Today’s service providers base their business models on providing raw bandwidth for a fixed fee. The next wave of successful broadband providers will tailor their services to the wants and needs of specific subscriber groups. Powering their offerings will be a “secret sauce” in their service-delivery platforms: deep packet inspection (DPI) technology. These smart systems will allow deployment of personalized packages of services including applications such as parental control and high-performance gaming which today are provided by third-party vendors. Offering custom services based on DPI will enable carriers to lower operating costs, decrease churn, and increase customer satisfaction and average revenue per user (ARPU).
How DPI Helps Broadband Providers Today
DPI technology addresses the increasingly important need to identify and appropriately act upon individual network packet flows. While traditional network routers provide perfunctory intelligence-gathering capabilities based on packet-header information, DPI also inspects the packet payload, creating granular visibility into the content of the packet. In this way, DPI platforms provide the level of network intelligence needed to monitor and control how available bandwidth is carved up to serve multiple service types on a common network. It also empowers carriers to manage specific application traffic flows consistent with subscriber usage.
Using traffic management systems with Layer 7 DPI engines can provide carriers with both real-time and long-term analysis capabilities. These are especially useful for increasingly popular, multi-service offerings (such as voice, data, and video triple play
) in which bandwidth requirements and latency characteristics vary widely. Carriers can examine and evaluate ongoing activity of both applications and subscribers on their networks, including such detail as:
o What applications are running on the network
o How applications are performing
o What impact new applications are having on traffic flows
o Where, when, and why bottlenecks are occurring
o What applications are most popular with subscribers
o How subscriber behavior patterns vary over time
o How subscribers are utilizing bandwidth
The benefits of application and subscriber awareness can be demonstrated by looking at one of the more popular ways to share content today, peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. The high bandwidth consumption typical of P2P applications can cause significant performance problems throughout the network, making it difficult for other subscribers to receive their expected levels of service. By recognizing traffic patterns characteristic of specific P2P protocols, carriers using DPI on their network can dynamically monitor and manage traffic to ensure appropriate QoS
for all subscribers.
The system insight afforded by DPI not only enables providers to meet subscribers’ service needs, but can also be hugely cost effective. Rather than investing additional capex and opex funds to expand the network infrastructure, service providers can achieve significant economies by dynamically matching bandwidth availability to subscriber requirements. With DPI, providers can utilize information about applications and subscribers to create and implement fine-grained policies that optimize utilization of network resources, and reliably deliver a high quality experience to users. For instance, an internet service provider may set a policy that lowers allocated bandwidth for business customers during non-peak business hours, thus freeing up network resources to support recreational activities such as gaming which tend to peak during these same hours.
Tomorrow’s Service Provider Challenges and Opportunities
Service providers must evolve their business models from simply providing basic broadband access to delivering application services and customized service choices. No longer does a “one size fits all” high-speed connection satisfy today’s consumers. Rather, users are bringing a full range of expectations and demands to the table. While some subscribers will continue to want broadband connections for email and basic web browsing (often at reduced cost), consumers today are increasingly expressing “specialty” needs.
Subscribers expect service providers to offer a range of value-added applications. They want collections of services tailored to their specific needs. VoIP users want more than “best effort” connectivity to be assured of satisfactory call quality. High-performance gamers want (and are willing to pay for) guaranteed response time and “speed boosts” to compete effectively in massive multi-player online tournaments. Other subscribers want protection from hackers, viruses, and service interruptions. In short, they all want personalized service packages.
To continue to deliver new services and meet subscriber demands, the provider must have ready access to subscriber information detailing what that user is doing and when, along with bandwidth characteristics of the applications themselves. This is the key to the provider being able to determine which applications are most popular, and which customers are most apt to want and pay for premier performance – in short, the ability to create and offer attractive tiered services which drive revenue from next-generation applications. The provider must also connect these applications to common back-end provisioning and operations, administration, and management (OAM) systems to make these services deliver on their increased ARPU potential.
Gaining control of applications and managing subscriber experiences through increased traffic visibility is what a DPI-based services platform delivers. By deploying those capabilities, providers have new ways to optimize bandwidth and simultaneously reduce churn.
A New Model for Revenue Generation
These challenges and requirements are really opportunities for service providers. Providers able to efficiently deploy a range of services will gain significant competitive advantage. Today’s commodity model will give way to tomorrow’s value-added model, with providers differentiating themselves by the high-quality services they offer.
In addition to triple-play services offered today by service providers, many customers are requesting applications such as parental control, denial of service protection, and intrusion detection that are typically developed by and purchased from third-party vendors. Today, these value-added services generate little if any incremental revenue for service providers, yet they can still consume significant network resources. A big opportunity for tomorrow’s service provider is to host this software as additional services for which the provider can charge. Pricing will reflect the content delivered (not just the “fat pipe” used to deliver it), and satisfied users will demonstrate increased loyalty to providers capable of addressing their broader needs.
Success hinges upon the ability to smoothly offer best-in-class hosted application services. Today, utilizing multiple solutions means engaging with multiple vendors. Tomorrow’s networks must be capable of dynamically integrating whatever services customers are demanding. The platform must be adaptable because providers cannot reconfigure their networks every time a new solution becomes available. It is inefficient to operate multiple platforms to provision and manage each of the contributing vendor solutions. Instead, successful carriers will enable these services within an integrated infrastructure.
A DPI-based platform can help providers integrate a broad range of current and emerging services. Most value-added service appliances must do some measure of packet inspection to perform their function. Placing DPI at the core of a multi-service infrastructure can improve efficient deployment and management of a variety of service offerings, since individual traffic flows can be efficiently dispatched to numerous services through a single DPI process.
Deploying a DPI-based Service Platform
The next-generation services infrastructure must be capable of keeping pace with the rapid growth in broadband subscribers and the continuing emergence of new, content-based services. Effective solutions will combine performance and flexibility to deliver high quality experience for users while protecting network investments. Key platform attributes include:
- a robust DPI core with the processing power to inspect traffic flows in real-time at line speeds.
- scalable, multi-gigabit performance to support a rapidly growing subscriber base as well as new, bandwidth hungry applications.
- carrier-grade design offering high reliability and adherence to industry standards for smooth integration within the existing network infrastructure.
- ability to easily support a range of applications from a variety of suppliers to deliver the best-in-class services users will demand.
An example of such a next-generation services platform is the Service Gateway (News - Alert). From Allot Communications. The platform delivers 20Gbps of real-time, Layer 7 packet inspection in an ATCA-compliant, fully redundant chassis architecture. In addition, the Service Gateway is designed to integrate additional blades for applications such as denial of service protection, parental controls, and virus detection.
Delivering a steady stream of new services promises exciting new revenue opportunities for providers prepared to take advantage of them. Successful providers will be those capable of delivering packages of services “personalized” for unique categories of users. Deep packet inspection combines fine-grained application and subscriber awareness necessary to enable a broad range of new, value added services.
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