Main Authors: Cristoffer Leite, Priscila Solis Barreto, Marcos Caetano, Eduardo Alchieri (University of Brasilia)

Adittional Authors: Ivan Vidal (University of Brasilia)

Focus Area: 

Internet of Things

Who stands to benefit and how: 

Internet Service Providers and research groups working with Internet of Things applications on remote areas can use this work as an example to encourage the use of Network Function Virtualisation environments and to deploy low-cost production tools with practical applications. Furthermore, this work is part of the 5G-RANGE project and will be employed to validate its use.

Position Paper: 

Cellular network operates as an important enabler for a handful of emerging business models and its operation demands an immense infrastructure and requires extensive investments on each new generation to acquire new equipment to support novel technologies. As an alternative to buying expensive network equipment on each advancement iteration, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) standardised the use of Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) [1], bringing network functions that were executed by specific and expensive hardware to virtualised environments. This standard allowed the inclusion of NFV on 5G network definition as a chief infrastructure component [2] alongside Software-Defined Network (SDN), another leading softwarisation technique.

Even with such accomplishments, remote agricultural areas have to wait long periods to receive network enhancements because providers can't afford the investment needed on these areas. In our work, we propose an architecture to extend coverage on rural areas, using NFV on Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as computational-capable Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (SUAV) and other Single Board Computers (SBC) applications. This approach follows efforts from standardisation organisations, that, in the last years, proposed several use cases for virtualisationand softwarisation technologies intending to evade the high cost of current solutions.

The main component is a host that encompasses an OpenStack controller to act as a Virtualised Infrastructure Management (VIM) along with the Open Source MANO (OSM) that works as NFV Orchestrator and VNF Manager, using ETSI NFV model. The host has three network interfaces: the first one (Nf-Vi) allows VIM management communications between the OpenStack controller and the Network Function Virtualised Infrastructure (NFVI) which is the SUAVs and SBC applications; the second (Ve-Vnfm) is for the management of the lifecycle of the VNFs from OSM; and the third one is just to give internet access connectivity for users. In the current implementation, the host first two interfaces, Nf-Vi and VE-VNFM, use VXLANs attached to a Wi-Fi interface in ad-hoc mode. The third one is directly connected to an Ethernet interface and is configured to get its network configuration via DHCP, acting as a bridge between the infrastructure and external connections.

In the NFVI, OpenStack Nova and Neutron components allow the deployment of the VNFs, acting as managers of compute and network resource respectively. Each NFVI component implements the first two interfaces, Nf-Vi and Ve-Vnfm, in the same way as the host, aiming to communicate with the VIM and the OSM, but also within themselves. This configuration allows the deployment of VNFs on low-cost devices for numerous use-case scenarios, using cutting-edge technology to provide network services and increase the coverage of cellular and traditional networks beyond their edge.

An immediate problem detected on this configuration is the use of traditional short-range and energy-expensive technologies, such as Wi-Fi, to address communication between NFVI components and the host on the Nf-Vi interface, also referred as the control plane. To circumvent these limitations and to improve the infrastructure, Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) networks, such as Long-Range (LoRa), are being tested as alternatives for the control plane. Preliminary results show that it is feasible to implement LPWA technologies instead of relying on traditional wireless to significantly reduce power consumption and increase the range by at least tenfold [3]. Both Traditional and LPWA implementations will use prototypes to compare their results on real-world scenarios. We deployed the prototype using as the host, a mini-ITX computer with an Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD and 3 GbE ports. For the NFVI infrastructure, we use two Raspberries (RPi) 3B, one RPi 3B+ and one RPi Zero W.

The expected results of this ongoing work aim to show that it is possible to deliver network coverage expansion on remote areas using low-cost equipment. It is also important to note that the proposed scenario will only consider an initial connection between the NFVI (Nova and Neutron managers) and the VIM and the maintenance of their relation. For further improvement, characterising such data enables the replication of these tests on simulation tools and allow the expansion of use cases. The use of simulators will increase the reliability of the proposed architecture and reinforce the importance of this work.

[1] - ETSI, “Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV); Acceleration Technologies” ETSI GS NFV-IFA 001, Dec 2015.
[2] - 5GPPP. “View on 5G Architecture (Version 2.0)”. 2017.
[3] - Sinha, R. S., Wei, Y., & Hwang, S. H. (2017). A survey on LPWA technology: LoRa and NB-IoT. ICT Express, 2017.