Cellular networks are going to play an important role in facilitating IoT applications. However, they face several challenges to meet the varying demands of diverse IoT applications with the most challenging ones around scalability. In this case, their Evolved Packet Core (EPC) will determine the performance and availability for applications.

Back in the days of GSM, cellular networks used to have a circuit-switched core in which both voice and data were transferred using circuit switching. In this type of switching, connections were established before data transmission started, and bandwidth was allocated to those connections. While this approach offered benefits, it could not scale well as circuits were dedicated. To tackle its limitations, cellular networks implemented packet switching networks in GPRS/UMTS. In this approach, voice and SMS were sent over a circuit switched network core while data was transferred via packet-switched core. This offered more flexibility and efficiency. However, the demands of applications kept on increasing so cellular networks removed circuit-switching completely and started using IP protocols on a packet-switched network for all types of data i.e. voice, SMS, and internet. This core is now called Evolved Packet Core (EPC).

EPC used fixed hardware to provide network functions which made the core inflexible in meeting varying application demands. For example, some applications prefer high throughput while others prefer low latency. To solve these limitations imposed by fixed hardware, operators started using virtualized infrastructure at the core which is now called virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC). In vEPC frameworks, core network functions are run on commodity off-the-shelf servers in software instead of on specialized hardware. The benefit of this approach is that operators can modify software implementations as well as add new functions simply by writing new code. This approach also reduces the manual effort of replacing old hardware with new that would have been required earlier.

To support the next generation of IoT applications, 5G is already in works that aims to provide “customized slices” to users so they can enjoy specific type of service from the network instead of using generic one-size-fits-all core. When 5G arrives, operators using fixed hardware in EPC will find it difficult to support all types of services promised by 5G. Moving to vEPC will help them in enabling those services easily. It will also save them a lot of cost as they will simply have to change the software to support new network functions.

Talking about the importance of vEPC for IoT, Angela Whiteford, VP of marketing and product management at Affirmed Networks said, “The foundation of an IoT offering is a virtualized architecture,” Whiteford said. “It can support the different use cases. For the IoT business unit, being able to offer a customized slice by industry, by segment … is a game changer. Right now they have to jury rig something if they want to do something customized.”

The importance of virtualization and software-defined networks for operators is clear. It’s high time more cellular networks move to vEPC to support the changing landscape and enable next generation of IoT apps.
Source for quote by Angela Whiteford: http://www.rcrwireless.com/20170305/evolved-packet-core-epc/20170305evolved-packet-core-epcvirtualized-epc-5g-internet-of-things-tag17