As Communications Service Providers (CSPs) worldwide scale up the deployments of their 5G networks, they face strong pressure to optimize their Return on Investment (RoI), given the massive expenses they already incurred to acquire spectrum as well as the ongoing costs of infrastructure rollouts.
At Mobile World Congress recently, I was privileged to be invited to speak on a panel debating NFV. The topic of the panel discussion was “NFV: a re-examination” and included participants from Telefonica, InterDigital Europe, Cisco, Spirent and Red Hat. It was a far reaching discussion where there was a general agreement that much had been achieved, but that much remained to be achieved.
Yet, there was also agreement on a couple of other points, which I believe are significant and are shaping our thinking at Napatech right now. The first is that we have reached a watershed in NFV where some major stumbling blocks are being overcome. The second is that it is important that progress is made in NFV and associated technologies. Carriers, and indeed the entire Telecom industry, need to adapt quickly to become relevant not just in the telecom industry, but also in the cloud industry to which, like it or not, we all now belong!
Let’s look at the first point. The recent agreements on frameworks like the MEF Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) framework might seem like yet-another-framework, but are significant in addressing one of the major challenges in realizing carrier dreams of future prosperity. That is the ability to automate service delivery and enable greater agility in responding to changing market demands. I don’t know if everyone really appreciates how much of a revolution this is for carrier organizations.
While, in the past, significant efforts have been made in establishing end-to-end management frameworks based on TMForum recommendations, these OSS/BSS solutions were largely static and reactive. The vast majority of processes were and still are manual in nature taking a lot of resources and time to complete. For a utility with a monopoly position on provision of a scarce resource, this approach works fine, as consumers have no other choice. But in the new cloud era where competition need not necessarily come from like-minded competing carriers, but nimble cloud-native companies, consumers have choices and will embrace alternatives, as we have seen happen with voice and messaging services.
Therefore, enabling service agility and the ability to respond to customer needs faster is absolutely essential, not just for carriers, but for any company in the cloud era. That is why solutions, which enable automation and support service agility are critical to carrier success, if not survival. The MEF LSO and orchestration solutions like OpenMANO and the recently formed ONAP (which is the merger of AT&T’s ECOMP with Open-O) are timely and important contributions that should spur progress in NFV and associated technologies.
Our contribution to the discussion is the need for an NFV infrastructure that itself is ready for automation. We would claim that current infrastructures are not ready for automation. Either they fail to provide the necessary performance and associated cost efficiencies required or they achieve performance by making automation more difficult. At Napatech, we believe that we have found solutions that can enable full throughput at low CPU core consumption, without compromising virtual function mobility that provides the perfect platform for agile NFV infrastructure. In addition, the FPGA-based solutions that we provide can also be used to accelerate CPU-intensive functions like compression, decryption and transcoding while at the same time providing insight into virtual data traffic without CPU core penalties. This enables better management and security of NFV infrastructure as well as enabling continuous performance and cost optimization. For more information on these solutions see “How to enable automated NFV infrastructure”.
The availability of orchestration frameworks and solutions enabling service agility as well as solutions supporting this agility with automated NFV infrastructure could not come at a better time for carriers. Investment in 5G deployments are progressing despite the lack of standards as carriers prepare for the IoT wave set to engulf us. SDN and NFV are cornerstones of current 5G architecture designs and will be essential in meeting the lofty ambitions of 5G architects.
But, the real drive for investment must surely be that carriers need to transform their organizations and operations from utility providers to cloud service providers. In my final statement in the panel discussion, I made the point that in a few years, there might not even be a “telecom” industry, but that we would all be working in the cloud industry. I believe that the carriers who drafted the 2012 whitepaper launching NFV came to that realization a long time ago. The challenge for them and the rest of the current telecom industry is in convincing the rest of the telecom industry on the need for this painful change and that we can no longer continue with business as usual.
In this regard, 5G and IoT are being used as the catalysts for transformation and not the goal. The deployment of SDN and NFV and the establishment of the surrounding principles, frameworks and processes enabling service agility and NFV infrastructure automation are essential to implementing this transformation.
Make no mistake; there is no turning back. There is no alternative other than seeing existing cloud service providers or new cloud-native entrants engulf what remains of the telecom industry. Those who wish to survive and strive in this new reality have the means and the ability to do this today, but the billion dollar question is; do they have the conviction?