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Fueled by the rising demand for mobile data, the staggering growth and complexity of todays 4G core network environments call for greater harmonization of Diameter signaling traffic within and across those networks. The Diameter Signaling Controller has emerged as an centralized signaling framework that can improve core network performance and reliability, and plays an important role in realizing emerging 4G business opportunities, including LTE roaming. This whitepaper discusses the surmounting challenges of Diameter signaling protocol within 4G core network environments, and how the Diameter Signaling Controller addresses these challenges with efficiency.
Specifications subject to change without notice. All content is copyrighted 2012 by Alepo. Alepo SE and Alepo logo are trademarks of Alepo. Others are trademark of their respective owners.


Mobile data traffic is on a dramatic upswing, growing by an astounding 133% in 2011 and forecasted to grow by another 18-fold within the next five years. 1 To contend with this explosive demand for fast, reliable mobile data services, service providers are evolving their network infrastructures and rolling out the latest high-speed, high-capacity 4G technologies like LTE, HSPA+ and WiMAX. At the network core, this means an eventual transition to an all-IP network architecture. This architecture has two fundamental components: the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). Together, they enable the delivery and control of IP-based services over 4G networks.

Diameter in the Evolved Packet Core

To deliver fast, reliable 4G data services, the EPC and IMS make extensive use of the Diameter signaling protocol. Diameter is used primarily to exchange vital policy, charging and subscriber profile information across various core network elements and external networks as well. The information exchanged is used to establish and maintain data and IMS sessions, including roaming sessions. The types of information exchanged in Diameter messages include: Policy (user authentication, service-specific authorization, QoS) Charging (credit control) Subscriber (profile, location) Network Resources (allocation, availability) Peer State Machine (capabilities exchange, disconnect peer)

Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2011 - 2016, Cisco, 2012

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Diameter Challenges & Considerations

Undoubtedly, Diameter plays an important role in the delivery of 4G data services, carrying important session and subscriber information across network nodes and to external networks. Yet, challenges remain in how to handle a large and increasingly complex mass of Diameter signaling traffic, especially as the demand for mobile data grows. These challenges, discussed in detail below, threaten to derail 4G networks, as witnessed recently in a few well-publicized, large-scale LTE network outages. Service providers must overcome these Diameter signaling challenges in order to ensure the most reliable, profitable 4G networks possible.

The Rise in Diameter Signaling Traffic

The rise in signaling traffic on 4G networks is a culmination of multiple factors. Within the evolved packet core network, Diameter is utilized heavily to realize a number of advanced signaling capabilities, like session interaction, policy and QoS, and real-time credit control. Its widespread use throughout the core network can generate an unprecedented amount of signaling traffic. Diameter signaling growth will continue to accelerate as todays mobile subscribers make the transition from 3G to 4G networks. Another factor - todays smartphones, tablets and apps make it possible for end users to consume more mobile data services than ever before. And as mobile data traffic rises, so does the amount of signaling traffic required to deliver it. In addition, todays smart phones, tablets and apps produce idle signaling chatter between sessions, further contributing to the rise in Diameter signaling traffic.

Scalability & Reliability

More and more consumer and M2M devices are connecting to mobile broadband networks around the world, and each subscriber is consuming more data than ever, causing signaling traffic on mobile networks to multiply rapidly. With no slowdown in sight, service providers must be able to efficiently handle this traffic load to ensure optimal network performance and to maintain a consistent, reliable customer experience, even as the demand for data rises. The unprecedented amount of signaling traffic generated by 4G networks can lead to latency, signaling overload and network outages if not handled efficiently. Without a centralized signaling infrastructure, the core network elements that utilize Diameter, such as the PCRF, HSS and OCS, are left to individually handle a number of reliability-related and scalability-related tasks, including load balancing, failover, throttling and more. These tasks extend beyond the core competencies of the network elements, and can weigh heavily on the nodes, causing overload and failures during sudden spikes in signaling traffic. Whats more, some elements lack or offer only a limited set of scalabilityrelated features, and this can further exacerbate performance issues. As the network grows, each node is taxed with additional performance and load balancing requirements. A centralized signaling infrastructure decouples scalability-related tasks from the functional features of the network elements. This type of architecture offers predicable and consistent scalability capabilities core-wide, and is easier to manage and scale.

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To achieve a robust, high-performing 4G network, service providers must be able to build their network infrastructures with Best of Breeds components and vendors. And while this has long posed interoperability challenges for service providers, those challenges are especially apparent in Diameter-based networks, wherein the network nodes have multiple, and direct touch points with other nodes. And, although Diameter is well-defined by 3GPP and IETF standards, it is not air tight. Different vendors may interpret standards in different ways, implement subsets of the protocol, or use non-standard or vendor-specific variants and Diameter applications. Service providers may also require that only subsets of the protocol be available to peering networks. These variances require a centralized signaling infrastructure that can efficiently reconcile issues and facilitate rapid interoperability. Beyond initial network testing and configurations, interoperability issues commonly arise during periods of network changes or updates. For example, a task as common as a version update to a single network element can introduce a new, unrecognized or misconfigured attribute or message that can break its interoperability with its interfacing endpoints and impact network performance. In multi-vendor network environments, the upgrade or replacement of a single component or vendor can be slowed down by months of interoperability testing and coordination. These unpredictable changes require a centralized point that can validate messages and fix interoperability issues on the fly. Alternative options to this scenario have traditionally included vendor lock-in and maintaining inflexible networks that resist enhancements and waste investments.

Challenges in Multi-Vendor Core Networks

Diameter standards do not define how each network element should handle performance-related tasks such as routing and load balancing, making high availability an even greater challenge in multi-vendor network environments. Some vendors offer limited or no support for these functions, or expect peer elements to handle them. These inconsistencies can cause incompatibility issues and increase the likelihood of network failures and outages.

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In launching 4G networks, service providers must consider the evolving mobile broadband ecosystem - one that calls for interconnect and roaming agreements that give consumers access to mobile data services anywhere in the world. In realizing these agreements, service providers must also take into account the security risks of exposing the core network to external peers at multiple junctions, including the PCRF (S9), MME (S6a) and HSS. Security threats that are inherited from peering with untrusted networks can jeopardize the networks performance and stability.

The challenge of Diameter centers on the question of how to handle a large and increasingly complex mass of Diameter signaling traffic, especially as the demand for 4G services grows.

Service providers today require real-time, holistic network information to ensure proper network health and to make qualified operational decisions with confidence. Yet the complexity of a Diameter signaling planes mesh architecture, exacerbated by its astounding volume of signaling messages, can make it difficult and costly to manage. Without a centralized signaling infrastructure, it can be a challenge to efficiently aggregate important signaling information for analysis, troubleshooting and network planning.

The challenges and considerations of Diameter, as discussed above, center on the question of how to handle a large and increasingly complex mass of Diameter signaling traffic, especially as the demand for 4G services grows. Furthermore, the evolving 4G ecosystem will require service providers to forge multiple roaming and interconnect agreements without exposing their networks to security risks. In order to successfully deliver and capitalize on 4G data services, service providers must be able to overcome these challenges and to create a 4G EPC network environment that is highly reliable and secure, able to grow and evolve, and easy to manage.

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The Diameter Signaling Controller

To address many of the sticking points of Diameter protocol mentioned above, service providers have begun to introduce the Diameter Signaling Controller to their 4G networks. The Diameter Signaling Controller (DSC) is an intelligent signaling framework that streamlines all Diameter-based IP signaling communication within and across EPC and IMS environments. In doing so, it creates a core network environment that is highly reliable and secure, able to grow and evolve, and easy to manage.

The features and functions of the Diameter Signaling Controller include: Dedicated load balancing to reduce signaling congestion, overload Improved signaling performance and network reliability Advanced message handling to ensure flexible and robust routing Message validation and rewriting to facilitate greater interoperability with low latency & response time Network topology hiding to enable secure 4G roaming, interconnect Reduced complexity and cost of managing & scaling the network

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Centralized Signaling Infrastructure

In this architecture, all Diameter messages are routed through the DSC instead of by direct association between nodes. This allows the DSC to centralize a number of important performance-related tasks, such as load balancing, message handling and failover. In doing so, the DSC alleviates the burden on other Diameter nodes already tasked with various session management, charging and QoS functions. In this capacity, the DSC contributes immensely to the overall performance and robustness of the signaling plane, and reduces the costs and complexity of maintaining it. With dedicated load balancing, and throttling, the DSC handles congestion and signaling spikes efficiently to protect against overload and network failures. In addition, it performs failover and failback, and it detects erroneous routing loops that can otherwise overwhelm a network endpoint with a flood of repeating, failed messages. In addition, the DSC assists in simplifying core network maintenance by providing a single, centralized point to perform Diameter signaling monitoring, protocol analysis and validation.

The Diameter Signaling Controller centralizes a number of important performancerelated tasks to alleviate the burden on other nodes.

Advanced Message Handling

The advanced message handling capabilities of the Diameter Signaling Controller extend well beyond those of a standard Diameter routing agent, and afford a number of advantages. Advanced message validation and rewriting ensures that nodes are not affected by any misconfigured or malfunctioning network element. This also includes

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the normalization of non-standard Diameter variants, thus facilitating greater network interoperability without having to meddle in multiple network endpoints, even when protocol changes or updates are made. The DSC allows for flexible and accurate message routing, based on any message or AVP within the message. It applies session stickiness needed to realize PCRF binding, as well as the subscriber location functions (SLF) needed to realize federated subscriber database architectures. In addition, the DSC can efficiently filter out irrelevant or non-required messages and AVPs to further reduce the load on network endpoints and quicken response time.

Secure 4G Roaming & Interconnect

The Diameter Signaling Controller plays a crucial role in realizing partnerships within the 4G ecosystem, such as LTE roaming agreements, as well as with interconnect and OTT partners. When deployed at the edge of the core network as a border element, the DSC acts as a secure, single point of entry for visited networks. In this capacity, it offers a number of security mechanisms, including network topology hiding, message validation and rewriting, and transport protocol switching between TCP and SCTP, TLS and NoTLS. It also ensures consistent addressing for external partners even when topology changes are made within the internal network.

As a border element, the DSC acts as a secure, single point of entry for visited networks, offering security mechanisms, including network topology hiding.

Unbound Network Expansion

By providing a centralized signaling infrastructure, the DSC makes network expansion simple and limitless. When a service provider introduces additional Diameter nodes to meet the needs of its growing network, only the DSC needs to be updated with the routing information, instead of each point of interconnection within the network. This facilitates rapid horizontal scaling, allowing service providers to readily grow their network to stay ahead of the demand for mobile data while protecting their investment in the network infrastructure.

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A Class Apart: Alepos Diameter Signaling Controller

Alepos Diameter Signaling Controller is one of the most robust, carrierclass products available on the todays market. A proven, interoperable solution, Alepos DSC creates a core network environment that is high performing and reliable, endlessly scalable, and secure. It reduces network complexity and costs, making the core network easier to manage. Alepos DSC boasts unrivaled speed and performance. On a single appliance, it can process over 200,000 Diameter messages per second. It demonstrates industry-leading levels of performance in message validation and rewriting, with low impact on latency and response time. Overall, it offers five nines availability to assure service providers of a robust, always-on solution. The functionality and flexibility of the Alepo DSC is met with astounding simplicity in maintenance. By focusing on its core mission, Alepo has designed the DSC to be light-weight and nimble where other solutions overload the DSC with extra, peripheral tasks. This lends itself to the agility and lightning fast performance of the Alepo DSC. Alepos DSC features an intuitive administrative interface that reduces OpEx without sacrificing flexibility. Alepos DSC is built in compliance with leading industry standards of 3GPP, GSMA and IETF. It supports multiple Diameter applications and reference points such as Gx, Rx, S9, S6a and Gy. It serves fully as an IETF Diameter Agent, 3GPP Diameter Routing Agent (DRA) or a GSMA Diameter Edge Agent (DEA). Furthermore, it offers proven interoperability, having successfully enabled VoLTE roaming scenarios as part of an industry-wide test event, backed by the GSMA.

The Diameter Signaling Controller vs. the Layer 7 Switch

We often get asked how the Diameter Signaling Controller compares to a standard Layer 7 load balancing switch. While they do share common functionalities, such as routing, load balancing and message pre-processing, standard Layer 7 switches typically lack support for long-lived sessions, unique to Diameter networks. Long-lived Diameter peer sessions can last for days or weeks, and require an intimate knowledge of Diameter signaling to carry out successfully. This can be a sticking point for DSCs borne from general routing, switching or other session border control products.

Flexible Deployment Options

Alepos DSC offers flexible deployment options to best serve the requirements and needs of different types of service providers. It may be deployed as a standalone element integrated in a highly interoperable, multi-vendor network environment. In addition, Alepo can provide a comprehensive suite of 4G core network products, including Alepos DSC and industry-leading policy and charging control (PCC) architecture - PCRF, OCS, AAA - as sa proven, pre-integrated

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solution. In any deployment scenario, operators are assured of Alepos proven solutions and 15 years of industry experience. With carrier-class AAA solutions in deployment since 1997, Alepo boasts over 15 years of proven industry experience. Today, Alepo is a leading expert in AAA-based signaling infrastructures, and has an intimate knowledge of Diameter protocol and the Evolved Packet Core environment. This expertise has made Alepos 4G deployments around the world a success.

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About Alepo
Founded in 1994, Alepo is a leading provider of enabling infrastructure for telecommunications service providers. Alepo provides IT systems and IT consulting services for telecommunications companies, enabling them to compete efficiently and realize next generation service opportunities. Alepo is proud to support innovative market leaders such as France Telecom, Digicel and Charter Communications as they evolve in the telecommunications marketplace. Alepos comprehensive suite of core network solutions enables service providers to successfully implement, expand and capitalize on 4G mobile broadband services. Tailored to each service providers unique business needs, Alepos solutions integrate seamlessly with a mobile operators existing IN-based infrastructure to allow for convergent services, including unified balance management, across all legacy and NGN technologies. Alepos solutions are built according to the design principles of compliance to standards, automation, flexibility, scalability and featurerichness. The company has partnered with leading manufacturers of telecommunications equipment to ensure improved interoperability and smooth customer experience for users. Maturity, stability and innovation make Alepo a market-leading vendor of solutions for both greenfield and established service providers.

Contact Alepo
Corporate Headquarters & North America Sales Austin, Texas, USA +1 (512) 879 1030 EMEA Regional Sales London, United Kingdom +44 79 37 00 57 21 LATAM Regional Sales Buenos Aires, Argentina +54 11 4711 8235 APAC Regional Sales Mumbai, India +91 9820145547
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