As we learned last month during our LightReading webinar, IP over Ethernet access networks are really the beginning of an alignment in how the edge network is playing a new role at the subscriber level.
In the past we came to think of ADSL, DOCSIS©, WiMAX and Mobile 3G/4G as independent access networks, each with its own management and use of protocols. What one network considered a subscriber, another network had no concept of. The first enabler then of access network homologation is subscriber awareness by both the network and its OSS platforms.
Cable operators of DOCSIS networks have come to rely on the Cable Modem MAC address as the unique key to associate with a subscriber record in their back office systems. For wireline networks such as ADSL and VDSL, historically these have been bridged access networks with a subscriber based software client to initiate authentication and network entry. The use of a ‘soft client’ for many has been a blessing and a burden. While enabling mass market broadband services, soft clients typically represent additional support costs, and may limit introduction of other IP services to the subscriber such as IPTV. The challenge then was to drive subscriber awareness into the wireline edge such that authentication and network entry can be performed without the need for additional software in the customer premise. As we discussed in the webinar, this has been initially enabled through the Broadband Forum TR101 specification. When network service activation is combined with subscriber aware DHCP systems from Incognito, network entry and support for residential, commercial, and walled garden services are all possible without the soft client.
Moving into WiMAX networks and Mobile networks, similar subscriber uniqueness per terminal is presented by the edge of the network through gateway elements. This enables authentication and DHCP systems to work together to offer the same residential, commercial and walled garden services.
In essence, through back office integration including DHCP client class management, we begin to see these various access networks not as islands of subscribers, instead as subscriber IP access networks of differing physical mediums.
What comes next then for operators of multiple access networks?
I believe the integration of subscriber knowledge learned from the edge plays a pivotal role in shaping how the core network applies policy such as QoS, and resource control such as enabling different IP applications to the subscriber. Critical systems such as Incognito subscriber aware DHCP platform will offer information to the core network to influence the view of where a subscriber has entered the network, and influence how a subscriber gateway has been provisioned. The ability to further simplify subscriber profile data integration through core network interfaces toward authentication and addressing (DHCP) platforms may represent a significant simplification to integration points and common subscriber data model. The NGN standards are evolving this view now which should result in operators having the ability to deploy multiple access network technologies while maintaining a single unified set of platforms for subscriber profile data, and network entry systems for authentication and addressing.