Deutsche Telekom: Changes needed to cut latency and time-to-market

Telecom networks will need radical simplification to cope with the coming deluge of real-time video traffic, and failure to do so could set back economic recovery in Europe.

This view was set out recently by Claudia Nemat, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Europe and Technology at Deutsche Telekom, who called on European regulators to give careful thought to how they encourage investment in the network architecture of the future.

“Entire nations' economic productivity and competitiveness would be limited as well, unless networks emerge that can handle the new requirements regarding volume and service applications,” Nemat wrote on Deutsche Telekom’s website.

Nemat indicated that public discussion, and to an extent regulatory attention, had been dominated by access bandwidth, which in any case can be misleading since headline figures such as 50Mb/s are rarely achieved in practice, and the actual capacity available to a user depends on location and aggregate traffic levels at the time. There should be much greater focus on latency, which must be kept low for live and especially interactive video, and on time-to-market, which will be crucial for competition in the multiscreen video era.

Although seemingly unrelated, latency and time-to-market can both be addressed by the same architectural changes, Nemat argued. The key lies in reducing the number of control points and levels in a network, which cuts latency because there are fewer processing points that each impose delay on signals, and speeds time-to-market because the simplified infrastructure will make it easier to deploy new services and applications. This speed to market will be crucial for multiscreen TV, not just to bring out new services, but because with more platforms, the time taken to implement modifications and introduce new product features would otherwise increase significantly.

Deutsche Telekom has not waited for regulatory encouragement to simplify its own network architecture and has developed a cloud-based IP network called TeraStream designed to unify service delivery and reduce the number of network control levels, according to Nemat. This platform is now ready for deployment across Deutsche Telekom’s European markets, having been launched in a pilot phase in December 2012 by Hrvatski Telekom, its Croatian subsidiary in Zagreb.

Deutsche Telekom has been working with Cisco since 2011 to build TeraStream, which is one of the world’s first major networks to have fully converged IP and optical layers running at 100Gb/s in the core, featuring Software Defined Networking (SDN) architecture for real-time automation and OSS, as well as customer self-service management capabilities. It is also one of the first to be based entirely on IPv6 for routing, which Deutsche Telekom considers essential for future real-time services, not just because its effectively unlimited address space will support proliferating IP-connected devices within the home, but also because it embodies various features that will enhance video delivery over IP networks.

While the primary reason for replacing IPv4 with IPv6 was to tackle the Internet address crunch, by increasing the address space from 32 bits to 128 bits, which is effectively infinite, it later incorporated features valuable for broadcasting and video transmission, such as embedded QoS support. While IPv4 was confined to ‘best effort’ IP-packet delivery across networks, and therefore needed QoS mechanisms bolting on, IPv6 has a traffic-class field within packet headers allowing operators to prioritize data packets. This makes it much easier to ensure that audio/video content is delivered in uninterrupted streams across networks that are shared by less critical data traffic such as email.

The TeraStream IPv6 platform is based on Cisco ASR 9000 Series Aggregation Services routers, which connect end customers to services over 100Gb/s integrated optical links. It has integrated cloud computing resources with application virtualization, which on top of the network simplification helps reduce time to market because new services can readily be deployed on existing hardware via reconfiguration rather than needing new boxes.

Cisco is also providing the dual-band Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router N900 (EA4500), which has been tailored to Deutsche Telekom's TeraStream requirements, and will introduce IPv6 into the home, featuring a home gateway supporting wireless speeds up to 450Mb/s.

For the trial at Hrvatski Telekom, Cisco's network management technology group has created a customized sign-on and self-service portal. Based on the TeraStream IPv6-based addressing schema, the network acts as the inventory source for service creation and leads to improved consistency and needs less synchronization between systems.

Cisco is also providing turn-key delivery and end-to-end service and network management. Cisco Advanced Services, with its local Gold Certified partner Combis, 100-percent owned by Hrvatski Telekom, is delivering the project. Cisco's Agile Business Architecture (ABA) is the initial operation support system for TeraStream.

Apart from reducing latency and increasing time to market, TeraStream will enable Deutsche Telekom to deal with the expected proliferation in video traffic, according to Nemat. This will be driven by a shift in viewing habits, with a recent survey from Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent, suggesting that this will stretch the capabilities of the residential broadband networks to the limit over the next decade, as the delivery of video content rapidly moves from traditional broadcast TV to the ‘unicast’ mode of personalized content. This will exert disproportionate pressure on the ‘Internet Protocol edge’ of these networks, says Bell Labs.

Deutsche Telekom believes TeraStream will cope with this pressure and provide an opportunity to gain customers by guaranteeing high quality of service to tablets, TVs and smartphones.