MNaaS and eSIM - pros and cons of virtualization for mobile operators and their customers

    Virtualization technologies come to the network of mobile operators. Services like Mobile Network as a Service (MNaaS) began to appear and electronic SIMs became popular. Let's talk about the potential benefits of these technologies for operators and customers and the difficulties of their implementation.

    / PxHere / the PD

    Mobile network as a service

    The “mobile network as a service” technology (MNaaS - Mobile Network as a Service) allows you to combine the services of mobile operators on a single platform using virtualization capabilities. For example, one of these services was developed at Affirmed Networks.

    It is a virtual implementation of the LTE virtual Evolved Packet Core ( vEPC ) network core . All kernel components are deployed in virtual machines. This makes it possible to eliminate the strict dependence between the end devices of the mobile packet network of operators.

    As a result, the latter can quickly change the scale of the network in accordance with user requests, as well as launch mobile services in different parts of the world (since there is no need to build the infrastructure “on site”).

    For example, in Zambia, the MNaaS model is proposed to be used for networking in rural areas. For such cases, the operator is unprofitable to create an infrastructure from scratch for a small number of potential customers. But if providers combine their efforts and build a network for sharing, they will share the costs and acquire new subscribers.

    Mobile Networking Virtualization

    In general, the general trend towards the virtualization of mobile network functions is gaining popularity. In particular, the technology network function virtualization (NFV) - in this case, the operator deploys some applications in the cloud. According to the Heavy Reading survey conducted in 2017 among telecommunications service providers, the main reason for the growing popularity of systems based on NFV technology is the reduction in operating expenses.

    They optimize energy consumption: the operator does not need to install their equipment, and the cloud provider saves customers' money due to the "economies of scale" (in fact, buying electricity in bulk).

    Another advantage of a virtual solution is the ability to quickly scale networks. According toJuniper Bikash Koley's CTO (Bikash Koley), for this reason, NFV technologies will become an important component in the implementation of 5G networks by telecom providers.

    For example, among large mobile operators, NFV technology is actively introducing AT & T. By 2020, the company plans to virtualize 75% of network functions. AT & T representatives expect that by the end of this year, 65% of the components of their batch core will be virtual. The infrastructure based on NFV is also created by China Mobile, the largest Chinese operator.

    Electronic SIM Cards

    One of the trends of virtualization of mobile networks is the development of electronic SIM-cards, or eSIM. In this case, the function of the physical SIM card is performed by the built-in hardware module.

    ESIM has several advantages over familiar cards. The first is a simpler operator and device change. It is not necessary to go to the company's office to connect: you can order a new electronic SIM card online. And when switching from one device to another, the user will not have problems with different form factors "simok".

    The second advantage is security. Download the new profile on the device and delete the old can only the owner of the virtual SIM. And if the gadget is stolen, it will immediately lose value for the criminal. It is impossible to remove eSIM from the phone, therefore it will not be possible to use the device for its own purposes either. By the way, support for virtual SIM cards in the new iPhone XS and XS Max was announced on September 12, 2018. Also, eSIM is supported by smartphones from Google - Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

    However, we note that the technology still has its drawbacks.

    / Flickr / Pascal Kurschildgen / CC

    Security experts say that eSIM makes it easy to conduct fraudulent copying schemes. Such cases have already beenwith ordinary SIM-cards. Obtaining a copy of the SIM-card on forged documents, attackers obtained access to the victim’s accounts through a mobile bank. In the case of eSIM, fake documents are no longer needed. Therefore, we will have to pay additional attention to the issues of disposing of old devices, so that they could not get information about the eSIM profile from their microcircuits.

    Another problem is related to regulatory issues. Although the electronic SIM allows you to change the operator almost on the fly, everything is not so simple. Now the GSM Association (GSMA) is working on creating a standard for eSIM. And a number of American providers are trying“Push” the initiative with the possibility of fixing the device to the operator’s network. Several companies from the association (one of them, presumably, was Apple) filed a protest, but how this story ends is unclear.

    Additional restrictions on the change of operator imposes the legislation of the countries. In some of them, a “remote” (without going to the office) operator change is allowed: the eSIM law with this condition was adopted by the Indian government.

    Other states are just developing new regulatory rules. The Singapore government even held a public consultation, during which it collected proposals from citizens and companies on what the eSIM law might look like in the country.

    As for Russia, we have eSIM technology limited by the law "On Communications". According to him, the SIM card is a unique subscriber identifier, and its duplication is prohibited. Moreover, in order to change the provider, the subscriber must come to the department in order to verify passport data and draw up a written agreement. Nevertheless, virtual SIM card technology is being studied by VimpelCom and Tele2, and Megafon tested the eSIM function at the end of 2017.

    The eSIM technology attracts not only users, but also device manufacturers. A bright future is predicted for it, promoted by Google, Samsung and Apple. For eSIM companies, this is an opportunity to reduce the size of gadgets (since there is no need for a separate SIM card slot). But, objectively, it will be possible to use the full potential of this technology only when companies and governments solve the problems of regulating this sphere.

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