Virtualization is transforming the telecom landscape, by moving network functions into the cloud where operators have ready access. Virtualization enables rapid upgrades (milliseconds instead of weeks), plug-and-play interoperation with many other functions, an innovative ecosystem, essentially unlimited computed power of a datacenter, and myriad other benefits. Many equipment vendors are moving toward providing control-plane software functions which compliment data-plane hardware functions. But what about Wi-Fi virtualization?
Being at the end of the network, Wi-Fi hasn’t seen much in the way of virtualization. For example, Wi-Fi Alliance Wi-Fi CERTIFIED EasyMesh™ (aka Multi-AP) controllers are now limited to being within Wi-Fi Access Points. However, a series of recent efforts by ASSIA aim to improve this, to enable Wi-Fi virtualization by bringing the control plane of Wi-Fi into the cloud.
Cloud-based Management and Control of Wi-Fi
ASSIA CEO, Professor John Cioffi, recently presented “Wi5G: A Wireless Convergence Vision” as the Wi-Fi Now Keynote; then further expanded the subject with Wi-Fi Alliance presentation “Ergodic Spectrum Management (ESM) (a next “Wi5G” step).” These talks showed benefits of cloud-based management and control of Wi-Fi, highlighting a number of areas where advanced management and multiuser optimization can greatly benefit Wi-Fi performance and customer Quality of Experience (QoE). There was great interest in these advancements, particularly among broadband network operators and providers of “carrier-grade” Wi-Fi.
Standards Initiatives for Wi-Fi Virtualization
As ASSIA’s Director of Standards, I am actively working to cloud-enable Wi-Fi in the Wi-Fi Alliance and in the Broadband Forum. In the near-term, I am working to strengthen the Data Elements release 2 specification so that it can be used by a cloud-based system to remotely control and manage EasyMeshTMcontrollers. I’m also proposing specification support for cloud-based EasyMeshTM controllers. EasyMeshTM communicates via Ethernet Type-Length-Value (TLV) messages in a customer premises LAN. These messages can traverse a WAN via IP encapsulation, passing through a layer-2 tunnel such as GRE or VxLAN, or being carried via a message transfer protocol. As figure 1 shows, a gateway can support such LAN-to-WAN message transfer. A promising message transfer protocol for this purpose is the User Services Platform (USP), The Broadband Forum’s successor to TR-69.
Related Virtualization Standards Initiatives
There are multiple related nascent efforts in the industry. The concept of virtualizing CPE is already established, already being specified by Broadband Forum TR -317, Network Enhanced Residential Gateway (NERG). Virtual CPE network functions are already being sold, such as enhanced firewall and parental controls. Edge computing can enable a low-latency, therefore high-performance, cloud controller; and the Broadband Forum Cloud CO project is establishing edge computing for broadband networks. Remote EasyMeshTMcontrollers are also being considered by the joint Broadband Forum – Prpl Foundation Open Broadband-Multi-AP (OB-MAP) project, which has an opensource implementation of EasyMeshTM.
Time to Move to Wi-Fi Virtualization
ASSIA Cloudcheck has advantageously implemented cloud-based Wi-Fi management and control for some time now. ASSIA is pleased about, and actively encourages, the industry move toward Wi-Fi virtualization.