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SDN, NFV Gains Traction for Small Cell Backhaul

By Gary Kim October 16, 2014

To the extent that software defined networking and network functions virtualization refer to the same thing (SDN tends to be term of art for data center personnel, NFV tends to be the term of art used by a growing number of service providers), a new study by Infonetics Research suggests 29 percent of respondents already have plans to deploy SDN or NFV solutions for mobile backhaul networks, to gain flexibility and achieve cost savings.

Respondents suggest they might shift as much as 20 percent of backhaul traffic from the macrocell network to small cells of some type by 2018. And it is those new network elements where one might expect SDN or NFV deployments to happen, as adoption will not require displacing existing network elements or systems.

If past experience provides any guidance, the apparent number of early adopters will be fewer than expected, in the near term, and certainly will represent smaller volumes of deployment than the early reporting suggests.

In the early going, a firm reporting it has definite plans to deploy SDN or NFV might well be doing so only in a limited part of the network. And experience suggests most such deployments happen slower than expected, not faster, for any number of reasons.

On the other hand, in the mobile backhaul market, increasingly complex because of the mix of macrocells, small cells, distributed antenna systems (DASs), remote radio heads (RRHs), and WiFi sites, the ability to virtualize functions has direct implications for cost, to say nothing of network management.

“The backhaul network behind all this is becoming increasingly complex,” said Richard Webb, Infonetics Research directing analyst.

When asked if or when they will introduce software-defined networking (SDN) into the backhaul network, 63 percent say they are evaluating it as a possibility with no set timeframe.

Among those surveyed, Ethernet on fiber will be the most-used technology for macrocell backhaul connections by 2016, followed by Ethernet-only microwave.

Downstream bandwidth is the top-ranked service-level agreement (SLA) metric, rated very important by 92 percent of operators surveyed, followed by jitter, latency, and upstream bandwidth.

Survey respondents not only seek vendors with strong macrocell backhaul product portfolios, but partners who can also support their strategies for holistic, flexible future-proofed networks.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Editor

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