Why SRv6 Is the Route to Cost-Effective Telecom Network Operations

Consumer demand for faster network speeds and increased use of data throughput presents a pernicious business problem for telecom operators planning infrastructure deployments. The network requirements for modern smartphones are already complex, and operators are increasingly offering enhanced mobile broadband services on 5G networks to diversify service offerings beyond mobile phone plans. To a consumer, voice and text and mobile broadband fundamentally represent wireless data; to a telecom operator, these services entail vastly different scenarios with different service-level agreements for performance and availability.

Supporting either application requires modern infrastructure across the core network, transport network and radio access network, with network segmentation and virtual output queueing to maximize the performance and usage of network equipment, providing the highest return on investment for the infrastructure needed to deliver 5G services to customers. However, these services and the underpinning infrastructure must not disrupt older systems, services and protocols still in use.

Segment routing over IPv6, known as SRv6, is one approach to harmonizing modern services and infrastructure with older protocols and components. By combining segment routing with IPv6, networks can be programmed in SRv6 paths to use resources more effectively; SRv6 can support traffic engineering and best-effort routing policies. The former provides an optimal use of resources and the latter enables faster service provisioning, reducing the time needed to build a commercial offering.

Enabling Service-Driven Networks, Empowering Telecom Operators

Different types of service require different network management strategies to ensure that customer needs are being met — and more broadly, that the advertised service is provided within the terms of the service-level agreement. Although fewer voice calls are being made on mobile phones as people increasingly turn to text messaging and social network apps, mobile phone voice and data services are (figuratively) the backbone of an operator’s subscribers and a lifeline in times of extreme weather, public safety emergencies and for personal security.

These types of service must be prioritized, but 5G more generally has been championed by equipment suppliers like ZTE and telecom operators like XL Axiata as unlocking the ability to diversify into different services. They see it widening the reach and relevancy of telecom services from interpersonal communications for businesses and consumers, to consumer contexts in whole-home connectivity with enhanced mobile broadband, for business services supporting Internet of things deployments with massive machine-type communications, and for industrial applications requiring ultrareliable low-latency communication.

In other circumstances, municipal requirements may lead to the creation of networks with dedicated spectrum that exist side by side with commercial networks, such as FirstNet in the US, or business objectives within the telecom operator may need network slicing to support mobile virtual network operators — at CCS Insight’s Predictions for 2024 and Beyond event, we predicted that by 2026, at least five virtual operators will launch in Europe with a dedicated focus on small businesses, a market not historically well-served by telecom operators.

All these scenarios are aided by the adoption of SRv6, which provides a three-dimensional programming space, allowing network path, service and forwarding behaviour to be tagged by extending packet headers without changing the original packet encapsulation structure, rather than relying on shims found in older protocols such as Multiprotocol Label Switching, or MPLS, which aren’t well-suited to the realities of IPv6 and 5G.

Additionally, SRv6 eases interconnection of backbone, metro and mobile bearer networks, easing total infrastructure management, and decouples applications like enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type communications and ultrareliable low-latency communications from the bearer networks, shortening time to market for telecom operators to provide value-added applications using their mobile networks.

Thoughtful Planning for Network Modernization

Of course, implementing SRv6 requires a fair amount of planning, but if a telecom operator spends the time and money upfront for this network modernization, it can help to bolster the margins for services offered using those networks — an important consideration given the upfront cost of capacity expansion and longitudinal costs of network operations.

Collaborating with equipment suppliers to build out network capacity within the budgets and in view of the immediate and future needs of the business is important. Ensuring routes for in-place upgrades from 400G to 800G optical networking exist at the outset of a capacity expansion can save time and prevent headaches. Suppliers can also provide evidence from experiences deploying with telecom operator peers around the world. At its Broadband User Congress in Mexico in October 2023, for example, ZTE highlighted its work with XL Axiata and telecom operators in Latin America in their deployments of 5G and SRv6.