless technologies and services for Heavy Reading, focusing on wireless data networking technologies such as 3G/HSPA, WiMax, and LTE. He has covered the wireless data industry since 1998, previously as Chief Analyst of Unstrung Insider
Click here for full list of included companies
61 pages of analysis covering the broadband mobile data market and network operator migration to flat IP mobile architectures
Concise analysis of the economic and performance issues that are driving the evolution to flat IP
Current and projected market share data for mobile packet core vendors
Detailed analysis of vendor strategies regarding long-term product development strategies in the mobile broadband sector
PRICE: $3,995
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