Nokia Siemens makes mobile apps and cellular networks play nice

Nokia Siemens Networks(s nok)(s si) and IBM(s IBM) wouldn’t be the first to put a content delivery network into a mobile network, but it’s the first to put a CDN at every cell tower. At Mobile World Congress, NSN unveiled a new mobile services architecture, called Liquid Applications, designed to push a host of applications – ranging from video to location-based services and mobile gaming – to the furthest edge of the cellular network.

NSN is partnering with IBM to embed the latter’s WebSphere applications hosting servers into its future base station design, with the idea of turning the radio access network into both a baseband processing and computing platform. Putting content closer to the consumer isn’t a new concept in mobile – Ericsson(s eric) and Akamai(s akam) teamed up two years ago to do just that – but NSN is talking about a lot more than just caching video or routing traffic more efficiently.

Mobile applications and radio infrastructure have always been walled off from one another – applications just barrel ahead onto their radio on-ramps oblivious to the highway traffic conditions ahead. What NSN proposes to do with Liquid Apps is to make those disparate portions of the network work in unison.

Moscow_traffic_congestionFor example, mobile video today can be a precarious proposition. As video viewers rack up in a particular cell, the network will keep trying to cram those video streams into the same limited airwaves, The result is a backed-up network with no one getting a quality video stream – or any stream at all. By processing video at the cell site, though, the base station could make decisions how to deliver those individual video feeds based on the prevailing network conditions.

If the cell is congested, then the base station downgrades the video quality of every stream, ensuring everyone sees a decent-quality picture. And as users gradually vacate the cell, the base station could gradually boost video quality for those that remain.

The architecture could also produce some noticeable increases in performance, say, if a subscriber was playing a network-based game. Instead of reaching across the many nodes of the backhaul, transport and core networks – as well as the Internet itself – a game hosted at the base station would have near zero latency, making the possibility of network-hosted, fast-twitch, real-time action game feasible.

Ironically, Liquid Apps is going in the opposite direction of NSN’s overall network strategy. In the last few years, NSN has promoted the concept of a cloud-based architecture, called Liquid Radio, where much of the intelligence and raw processing power of the network leaves the cell-site and becomes a virtualized set of shared resources. At NSN’s press conference on Sunday, mobile broadband chief Marc Rouanne said that the two approaches actually complement, rather than contradict, one another.

“We need computing capacity at both ends,” Rouanne said. “That’s what operators love about it.” NSN’s Liquid fabric has never called for excising processing capabilities completely from the cell site. Instead Liquid Radio is redistributing the intelligence of the network throughout the edge and core, allowing – as its name implies – to flow to wherever its most needed. Rouanne said, NSN now is taking the same approach to applications: relocating a portion of them from the core to the network fringes.