Mobile operators are rapidly adopting new network software, called EPC (Evolved Packet Core), that will give them more control over service quality but also new tools for metering data usage.
EPC is the next generation of software for handling all types of mobile data sessions and is required for LTE, the 4G technology of choice for most carriers around the world. Annual spending on EPC will grow by more than 10 times in the next six years, from US$200 million in 2011 to $3 billion in 2016, research company |Dell|'Oro Group said in a report this week.
Even in 2016, EPC will only make up half of all spending on packet core technology, with the other $3 billion going into the corresponding technology for 3G and 2G networks, |Dell|'Oro analyst Chris DePuy said. Overall packet-core spending will roughly double in the five-year period, from $2.9 billion in 2011. The growth is likely to benefit the current big players in mobile core networks, such as Ericsson, Huawei Technologies and |Cisco| Systems, according to |Dell|'Oro.
But EPC could reshape the types of services that mobile subscribers get, as well as their monthly bills. Though carriers may or may not use all the capabilities of EPC, the new software gives them several tools to fine-tune network performance. How they use the new software may also be affected by net-neutrality laws. All this could be both good and bad news for subscribers.
The packet core is the part of a mobile network that controls the data packets coming in over the wireless network from subscribers' phones and back out to them. EPC can be implemented on the routers and servers that carriers are already using in their packet cores, DePuy said. But it takes advantage of the fact that LTE is based entirely on IP (Internet Protocol), without the circuit-switched technology that 3G and earlier networks use for voice calls.
EPC consists of an MME (Mobile Management Entity), which controls permission to use the network; the P (Packet Node) Gateway and S (Services) Gateway, which are routers with intelligence to handle different data streams; and the PCRF (Packet Core Routing Function), which is software that sends messages between the MME and the gateways and communicates with billing systems.