Chris Haddock, Head of Marketing at OpenCloud believes that NFV is the future for operators, especially in markets where pre-existing wired infrastructure may not exist........
Bangalore, October 23 2016: Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) is set to become the keystone to mobile operators’ network architecture over the coming years. This is because it brings greater efficiency to the way they are built and work, enabling them to optimise the capacity of their networks at crucial times. NFV also encourages a DevOps approach to new service development, enabling operators to adapt their services continuously to work with their customers’ demands and needs.
A key concept of NFV is that it can be used to virtualise an operator’s individual network functions, with the potential to eventually virtualise the entire network. Traditionally, operators have looked to equipment vendors to implement ‘network appliances’ – inflexible and dedicated hardware that works to one purpose and function, and to one level of capacity. The hardware is hard, or often impossible to change without the help and cost of the technology vendor. Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) change this dynamic, enabling the operator to take back control of its network functions in a cloud-based environment that is cheaper and inherently far more flexible to manage.
Now is an excellent time for operators to start introducing NFV, coinciding with the move to an all-IP communications model, and the introduction of the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), required to support voice and video traffic on the LTE network. During this evolution of their networks, new network functions for their LTE services are needed, and VNFs provide them with a method to cost effectively and rapidly introduce them.
As operators begin to virtualise their network functions, the ability to scale the capacity of their networks as needed has become one of the greatest assets of NFV. They no longer need to work to a business model of purchasing enough capacity for the busiest peak of the year, often at extremely high cost. With VNFs, operators host the network function in a data centre, and so extra capacity that may be needed can be scaled up with ease when needed for peaks of activity, or as the operators migrate their subscribers to the IMS. What does this mean for operators? Greatly reduced capex and opex, combined with far greater efficiencies in running their networks.
As an example, if an operator has a network that spans multiple time zones, the ability to scale capacity according to need is incredibly useful. Typically, capacity lies unused during the night in one region and then can be used when peak usage takes place in another. With VNFs, operators no longer need to buy capacity upfront and have it sit there unused. They can scale up their needs when the different time zones need it.
Time to innovate
Although many benefits of NFV are to do with driving operational efficiency through the deployment of VNFs, it can also enable operators to rapidly and cost effectively create new test network environments and innovate at a rate seen more in the web-based communications sector. Now that mobile operators are competing for market share with web-based players, they need to look at how they can stay competitive in an increasingly crowded market. They can do this through innovation of new services. The need to bring a DevOps approach to service development and a philosophy of continuous improvement is now essential, as these web-based players are continuously offering new and incremental updates to their service.
However to create or improve a service, operators no longer have the luxury of time to buy new equipment, test it on a separate pre-production network, and then use a lengthy launching process. Fortunately, NFV enables operators to create multiple cloud-based replica test networks, eliminating the traditional test bottleneck. This means that services can be developed and tested at the same time, thereby allowing a far greater number and frequency of innovation. Operators can then adapt much quicker to customer needs, keeping them happier and reducing churn, and even target new customer segments to create and drive new revenues.
However, the benefits of NFV can only be realised if operators select the right solutions. NFV standards are still in a state of flux, and operators need to be careful that they don’t inadvertently lock themselves into single closed environments. The nature of NFV is that it is an open and flexible solution to the rigidity that existing standardisation in telecoms creates. Pre-standardisation could once again lock operators in with big virtualised blocks of software, which may only work with components from the same supplier. Such solutions mean that operators may not have the flexibility to make constant changes to their networks, limiting their ability to differentiate themselves from the competition and watering down the benefits that virtualisation affords them. Instead, operators need to ensure that they choose open solutions that offer flexibility to constantly evolve their networks, picking and choosing the most suitable building blocks for their own needs.
NFV can enable operators to run their networks more efficiently, leaving more time for service innovation, which will lead to happier subscribers and an overall better quality network. But this can only be achieved through the selection of open NFV solutions, and a new agile business attitude towards adaptation and innovation, with the customer at the heart of it all.
Cambridge, UK-headquartered OpenCloud's open, extendable products transform the real-time communications service-layer to enable economically-sustainable evolution of GSM, IMS and VoLTE services.