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Our latest white paper, "From dumb pipes to smart services. Adding intelligence to the core network with L4–L7 networking devices" talks on how managing traffic at L4-L7 adds intelligence to the network and enables mobile operators to use the resources they have more effectively and improve QoE.

Fixed and mobile networks today serve an ever-growing quantity of data traffic that passes through an increasing number of applications and services. To optimize performance, keep costs under control and monetize the services, operators need a new approach to managing traffic. Traditionally, mobile operators handle growth in traffic volume and complexity by increasing capacity – adding hardware to the core and radio access network – and by enhancing IP routing to direct traffic to the required network elements more efficiently. However, scaling-out to support the expected growth in traffic volume and the expanding range of new services, while maintaining high levels of QoE, is proving to be cost-prohibitive. In the core network, IP routing at the OSI layers 1 to 3 (L1–L3) guarantees fundamental traffic management, but it is running up against its limits. With applications generating data flows with different sets of requirements, routing traffic complexity has increased to a point at which, because it lacks understanding of the protocols and applications, basic IP routing is not sufficient.

By using L4–L7 intelligence to manage traffic, operators can move beyond these limitations of IP routing. While IP routers provide fast routing of packets, in a mobile environment, they lack the intelligence needed to optimize the use of network resources, leading to network inefficiencies. An L4–L7 device in the data and signaling plane understands the higher layers of the network stack, from the protocol to the application layers, and so it can leverage network intelligence for better routing decisions.

This new approach requires operators to shift the focus of traffic management from packets to traffic flows, from basic IP routers to high-layer proxies, and from carrying data to support of services and applications. This change in focus enables them to closely monitor and improve the performance target that matters the most: the QoE, which captures the end-to-end network performance from the subscriber viewpoint. Providing higher QoE and end-to-end user experience is crucial for operators to move from the financial constraints of a dumb-pipe strategy, to offering smart and innovative revenue-generating services.

This paper examines the drivers behind the shift toward traffic management at L4–L7, and how this evolution benefits operators and their subscribers. First, we discuss the implications of moving up in the OSI stack and of using an application-aware approach. We then explore the impact of L4–L7 networking devices, both in the data plane and in the control plane, across five domains: dynamic traffic management, TCP optimization, context-based use of network resources, Diameter signaling traffic optimization, and network/DNS protection.

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