How Software Defined Mobile Networks Reshaped Telecom

Software Defined Mobile Networks

Mobile communication was introduced in the 1980s. The first generation of mobile networks supports only voice call services, and the connectivity speeds up to 56 kbps. However, mobile network technology achieved tremendous development during the last four decades, notably with Software Defined Mobile Networks (SDMN), a software defined networks sub-section.

The Limitations of Software Defined Networks

In their book “Software defined mobile networks (SDMN): Beyond LTE network architecture,” Madhusanka Liyanage, Andrei Gurtov, and Mika Ylianttila determined the various limitation that mobile networks were facing at the time of publication, in 2015, including:

  • Scalability Issues: New bandwidth-hungry mobile services (i.e., online streaming, video calls, etc.) are some of the primary causes of the rapid increase in mobile traffic utilization. Inflexible and expensive to grow, the static overprovisioned mobile networks, at the time, could not keep up with the rising traffic demand.
  • Complex Network Management: administering the mobile network needed a lot of expertise and platform resources. Backhaul equipment is typically required to have standardized control interfaces. This situation meant straightforward tasks (i.e., configuration or policy enforcement) also needed significant effort.
  • Manual Network Configuration: Most network management systems rely heavily on manual labor, and even minimal security requires trained operators. These manual configurations, however, are prone to configuration mistakes.
  • Expensive and Complex Network Equipment: Some mobile backhaul equipment must handle heavy workloads. For instance, the Packet Data Network Gateway (PDN GW) is in charge of much crucial data plane (DP) tasks in LTE networks, including mobile traffic monitoring, billing, access control, quality-of-service management, and parental controls. The devices are, therefore, complicated and pricey.
  • Higher cost: Telecom operators cannot “mix and match” features from smartphones made by various vendors. As a result, they cannot create their network utilizing inexpensive hardware from several manufacturers. It directly raises the network’s capital expenditure (CapEx). In contrast, rigidity and manual configuration increase the network’s operating expense (OpEx).
  • Lack of flexibility: Mobile network standardization is a drawn-out process. Introducing new services stretches over months, even years. Additionally, because service activation, delivery, and assurance require a lot of manual labor, installing new services might take weeks or even months.

The Creation of Software Defined Mobile Networks

Software Defined Networking was created first for fixed networks. Mobile networks, however, have distinct needs from fixed networks, including mobility management, the conveyance of valuable content, adequate air interface protection, and more. Developers proposed SDMN as an extension of the Software Defined Networking paradigm, allowing mobile network-specific functionality. Compared to original SDN principles, SDMN has a higher level of service awareness and makes optimal use of network resources.

SDMN is a networking strategy in which the control plane (CP) replaces telecom-specific hardware in a software program. Switches, routers, and gateways that support SDN are managed by the network operating system (NOS) and SDN controller. The CP of the mobile networking components can be deployed as virtual components in an operator cloud.

Additionally, the performance of software-programmable network switches in SDMNs can be programmed and improved using contemporary agile programming approaches. Compared to the development of today’s cutting-edge mobile backhaul network equipment, these software approaches can be developed, improved upon, and upgraded over significantly shorter periods. In this paradigm, each operator is free to create his networking ideas to meet the unique needs of his subscribers and enhance his network’s performance.

There are three layers to the SDMN architecture:

  1. Data Plane Layer: This layer (a.k.a infrastructure layer) consists of the network elements (i.e., switches and other devices).
  2. Network Controller: This layer (a.k.a logically centralized controller) uses the control protocol to install flow rules in each DP switch to route the traffic along the mobile network DP.
  3. Application Layer: This layer involves all the controlling and business applications of the mobile network.

The Benefits of the Software Defined Mobile Networks

For the whole mobile network, the adoption of SDN offers several advantages, including:

  • Logically centralized controlling: A centralized controller can make control decisions based on a network’s overall view. Compared to the already used autonomous system-based procedures, these choices are more precise, optimal, and effective.
  • Flexibility: Backhaul device backward compatibility is defined by SDN architecture. As a result, the controller can control any SDN-enabled mobile network component from any vendor. The network operator can combine and match network components made by various vendors.
  • Low-cost backhaul devices: The SDN design eliminates the backhaul devices’ CP. These gadgets are now only useful for the most fundamental tasks. Consequently, SDN switches are useable at the DP without needing high-processing hardware and at a lower cost.
  • Support for and interoperability with heterogeneous networks: The flow-based traffic transport model in SDN is well suited to deliver end-to-end communications over a variety of heterogeneous network technologies, including the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, code division multiple access (CDMA), and more. Additionally, it offers interoperability with future network technologies similar to 5G.
  • Path optimization: By considering the network, the controller can optimize the end-to-end path. Fast and effective path optimization algorithms are crucial in a mobile environment because they serve millions of mobile users who frequently change their locations. Compared to the current scattered path optimization techniques, centralized path optimization procedures are more effective, quicker, and optimal.
  • On-demand provision and online scaling: Network virtualization is adjustable thanks to SDN ideas. The supply of resources as needed and resource scaling up in response to demand are possible through network devices’ virtualization.

How Telecom Applied Software Defined Mobile Networks

Over the past decade, telecom operators have come a long way in implementing software-defined networking in their data centers and transport networks. Despite not disrupting the infrastructure market as initially envisioned, SDMN mostly accomplished its purpose of centralizing and unifying the control plane of switches and routers, thereby facilitating their management.


Although SDMN is innovative, it portrayed similar vulnerabilities to SDN, such as:

  • Network configuration, network service access control, and service deployment are all integrated under centralized management at the control layer. The network service becomes useless, and the entire network might go down in case of a hacker’s successful takeover of the SDMN.
  • Trust dependent on third-party applications and restrictions is the fundamental issue with SDN’s programmability. The authentication mechanism between the application and the control layers must be tight to safeguard the controller due to the possibility of rogue apps.
  • NFV and SDN together may provide several security issues. OpenFlow, NFV, software-defined fronthaul network security challenges, terminal issues, and other examples are examples. A virtualized assault is dangerous in the context of a software-defined fronthaul.
  • Launching wireless media and recognizing the attack surface are SDMN security issues for software-defined Front-haul (SDF) wireless programs. Some forms of RF interference, MAC fraud, and malicious RF interference are adaptable.


The industry has agreed to revamp the radio network architecture for 5G. Software defined design in a critical development path for 5G networks. 5G encompasses many technology advancements, including new radio access networks and antenna designs, to enhance the creation, built, and operation of networks.

IT managers have to operate within the constraints of the telecoms business, which proprietary technology models dominated for many years. However, the desire for more powerful, agile, and flexible networks necessitates a different way of thinking. That entails adopting the open-source methodology that has recently revolutionized the tech sector and using it in wireless infrastructure.

As a result, 5G and open source have recently gained popularity in the telecoms sector, with major operators worldwide. This has led the way in innovative new technologies and application cases while cooperating with numerous standards organizations.

According to the major international carriers, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and China Mobile, this paradigm is the only way to succeed in the new 5G world. And AT&T is on track to meet its 2020 objective of a 75 percent network virtualization.

Vodafone had a goal to extend coverage and add additional services to the 4G network it offers its corporate customers. Working with Lime Microsystems’ CrowdCell, a network-in-a-box solution running on affordable hardware, Vodafone was able to give IT managers a vital capability. Cloud-based applications in remote locations with spotty or no connectivity provide customers with local, dependable and secure service. The customer becomes independent of the big cloud providers.

Final Thoughts

Software-defined networking’s basic idea is to detach wireless network infrastructure from expensive, locked hardware and shift it to an intelligent software layer running on commodity hardware. SDN, and by extension, software defined mobile networks, have offered several advantages for fixed and wired networks. It possesses the potential to address the problems of mobile networks providing the necessary enhancements in performance, scalability, and flexibility. These qualities allow for the modification of the mobile network to accommodate the anticipated growth. The global community development model entails developers working together on innovations and improvements to the software. At the same time, vendors build value-added products on top of those advancements. This is a crucial element of open source’s success in any technology area. And this is no less true for 5G. To solve the numerous issues of the SDN-enabled mobile networks, a thorough grasp of this new SDMN concept is required.

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