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The State of NFV

By Special Guest
Fergus Wills, Director of Product Management, Openwave Mobility
July 20, 2015

Whether it is 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) or mobile video, it feels like NFV has touched almost every facet of telecoms. With so much promise, yet few real-world deployments, what is the current state of NFV? And what should operators take into consideration when deploying a NFV solution?

First things first, let’s look at why NFV really matters. The most widely accepted explanation and best understood implementation of NFV is the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) savings. By moving many specific network functions from hardware to software, operators are able to purchase cost-efficient off-the-rack servers, rather than expensive hardware. However the process changes in defining and provisioning new services in an agile way are having a significant effect on OPEX. This is now becoming apparent as NFV becomes more understood.

In assessing the CAPEX and OPEX benefits the operator must assess how functions perform from both a throughput and compute perspective in the two main variants of virtualized environments – VMWare and Openstack. The function itself must be considered from an elastic scaling perspective with these key questions:

  • What data (if any) is needed to define the function?
  • Does it require or generate persistent information beyond its own function?
  • How does the function chain together to make a service from an orchestration perspective?
  • How can the operator measure its effectiveness when deployed?

The responses to these questions can dictate the pace and range of transformation to virtualized environments.  

Once understood at a functional and service level, the operator can go beyond its own telco-cloud and remove the hardware entirely.

By renting the necessary servers instead of purchasing, operators can develop a pay-as-you-grow model only using new servers when needed. This can have a significant effect on the cost structure of running the business. Not only does this almost remove the burden of CAPEX, it also allows carriers to scale quickly as new services are added or as their subscriber base grows.

The practicality of running a business in this way must be considered from a technical and commercial perspective as there are operational management, latency, backhaul, data privacy and routing concerns. Other considerations include planning for high availability and failover scenarios for essential services to cope with external compute failings or simply if a service is not available at any given time.

New services

NFV is not only about savings. The right solution can also help increase revenues and improve Quality of Experience (QoE). Both Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and video optimization are two examples of this. VoLTE deployments are already under way and many expect NFV to play a big part in their deployments.

Image via Shutterstock 

Mobile video is a lucrative growth area for mobile operators. According to Cisco, well over 50 percent of data is video and NFV compatible video optimization solutions already exist. There are real-world deployments as operators look to deliver outstanding QoE and reduce churn.

With mobile video traffic set to grow as more users watch videos on their handsets, video optimization solutions will be in high demand. Connecting seamlessly with a NFV platform will make deployments faster, cost effective and future-proof against a rapidly changing environment.

New services do not have to stop with consumers. NFV offers operators the chance to develop and deploy services to a lucrative sector—the enterprise. Some operators have struggled to engage with the enterprise. However, NFV can change that by allowing for easier scalability and flexibility to deploy business-specific services. As the enterprise market has largely been an untapped opportunity for some operators, NFV-based solutions can greatly increase revenues. By providing a flexible and agile framework, new services can be quickly added that deliver real value to businesses and operators alike.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

New deployments are not without the risks and NFV is no different. Interacting with so many parts of a mobile network, NFV installations need to be well planned and carefully deployed. Any issue that causes a problem for the customer experience can have major repercussions for an operator.

The other key area to consider for NFV is the integration with current systems. This does not just mean the core services, but also the backend elements such as data collection and silos. As operators continue to collect data to help them better understand their customers’ needs, NFV will need to work with these existing systems to analyze subscriber data.

The how?

The question with NFV is not if – but how. The time is now right for operators to plan NFV deployments. Taking full advantage of NFV will involve practical challenges on the operations and process side as much as on the management and deployment of the services themselves. The rewards for deploying NFV are transformational for the business. The savings in CAPEX and OPEX alone make it a remarkable vehicle of change for mobile operators. Add to that new levels of scalability and agility and it is clear why virtualization is such a sea change. The key for operators will be finding robust solutions that best fit this new environment. 

About the Author: Fergus Wills is Director of Product Management for Openwave Mobility and has over 16 years of experience in telecoms, primarily on large scale server-side mobile internet data products. Holding a BSc in Information Technology from Queen’s University Belfast, he has been involved in several industry bodies on mobile data.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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