Considering how fundamental the changes are, software-defined networks and network functions virtualization (SDN and NFV) are evolving quickly.
The basic facts suggest a slow transition. The basic concepts represent a near-total reimagining of the way in which networks are configured. These new approaches must be superimposed onto networks for which they were not designed. A goal of SDN and NFV is to eliminate the need for expensive equipment. Network owners will not rip out what is already deployed until it is fully depreciated, however. This complicates matters.
Sandra Rivera, the vice president and general manager for Intel’s Platform Services Group, told Fierce Wireless that virtualized rollouts became common in 2016. This year, she is quoted as saying, rollouts of SDN and NFV will happen at a “much, much higher rate” at telcos of all sizes.
Perhaps one of the reasons that SDN and NFV are moving so quickly is that their main selling points are compelling. They enable the shifting of functionality, bandwidth allocations and network management parameters on a dime. These are valuable capabilities in their own right. They are also important precursors to the even bigger thing that comes next:
All of that is foundational to 5G, with 5G acting as an accelerant for a lot of the service providers that want to move faster. If a service provider is trying to support the broad range of use cases that will be brought forward with 5G, like the ultra-low latency required for autonomous cars or remote telesurgery all the way to the low data rate required for the massive number of sensors in a smart city—all of that requires a great deal of agility.
Another reason that the movement is gathering steam is that payoff is quick. AT&T CFO John Stephens told attendees of the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit that the company virtualized 34 percent of its network last year and expects to hit its goal of 55 percent by the end of 2017. Stephens essentially said that the savings from virtualized parts of the network are financing the ongoing transition. The company has said that it will virtualize 75 percent of its network by 2020, which projects to operational savings of as much as 50 percent.
The speed with which SDN and NFV is edging into the telecom landscape doesn’t mean that there are not significant challenges. Pipeline suggests that one of these will be supporting the hybrid networks that will dominate while the technology transitions. The story goes into great depths on the specifics of hybrid operational support system (OSS). The key issues are the need for cross-domain orchestration, integrating business support systems (BSS) and OSSes with emerging SDN and NFV platforms, and the maturation of NFV and SDN standards.
SDN and NFV are dramatic technologies that modernize a very basic element of the network. Waiting weeks to make basic changes – and requiring the dispatch of trucks to do so – becomes a thing of the past. Capital costs are reduced in the bargain. The sales pitch is strong, and the transition figures to hit high gear this year.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.