Cisco Advances Mobile Packet Core with ASR 5500

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By 2016, Cisco forecasts that 61 percent of all global Internet traffic will be mobile. In order to help facilitate the wireless shift new hardware is likely needed and that’s where the ASR 5500 platform comes into play.

ASR 5500 based on Starent tech

Today Cisco announced the ASR 5500, the first new Cisco platform based on technology that Cisco got with its acquisition of Starent for $2.9 billion in 2009. Following that acquisition Cisco rebranded Starent’s mobile gateway as the ASR500 in early 2010.

With the new ASR 5500, Cisco is providing a 10x improvement in performance and is targeting the platform to form the backbone of a service providers’ elastic mobile packet core for wireless traffic.

Murali Nemani, director of Service Provider Mobility at Cisco explained to Enterprise Networking that the ASR 5000 family of routers is the post office that routes all the mobile traffic through the network.

Kelly Ahuja, senior vice president and general manager in the Mobility Internet Technology Group at Cisco noted that the performance characteristics of the ASR 5500 span multiple areas. In the traditional router world, typically the key dimension is throughput. In contrast, when it comes to mobile, the challenges involve scaling to meet the number of user sessions and transactions per second — as well as throughput.

“Throughput is driven by Shannon’s Law, which is bits per hertz,” Ahuja said. “So you can take all the traffic in a mobile network and aggregate down into smaller chunks, but the bigger thing is the sessions.”

Preserving state across sessions and services are particular challenges of mobility that bandwidth alone does not address.

“So what we’ve done is build both the hardware and software infrastructure to scale,” Ahuja said. “What that means is we can take a combination of silicon and memory and blend it together in a combination that is optimized to meet the needs of today and the future.”

The ASR 5500 has a bigger network processing unit (NPU) and bigger CPUs put into a modular system that enables customers to scale the chassis and then virtualize the services.

From a high-availability and resiliency perspective, the ASR5500 platform has inter-chassis stateful redundancy.

“You can take two ASR 5500s and you can have millions of sessions running on them in a particular location running over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi,” Ahuja explained. “If something goes wrong, we will switch those sessions all across to the other system that could be in a different location and the state will be maintained.”

ASR5000 will still have a place on the network

As was the case with the ASR 5000, the ASR 5500 is powered by Starent’s StarOS. While the ASR 5500 offers more power, Ahuja expects that the ASR 5000 will still have a place I the network for years to come.

“It’s a portfolio of products and the idea is to have a small, medium and large product,” Ahuja said. “What we’ve got is the ability to address the varying loads that are put in the network.”

For every operator, Cisco does a network dimensioning exercise where they attempt to determine which platform is the right fit. Depending on scale, a customer could choose the ASR 5000, the ASR 5500 or both.

“For existing customers that have the ASR5000, they might use the ASR5500 for packet data network gateway,” Ahuja said. “The same customer then might keep the ASR5000 for use as a small cell or as a Wi-Fi termination point.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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