Carrier NFV Infrastructure NEWS

Extending Virtualization to the Digital Home

By Tara Seals July 09, 2015

Network function virtualization (NFV) is the next great wave in network transformation, as carriers and mobile operators transition to cloud-based, open, flexible architectures that can support the kinds of personalized services that consumers demand going forward. But to make full use of NFV’s benefits to deliver advanced entertainment and communications services to the digital home, a similar transformation has to occur on the home gateways and set-top boxes (STBs).

NFV on the Rise

Operators desperately want to deploy services that make the most of ubiquitous mobility and the billions of connected, smart devices expected to come online. They want them to be provisioned in seconds, not days or weeks, creating an on-demand experience for customers and allowing an exponentially faster time to market. And that means, ultimately, increased competitive viability through innovation (and an answer to over-the-top or OTT players), operational optimization and cost-savings.

There’s certainly a groundswell of support: NFV deployments are in the nascent stages for now, and tend to be limited in scope as carriers try out one or two use cases to pave the way for a broader transformation. But research firm IHS conducted in-depth interviews with telecom carriers around the world to determine their plans for evaluating and deploying NFV, and found that 35 percent are planning to deploy NFV in 2015.

In all, almost half (48 percent) of all carriers surveyed by IHS plan to at least evaluate NFV by the end of the year. That puts mainstream deployments on track for the 2016-2017 timeframe, and certainly by 2020.

Virtualization and the Digital Home

But how does this play out in the home? According to Wojtek Makowski, CTO at SoftAtHome, the shift to virtualization will be accompanied by major standardization and open-source initiatives such as OpenFlow, which defines the interface between the control and forwarding layers of an SDN architecture.

“This enables a physical device in the home to be bridged to its virtual counterpart within the network,” he explained in a recent column. “[There is a requirement] to decouple software and hardware within the digital home, namely on the home gateway and the set-top box. The home network is now seen by operators as the termination point of their own networks.”

Image via Shutterstock

This decoupling means that home gateway functions, like content security or user authentication, are carried out via software functions, which can be orchestrated from the network as needed.

“A hardware device can now be replaced by a software component running in a virtual machine that is executed on a commoditized hardware platform in a data center,” Makowski explained. This offers the service agility mentioned above, because resources and functions are delivered on-demand, and are broken out of the legacy, proprietary hardware silos that created so much management overhead and latency in the network.

Extending the virtualization movement into the home requires a software stack that runs on all major chipsets and key manufacturer devices.

“Operator devices such as gateways or set-top boxes are more advanced in this domain,” Makowski said. “Orange and Swisscom have for example already brought this vision into the home network with hardware-independent software platforms…powering their home gateways.”

SoftAtHome is chasing the opportunity with the SoftAtHome Operating Platform (SOP) 7 product, which  enables a software-based roadmap for services with a hardware abstraction layer.

“The major chipsets manufacturers have ambitious plans to support home gateway hardware virtualization, and as their products evolve so too will SOP, enabling an ever greater degree of decoupling thanks to hardware virtualization and software containers,” Makowski said.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

NFVZone Contributor

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