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NFV and Software Telco: Not If, But When

By Erik Linask November 14, 2013

When most people think about technology evolution, they tend to be biased towards mobile devices and applications, and for good reason. The mobile movement has taken the world by storm, with a change in the communications landscape the scale of which has never been seen previously at such a rapid pace. But, that same scale and swiftness has forced an underlying evolution on the carrier ecosystem, which must support the mobile explosion with both wireline and wireless network enhancements. 

In order to accommodate peak capacity requirement without sacrificing service quality, and in order to ensure rapid deployment of new service and applications that will continue to test network stability and resiliency, operators must start moving away from traditional purpose-built hardware to flexible software deployed on standard, virtualizable servers – they must turn themselves into software telcos.

As we near Software Telco Congress in Santa Clara, I took the opportunity to catch up with one of our speakers, Dr. Raj Jain, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Previously, he was also one of the co-founders of Nayna Networks, a next generation telecommunications systems company. Here’s what he had to say about the future of the telco and the migration from hardware- to software-based networks.

What benefits/advantages does a software telco have over a legacy telco?

Software Telco allows orchestration, fluidity, and programmability resulting in CapEx/OpEx savings that have not been seen in the past. With clouds and Internet of Things, telcos have to get ready to be able to handle fast provisioning of thousands and millions of connections to VMs and “Things” that is possible only by the automated orchestration. Software telco will result in a network which is “liquid” so that it can be reshaped (provisioned) quickly to provide virtual overlays in any form or shape required by multiple tenants. Programmability will allow them to enforce very granular policies not possible in today’s semi-manual system.

How does SDN facilitate NFV?

In my view, SDN and NFV are somewhat independent. SDN is about control and data plane separation. NFV is about modularization of software components. Although both lead to somewhat standardized hardware, I think either one can happen even if the other does not happen.

Are there any drawbacks to the software telco revolution?

Being a scientist I believe the future is bright. I cannot think of any drawbacks at this point but if some were to come along, I think there are enough brains working on this and there is enough at stake to overcome those and get us forward.

Can you successfully compete with OTT if you aren’t a software telco?

Again, if a Telco does not apply the latest technology, it will not stay profitable for long. OTT is not as much of an issue as is the need to reduce CapEx/OpEx with the latest technology.

What BSS/OSS changes will be needed in a rapid service deployment software telco world?

The management systems will have to evolve to newer protocols and APIs that are being developed. I think the newer management systems can make use of the cheaper/standard systems, cloud computing, big data analytics rather than old expensive special purpose hardware.

What role does the cloud play in NFV and software telco?

In my view, NFV will help cloud service providers since they may be able to offer better networking facilities inside clouds using NFV and may also benefit by better access for their clients to Clouds if Telcos improve their facilities using NFV. Given this, cloud service providers should play an active role in NFV standards.

How should proprietary network equipment vendors react to the move towards NFV and SDN?

Again, taking a positive view, I think most network vendors are taking a positive role. The days of when some believed in SDN and some didn’t are gone. Now, the question is not whether SDN is good, the question is which SDN APIs and protocols are good. Whenever there is a paradigm shift, those who do not shift are doomed to failure. We have seen this happen in the mobile space. But, I think, when I look at large networking vendors, I see that they are reacting positively and constructively participating in all the forums.

How will the move to software-based telcos facilitate new ecosystems and partnerships?

SDN and NFV will result in modularizing the telco so that different modules can come from different sources. Currently, they are tied to single vendor systems to avoid incompatibility issues. Standard APIs will allow a large number “apps” developed by a large number of developers to compete. There will be plenty of Open Source apps and software in telco.

What will the software telco world look like in three years?

Three years may be too short in the time scales with which Telecommunications industry move or change. You will have to think about it in a longer time scale. In three years, I can see them trialing some pieces of new technology and to gain confidence before getting rid of legacy.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Group Editorial Director

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