EPC Landscape for Private Small Cell LTE networks

LTE LogoFrom time to time we survey the range of vendors and products available for an area of small cell technology. With CBRS/OnGo and later MulteFire about to unleash the potential of Private LTE networks, we look at the EPC vendors who could provide the core network software to support such independent/standalone LTE deployments.

 

 

The first surprise is just how many there appear to be – almost 30.

The second is the range of physical formats that an EPC can take. The smallest implementations can run onboard the small cell main processor. Larger ones might occupy a dedicated server or even be spread around somewhere in the cloud.

Buyer Beware

The list below does not imply any endorsement or fitness for purpose of individual vendors products. Readers are encouraged to do their own research and due diligence including scope, maturity, scalability, resilience, support, compatibility for their own applications.

I’d also clarify that a combination of LTE small cell and EPC isn’t enough to provide a commercial solution. You may need some back-office management functions such as a subscriber database, billing, provisioning, security gateways and interworking. Neutral hosts may be able to satisfy some or all of those needs remotely through Cloud services.

Compatibility

The Small Cell Forum conducted a PlugFest to establish interoperability between independent EPC and several popular LTE small cells. As is their norm, actual test results aren’t published but you can tell something from the vendors involved.

SCF208 published mid-2017 lists EPC vendors participating were Alpha Networks, Athonet, Druid Software and Quortus.

LTE standards continue to evolve, with each year bringing new features, frequencies and bug-fixes. While you may not need or want the very latest features for general services that are compatible with existing smartphones, not all of these vendors/stacks are as up to date or actively maintained as others.

Vendor categories

We’ve considered the following major categories of EPC vendor

  • Major RAN vendors
  • Standalone EPC solution providers
  • End-to-end Private LTE network providers with their own small cells
  • Opensource/academic organisations
  • Software stack vendors
  • Test equipment vendors

Major RAN vendors

As you would expect, all the major RAN vendors have mature, robust and complete EPC solutions operating live today across hundreds of commercial networks. The only question would be whether these are scalable and can be downsized easily to meet price/performance of the smallest private LTE networks. Frankly, it’s worth asking whether the large RAN vendors would be interested in this comparatively small part of the market with potentially high technical support costs and strong competition.

Standalone EPC solution providers

There are a few companies whose business focus is entirely an EPC software solution. This gives you some confidence that it will get the attention it deserves, albeit if they are smaller companies as a result.

Small Cell end-to-end providers

Very few of the smaller independent companies can provide a full end-to-end Private LTE network solution. Instead, most partner with one or more of the leading EPC vendors. Those that have their own EPC may either have developed this in-house, most probably from a bought-in commercial stack or potentially could have rebadged/rebranded a commercial solution from another vendor.

Opensource

There seems to be a growing number and momentum behind several opensource LTE network initiatives, with EPC software stacks being donated or made available on a commercial basis to these framework solutions. Examples include the M-CORD initiative (supported by Radisys and Quortus) and Facebook’s TIP.

Note that some of the EPC stacks provided on a free-of-charge opensource basis may not incorporate the very latest 3GPP release features, for which software licence fees may apply.

Software Stack vendors

Software stack vendors sell their wares to vendors who package it up, augment it will additional functionality and market it as a complete end-to-end solution. Their customers may be any of the other categories, including the Opensource community.

Test equipment vendors

Several of the vendors below are primarily test equipment suppliers, intending their EPC to be used as part of the testing – particularly for end user devices such as smartphones and dongles. Functionality may be focussed more on those aspects rather than account management, billing, mass provisioning etc.

List of EPC suppliers

If you know of any omission or error in the list below, please contact us or make a comment at the bottom of the page so we can update.

Vendors are listed in alphabetical order

 Organisation Category Comments

Adax Solutions (Network in a box)

Independent EPC

Scalable up to 250K

Affirmed Networks (Virtual Mobile Core)

Independent EPC

Built in “probe” analysis/reports, highly scalable

Airspan (aCore)

Small Cell vendor

Part of end-to-end LTE solution

Amarisoft

Test vendor

See also Bellard

Aricent

Software stack

Marketed as Framework rather than complete product

Athonet

Independent EPC

 

CASA Systems

Independent EPC

Axyom Core, part of end-to-end small cell solution. 

Cisco

Independent EPC

Large scale EPC Starent acquired in 2009

Druid

Software stack

Independent EPC

Also supports 2G and 3G

Ericsson

Major RAN vendor

 

Fujitsu

Small Cell vendor

 

General Dynamics

Independent EPC

Fortress virtual core network

Huawei CloudEPC

Major RAN vendor

Part of CloudEdge range of solutions

Mavenir

Independent EPC

bought business from Brocade in 2017

NEC

Major RAN vendor

 

Netronome

Independent EPC

 

NextEPC

Opensource

 

Nokia

Major RAN vendor

 

OpenEPC

Opensource stack

See also Core Network Dynamics

Polaris

Test Emulator

 

Private Mobile Networks

Independent EPC

 

Quortus

Software stack

Also supports 2G and 3G

Radisys

Software stack available to embed in commercial products

 

Redline

FlexCore EPC, software stack available to embed in product

 

Samsung

Major RAN vendor

 

SiRAN

Demo’ed with ip.access at MWC 2013

 

Star Solutions/Sonata

Independent EPC

 

TeCore

Independent EPC

 

ZTE

Major RAN vendor

 

 

Something missing or wrong? Comment below or send us an email and we'll update the table

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