NFV, SDN and cloud deployments: leading by example

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Carriers are taking different tracks in NFV, SDN and cloud deployments

The current move by telecom operators towards virtualization platforms has broken into two groups: those that are moving aggressively and those that are watching those move aggressively.

“It’s sort of like the private jet market,” noted Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR. “You have your haves and your have nots.”

Gillott noted in the U.S., the current “haves” are AT&T and Verizon Communications, while the “have nots” include just about everyone else.

“For AT&T and Verizon, it’s pretty good, as well as for some of the bigger European operators,” Gillott said. “For smaller carriers and smaller European guys, it’s still hard to justify the cost. If you are a small carrier with an LTE network and everything is working pretty smoothly, why would you start ripping things out?”

Gillott does admit that for those that can afford the move towards virtualization, the reason to start replacing legacy equipment is to save money down the road, but that becomes a difficult situation for smaller carriers in having to “spend to save.”

“There is still no definitive way of gauging actual savings,” Gillott added. “It’s not like buying spectrum where you can go buy spectrum and will increase capacity by ‘x’ percent and then be able to support ‘x’ more subscribers. It’s not as clear cut as that.”

But, from the lot of those that can, AT&T is often referenced as the gold standard among domestic carriers as well as one of the global leaders in terms of its dedication towards virtualization. AT&T in late 2014 announced plans to control 75% of its network resources using virtualization technologies by 2020, and that at the end of 2015 the carrier had reached 5.7% control, which was ahead of its 5% target.

John Donovan, SEVP for AT&T Technology and Operations, earlier this year said the company’s deployment of its AT&T Integrated Cloud nodes hit 74 nodes at the end of last year, ahead of its target of 69 nodes deployed. These include international deployments, which Donovan said allow for better alignment with local regulations and improve security.

In surpassing its 2015 goal, AT&T last year bolstered its Network on Demand platform, which targets enterprise customers with the ability to significantly speed up the deployment and provisioning of network services.

“From a customer adoption standpoint, Network on Demand is the fastest growing thing we’ve seen – we introduced the platform in mid-2014 and now have more than 500 business customers using it,” said Margaret Chiosi, distinguished network architect at AT&T Labs.

More importantly for its mobile telecom operations, Chiosi said AT&T was serving 14 million wireless customers on its virtualized network, with plan to “migrate millions more this year.”

While perhaps a bit behind in terms of perception, Verizon Communications has also quickly jumped on the software bandwagon. Verizon last year announced SDN plans with five vendors: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Juniper Networks and Nokia Networks. As part of the announcement, Verizon said it had been working on the move toward virtualized platforms over the past several years, including the creation of live lab environments in San Jose, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Waltham, Mass., and claims to have commercial data center environments on both coasts.

The carrier later in the year launched a software-defined WAN service using Cisco’s Intelligent WAN technology and targeting enterprise customers. Verizon said the platform supports a better user experience by integrated application optimization designed for faster application performance; enabling secure and certified routing platforms; the use of intelligent path control to fully utilize MPLS and the Internet to lower operational costs; and can provision new sites and services faster with a “hybrid WAN to support key business initiatives.”

Earlier this year, Verizon joined fellow carriers AT&T, China Unicom, NTT Communications and SK Telecom as part of the Open Network Lab’s Open Network Operating System project.

Among wireless carriers, analysts noted those that are remaining on the sideline include T-Mobile US, Sprint and dozens of regional carriers. It’s not that these carriers aren’t interested in migrating their networks over to a virtualization architecture, it’s just that for various reasons they are not ready to make the move.

“T-Mobile is a great example of what’s happening,” started Gillott. “Here’s a carrier that gets money and spectrum from AT&T following a failed acquisition, which they have leveraged very well. They built themselves a great network and were on the backside of the LTE builds,” which allowed them to get better pricing on equipment.

“Let Verizon and AT&T work out the basics on this and them come in when everything is cheaper,” Gillott added. “It might make sense timing wise to do this when they finally move towards 5G, and by then everything will be known in terms of what makes sense financially. You are never going to outspend AT&T and Verizon, so you have to be smart in how you proceed with new technology.”

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Photo copyright: benchart / 123RF Stock Photo

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Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
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Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”