SAHARA Project Goals

Our goal is to understand how to create end-to-end telecommunications services with desirable and predictable properties, such as performance and reliability, when provisioned from multiple and independent service providers. We are developing a new architecture for future telecommunications services that supports the dynamic confederation of sometimes collaborating and sometimes competing service providers. Our first effort in this direction, the Clearinghouse Architecture, provides a resource management system based on predictive resource reservations, traffic-matrix admission control, and group policing for detecting malicious flows. The Clearinghouse is focused on dynamic trunking decisions within and across ISP clouds. It offers a starting point for our investigation into the generalization of the concept of service level agreement to multiple service providers and for properties other than bandwidth, latency, and packet loss rates. It illustrates the principles of improved scalability and predictability through aggregation, and the use of hierarchy and cooperation among service providers to make effective and agile resource allocation decisions. We are extending this work in the direction of more general application of economic mechanisms, such as dynamic auctions, for resource allocation problems in multi-provider telecommunications service architectures.

Motivation: The Existing Operator Model is Failing

The expense of deploying Third Generation (3G) Telecommunications Systems will be huge. The European auctions for 3G spectra are likely to exceed $150 billion, with $45 billion already committed in Germany and $35 billion in the United Kingdom (U.K.). Equipment outlays are likely to match these spectrum expenses. And this is all before first revenue, without a clear understanding of the kinds of new services and applications enabled by 3G bandwidths for which subscribers will pay. Cheap (core) network bandwidth and the highly competitive environment brought about by widespread liberalization of the telecommunications sector is simultaneously driving bandwidth prices towards zero while yielding a financial crisis for the operators!

There is a growing recognition that highly integrated “all things to all people” telecommunications companies, like AT&T or British Telecomm (BT), on the one hand provide no effective economies of scale and on the other have encumbered very large debt in pursing their integrated visions. A new, more functional specialization is being called for:

“The new rules for success will be to provide one part of the puzzle and to cooperate with other suppliers to create the complete solutions that customers require. ... [V]ertical integration breaks down when innovation speeds up. The big telecoms firms that will win back investor confidence soonest will be those with the courage to rip apart their monolithic structure along functional layers, to swap size for speed and to embrace rather than fear disruptive technologies.” [Economist 2000]

The Need: A New Service Model for a New Business Model ... Beyond the Third Generation

We believe that a radically new service architecture is needed, and one that cannot be separated from an equally radical view of the telecommunications operator’s role in the new value chain of service provision. Simply stated, future telecommunications systems will be organized not as monolithic structures deployed by a single business entity, but rather as a dynamic confederation of multiple—sometimes cooperating and sometimes competing—service providers.

We are investigating just such a service architecture, and deploying a prototype and evaluating it in a testbed environment, on a building, campus, and potentially regional-scale, in collaboration with our industrial partners. These partners include network equipment manufacturers (Ericsson, Nortel, HRL representing Boeing and Raytheon) as well as network operators (Sprint, HRL representing General Motors/DirecTV).

Overarching Themes

There are several assumptions that we make and themes that we expect to emerge from our work:

What is New: Dynamic and Adaptive Services, Collaboratively Provisioned By Multiple Providers, Exploiting Applications Awareness

Over the last few years our research group has explored a number of issues in multi-network service architectures. Our BARWAN project focused on overlay networks (e.g., vertical handoff [Stemm 1999, Wang 1999]) and interoperation of media services [Brewer 1998]. We are also completing an architecture for Internet-based service management in the ICEBERG Project (e.g., service mobility) [Raman 2000, Wang 2000]. Several of the concepts mentioned above, such as MVNO and VME, and new multi-provider business models, are well under way for incorporation into cellular industry’s Third Generation (3G) architectural specifications in some form [3GPP]. These features have also been recognized as essential components of UMTS [UMTS XX].

Our architecture is building on these prior efforts, but we will extend them in several significant directions. Our primary goal is aggressive support for the dynamic and adaptive deployment of services and network resources (bandwidth, processing, and storage) to users and their applications. This will be accomplished through architectural support for multiple providers at a variety of system levels, who confederate to provide services and resources, yet also compete for business. An essential feature of the architecture will be the support for radically new kinds of business models, admitting of a new more horizontal layering of service provision. Finally, it will be important for applications to interact with the underlying system, to better represent their needs and to become better aware of system capabilities, thus enabling both the applications and the system to be come more adaptive. The research we will perform will provide a firm foundation upon which to define the telecommunications service architecture of 2010 and beyond.

The Problem, In More Detail

The existing approaches for building and operating wireless telecommunications systems are outdated, inefficient, and too expensive:

AT&T has followed a now somewhat discredited strategy to offer its subscribers a “one stop shop” with everything from wireless access to long distance services to cable TV/modem data access to portal services (i.e., Netscape). AOL’s efforts to integrate Time Warners’ cable TV networks and content with Internet Service provision may also be destined for failure. We believe that the future is horizontal disaggregation rather than vertical integration.

Our goal is to develop a revolutionary alternative architecture for future telecommunications systems, based on the following assumptions:

The challenge is how to achieve “service level peering” and resource sharing in an environment of limited trust and cooperation. At this stage of our research, we can only identify some of the elements of a potential solution: