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Mobile network operators, with decreasing revenue but high network performance requirements, are standing at a crossroads. Investing in 3GPP defined highly functional mobile networks and the consequent maintenance to sustain the market-driven network service quality standard results in high total cost of ownership unseen in fixed operators. Revenue reduction will make it significantly difficult to fund such TCO in the future. In this light, sharing networks is a viable solution to reduce network expenditure, as can also be seen from present trends. However, current networking sharing solutions, although reducing TCO, come with limitations in network management flexibility, and standalone decision making in network expansion and service introduction. Virtualization-based isolation techniques have the potential of enabling network sharing along with management flexibility and independence among the sharing entities. However, virtualization brings added complexity to the overall network management structure. In this article, we propose a next mobile network architecture, where the physical network infrastructure is shared by multiple entities, but the management and control of the physical infrastructure, virtual network creation and maintenance, and the usage of the virtual networks are decoupled from each other to reduce management complexity in each segment. In addition, we address the technical as well as business perspectives of the proposed architecture, discuss open issues, and provide research directions to realize such a flexible value-added commercial network for the future.
Date of Publication: Oct. 2011