CableLabs and its members (cablecos/MSOs) initiated a technical working group to create an evolved architectural blueprint for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). The working group’s aim is to explore new converged architectures that will benefit CableLabs members’ wireless deployments while highlighting the benefits, impacts to existing deployments and features needed to be supported by both mobile network operator (MNO) and MVNO networks.
As cable operators in the US and abroad enter the mobile game or look to enhance their existing mobile services through MVNO partnerships, the working group’s intention is to “create an evolved architectural blueprint for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs),” Omkar Dharmadhikari, wireless architect at CableLabs, explained this week in a blog post.
Many traditional broadband services providers—also known as multiple system operators (MSOs)—might not own mobile infrastructure but have (or are in the process of negotiating) MVNO arrangements with MNOs. These kinds of arrangements allow them to bundle fixed and mobile broadband services into a single service package. Traditionally, most MSOs adopt a reseller-type “Wi-Fi first” MVNO, where the MVNO doesn’t own any mobile network infrastructure and resells the services leveraging MNO infrastructure.
The MVNO models vary based on the amount of mobile network infrastructure that the MVNO owns and the degree of control over the management of different aspects of MVNO subscriptions and their service offerings. One common aspect of all traditional MVNO models is leveraging the radio access network (RAN) of a partner MNO.
With the advent of 5G and the availability of shared spectrum, many MSOs are actively evaluating offload opportunities for enhancing MVNO economics and are contemplating deploying their own mobile radio infrastructure in specific geographic areas (in addition to their substantial Wi-Fi footprint).
Such MSOs now have to contend with three disparate sets of wireless infrastructures:
- the MSO’s community Wi-Fi network,
- the MNO’s 4G/5G network, and
- the MSO’s own 4G/5G network.
This creates a new type of MVNO model called hybrid-MVNO (H-MVNO) that enables MVNOs to offload their subscribers’ traffic from the MNO network—not just to their Wi-Fi networks but also to the MVNO-owned mobile network when inside the coverage footprint of their wireless network(s).
Maximizing data offload via the H-MVNOs’ own wireless assets—thus ensuring a consistent user experience and enforcing uniform and personalized policies as users move in and out of coverage of these three networks—will require the deployment of new converged network architecture and related capabilities.
While CableLabs working group’s focus on the hybrid MVNO challenge is new, several cable operators, including a group in North America, are already pursuing that initiative.
Comcast and Charter Communications have MVNO deals with Verizon, operate their own metro and in-home Wi-Fi networks, and have secured CBRS licenses in areas where mobile traffic is anticipated to be heaviest. Charter plans to launch a field trial involving “thousands” of CBRS small cells in one market in early 2022, and use that as a blueprint of sorts for deployments in additional markets.
Canada’s Cogeco plans to enter the wireless business in Canada via a proposed H-MVNO framework. Tied into that plan, Cogeco secured 38 spectrum licenses in the 3500MHz band at auction, and says it now has spectrum licenses to cover about 91% of its broadband footprint.
H-MVNOs intend to offload as much traffic as possible to help offset the costs of going to their mobile network operator partners. But they’ll also need a new converged network architecture and related capabilities to ensure a consistent user experience and the enforcement of uniform and personalized policies as customers move in and out of these different networks, Dharmadhikari explained.
The new CableLabs working group is exploring H-MVNO architectures that use dual-SIM and single-SIM approaches.
Unlike architectures with dual SIMs, single-SIM devices allow the H-MVNO network to enable seamless low-latency mobility for data applications across the MNO and H-MVNO networks. An ideal architecture for offering mobile services with single-SIM device usage is to combine the roaming architecture and a mobility interface, both of which are standardized in 3GPP.
However, due to the targeted nature of H-MVNO mobile deployments, the signaling load can increase on MNO mobility management core network elements, as the H-MVNO subscribers move in and out of H-MVNO network coverage.
To overcome this problem, CableLabs evaluated new MVNO architectures that make use of dedicated network elements within the MNO domain to serve H-MVNO subscriber traffic, thereby isolating it from the MNO subscriber traffic and eliminating the increase in signaling load on core network elements that serve MNO subscribers.
In addition, CableLabs evaluated voice handling in scenarios where H-MVNOs don’t want to deploy their own voice platforms. One option is to offer voice via a third-party voice service provider; another is to enable additional interfaces between the MNO and the H-MVNO network to leverage the MNO’s voice platform.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to the MVNO Interconnect Technical WG Lead, Omkar Dharmadhikari ([email protected]).