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Organizational Impact of Flat Network

Cisco Employee

Everyone is excited about the Flat Network in Long Term Evolution (LTE) and its advantages e.g. reduced latency, better operations efficiencies, lower costs etc. What about Organizational Impact for operators? Its not an easy topic to discuss, and still is so much critical. And it has impact.

Based on my interactions with operators that have a 3G network and moving towards 4G, there are many organizational impacts of a flat network architecture. Following are few major themes that I have seen:

  • Service Providers have teams built around platforms, i.e. a team to design, manage and maintain a set of platforms. If  the network becomes flat i.e. less architecture elements, then there would be less teams managing the lesser number of platforms. In the short term - 3G network has to be managed, so its in the long run that the organizational decisions for 4G made today will have impact.
  • Teams which already have IP skillsets and especially if those teams have proven well in 3G, these teams are pursuing aggressively in LTE. An example is MPLS Core team is asked to provide inputs on IP based Backhaul.
  • Voice have interesting dynamics. Many of the IMS platforms in existing operators are not managed by Voice teams, rather either by IP team or application team. With Voice being called out as similar to any real-time application in LTE,  the dynamics becomes even further complicated. There are voice solutions of utilizing existing voice assets in LTE, which will be depoyed by many operators in earlier stages - pushing this problem out for now.
  • Even more complicated are situations where the same operator had a wireline and a wireless arm. And in many cases, the wireline and wireless arms are integrating closely as wireless is becoming more IP/Ethernet centric andcarrying huge amount of traffic.

And remember no two operators' organizations are alike. Its important to understand what got them there in the first place to determine how to evolve it.

In some cases, I have suggested to our operator executives that they need to attack this problem sooner than later. There are steps that they can take immediately during planning:

  • Define an organizational structure for LTE (how would it look like in long run, say 5 years - this is one of thr toughest things that executives like to avoid!)
  • Define a path from the current structure to move towards the future. This is somewhat tied to LTE rollout plans.
  • Communicate down to senior management, ensure to get their buy-in.
  • Ensure that all the teams are trained in IP.

Some of these steps will ensure that the operators can really reap the benefits of cost in a flat network architecture, align their teams and avoid confusion.

I would really like to hear from you if you had been in similar situations. What were some of the considerations for impact to organizations as they move to LTE.  Which considerations were thought through and which ones were not. What was the direct or indirect impact of those.

Cisco Employee

Hi Ritesh

I think you hit the nail on the head. Whilst flattening mobile hierarchies have a huge impact on the network, moving from hub-and-spoke to any-to-any connectivity and increasing cell site bandwidths up into the 100 Mbps range - flattening organizational hierarchies is certainly more challenging!

One great question I always ask is "who is leading S1/X2 security issues?"

Is it the EPC team, since hub-and-spoke control plane protection can be integrated into those elements?

Is it the transport team, since transport platforms can be an excellent choice for running network based security?

Is it the RAN team, since the ENB is where the security will terminate?

To be sure, all-IP means the RAN, Packet Transport, Packet Core and Security teams all need to work closely together!



Cisco Employee

Absolutely correct, Mark.

Though you are bringing up another important aspect that we just shared with another customer who is looking to move towards LTE - "Collaboration across the entire organization". I will try to put some more thoughts, the concept being - how an All-IP network, LTE, is going to require collaboration that were more silos earlier. And security is a great example.

Cisco Employee

In fact, this reminds me of the issues we faced when we first deployed converged IP/MPLS to collapse mobile core networks, using the same pseudowires that we are now using in the IP RAN to transport wide area TDM and ATM traffic over a converged core network.

In the case study report,, Kevin Paige of Vodafone is reported as saying, "We faced the problems of achieving huge cultural and behavioural changes to realise the IP factory, and it is of great credit to the Cisco and Vodafone people involved that we accomplished what we did."

- Mark

Cisco Employee

How about the example of IP+Optical in wireline service providers way back.

Also important to highlight one more time - not only the IP enablement has impact, but also the flat architecture. If RNC layer moves into eNodeB and SGW/PGW colocate/merge, then a hierarchy of 4 layers is merged into 2.

As some examples shared in the blog, LTE will bring disruption in the organizational structure.

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