Signalling storms could cost SA operators thousands an hour

LTE network operators could stand to lose up to US$60,000 an hour in revenue because they are more prone to signalling storms, according to 4G and Diameter experts F5 Traffix Systems.

F5 Traffix say that this is a result of the increased flexibility of LTE networks.

While the concept of signalling storms is not new, the phenomenon is up for discussion once again in light of South Africa’s transfer to LTE networks. With Vodacom having launched the country’s first commercial LTE network at the start of October, and rivals Cell-C and MTN poised to roll-out similar services by the end of the year, worries are rife that a network crash caused by the leap in signal numbers may be imminent.

These worries could be well-founded, as 4G and diameter expert Asaf Weisbrot, EMEA Sales Director of F5 Traffix explains.

“Signalling storms existed prior to LTE networks… However, LTE networks are based on Diameter protocol, which is more flexible than legacy protocols such as SS7. The downside of this flexibility is that the protocol and its behaviour is more open to interpretation by vendors and can make the network more prone to signalling storms.”

Weisbrot says that South Africa and its infrastructure is no different than other networks in this context. It would seem that the country may well face such a storm if proper precautions are not put in place by operators.

In the event that a signalling storm does occur following the full commercial launch by South Africa’s operators of LTE networks, effects could include specific subscribers being experiencing service outages, or indeed a complete set of service outages; most dramatically, the whole network could be caused to collapse, explains Weisbrot.

It is imperative that operators put in place diameter solutions in order to prevent signal overload, and to ensure good network signal management. Diameter solutions also help prevent security threats – which may be more prevalent on LTE networks given that LTE is IP-based, Weisbrot advises.

He adds that if diameter solutions are put in place in advance of any surge in signalling and thoroughly tested through simulation processes, any subsequent signalling storm is unlikely to cause lasting damage to the network. 

However, if appropriate solutions are not put in place, the consequences could be dire for operators who stand potentially to suffer substantial damage. 

“Without thought to a Diameter signalling solution, in the event a full network outage occurs that often leads to customer churn, the costs are extremely high,” Weisbrot says. “ In our discussions with operators, we’ve heard numbers of $40K – $60K an hour of lost revenues.”

With the full roll-out of commercial LTE services nigh – although Vodacom has admitted the lack of LTE-enabled handsets on the market may hinder large take-up of the 4G service –operators are hopefully focusing on putting the right preparations in place, otherwise South African users may experience outages and limited services; while operators would be playing a business-threatening game to risk damage at such high costs.

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