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Rearchitecting a Global Connected-Car Network

Extending a German automaker’s network edge to Korea eliminated a long round trip for its car data.

Headshot of Petrina Steele
Petrina SteeleBusiness Development Senior Director
Headshot of Marco Zacchello
Marco ZacchelloGlobal Principal
Rearchitecting a Global Connected-Car Network

If you read analyst reports on how connected car technology is going to progress over the next couple of decades, the timeline looks something like the following: First, over the next five years or so, we’ll see only modest improvements, like better maps, assisted driving and music streaming directly to the car (as opposed to a phone). Then, within another five years, we’ll be able to buy cars that can drive themselves—but only in certain areas with well-defined perimeters—and stream HD video games. Finally, sometime within the next decade, we’ll start seeing cars on the market that can drive themselves anywhere, have windshield AR overlays that display all sorts of useful information and have other advanced features; for example, entertaining kids in the back seat by turning their windows into screens.

There is still a lot of innovation and regulatory work to be done before any of those more advanced use cases become a reality. But even the less advanced ones are facing obstacles on the infrastructure side of things today that, while appearing basic, are far from being trivial to resolve. One major problem area is the way cellular carriers’ existing networks are architected. A recent deployment by one of our partners demonstrates an interesting use case for solving this issue using edge infrastructure capabilities Equinix can enable.

A Long Round Trip to the Internet

The partner, Travelping, is a German company that helps enterprises design and operate globally deployed networks. One of Travelping’s customers, a global telco that’s also based in Germany, had a problem. A large German automaker needed wireless connectivity for cars it sold in more than 40 countries. While the telco operates globally, providing this connectivity at acceptable latency and complying with data residency and sovereignty issues in all those countries wasn’t as straightforward as it may seem. 

We’ll use Korea, where the rollout started, to illustrate the issues they were facing. The automaker needed the cars it sold in that market to connect to its local cloud data center. While the cloud provider had data centers all over the world, it was important that the cars connect specifically to the one in Korea—to comply with local data sovereignty requirements, get content licensed for streaming in Korea, provide in-car WiFi, update car software and data, collect car telemetry data and perform remote maintenance tasks, such as resetting sensors. Of course, the link between a car and the data center also had to have sufficiently low latency. But the carrier’s network, while global, was not set up to offer a low-enough latency or meet all the data localization requirements.

The cars would get wireless connectivity using the Radio Access Network of a Korean mobile operator , with whom the German network operator had a roaming agreement. In a 4G LTE network, a wireless device (a phone, a car, etc.) gets connected through a piece of networking equipment called Service Gateway. Then, another type of gateway, a Packet Data Network Gateway, takes it from the LTE network and onto an IP network. The handoff between the two types of network is enabled by a roaming data interface (S8). The PDN Gateway in this case was in Germany, and to get to the cloud data center in Korea, car data had to first travel from Korea to Germany so that it could get onto the carrier’s IP network. (In the network engineering world this is often referred to as “tromboning,” either because the back-and-forth route the traffic makes resembles the shape of the brass instrument’s slide, or because of the slide’s back-and-forth motion.) The distance, one way, is about 8,500 km, adding 274 milliseconds of latency. Needless to say, that’s too long of a round trip!

Simply Move the Edge!

Travelping’s solution was to deploy the PDN Gateway functionality virtually in an Equinix data center in Korea using Equinix Metal, the bare metal cloud service that provides automated dedicated compute infrastructure on demand globally. The virtual gateway does what the network operator’s physical PDN Gateway would otherwise do but without car data making a round trip halfway around the world first. The S8 handoff between the Korean operator’s LTE network and the German operator’s IP network is done over a private link using Equinix Fabric (Equinix’s software-defined interconnection platform) and a physical cross connect between Travelping’s Metal servers and the Korean operator’s network Point of Presence—in the same data center. While Travelping doesn’t use Fabric for connectivity to the car company’s cloud provider in Korea today, it plans to do so in the future. The solution uses Equinix Metal’s local IP space and transport in Korea, ensuring that the carmaker’s data traffic doesn’t leave the country and satisfying the IP localization requirements, all while enabling the cars to be shipped with the same German telco’s SIM cards and, according to Travelping, roundtrip network latency of less than 20 ms! 

Travelping’s cloud native, containerized solution is called Cloud Enabled Network Service Operations, or CENNSO. In addition to the Virtual Packet Gateway it includes Session Management Function and User Plane Function, common LTE functionality necessary for managing user data sessions and routing data between mobile devices and the internet. CENNSO also includes Travelping’s MQTT Gateway, a message queue-based service, which essentially organizes the telemetry data cars emit in the way that automakers can use it.

Time to Market

This story encapsulates the situation many global network providers have been operating in for years. While their businesses are global, they operate in a fragmented manner because of regulatory and architectural constraints. 

The latter will become less of a barrier eventually, when 5G Standalone (5G SA) network infrastructure is widely deployed. The 5G networks that have been deployed to date rely predominantly on 5G Non-Standalone (5G NSA) technology, which provides 5G wireless connectivity using much of the previously existing 4G network infrastructure. One of the key differences between 5G SA and 5G NSA is that in networks of the former type traffic from a radio network gets onto the internet at the 5G network edge, while a 5G NSA network backhauls RAN traffic to the network core first, just like it does in 4G networks.

In our use case, had there been a widely deployed 5G SA network in Korea, the car traffic would have a way to get onto the German carrier’s IP network without leaving the country or requiring the workaround enabled by Travelping. But the automaker wants to sell connected cars in the Korean market now, not some uncertain number of years into the future. Its network provider could potentially build a physical POP in Korea, but that is a very expensive and lengthy project to take on for a single customer. With Travelping’s CENNSO, Equinix Metal and Equinix Fabric, the network operator can make the carmaker’s life easier by giving it a single carrier agreement for a global service. In turn, the carmaker can delight its Korean customers with all the benefits connected-car technology offers today.

Published on

28 June 2023
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