CSPs’ current NFV priorities and what they should be
One thing that is abundantly clear from network functions virtualisation (NFV) projects and pilots is that cost-cutting is the number one priority in the transition to NFV, writes Fergus Wills, the director of product management at Openwave Mobility.
Most pushes towards NFV have come from senior management – and cost reduction is the clear and stated goal. That is completely understandable. NFV was developed by operators for operators as a means to de-couple network functions from expensive proprietary hardware. However, with the laser focus on cost-cutting, operators are pushing aside revenue-generating possibilities. It is like operators are so intent on catching a dollar bill that is flying around in the wind that they don’t notice the five-dollar bills that they are stepping on.
This article lays out some ways that NFV can generate revenues – and not just save costs. The good news is that it will not necessarily require a dramatic re-think in your NFV planning. But rather like an oil tanker that moves a few degrees in a new direction, it can mean reaching a destination that is hundreds of miles away from the original.
The basic thinking can be summarised as: “We’ll implement NFV across the network, then we’ll save hardware costs.” Paradoxically, this linear approach creates a huge array of complex, interconnected problems, which slows down the process. To make changes to network elements, infrastructure and processes simultaneously leaves too great a potential for failure. It is like fitting a new engine while an aircraft is mid-flight. For an industry whose DNA is based on reliability, resilience and high availability, the risks of this approach will likely be be too high to continue in this vein.
However a small number of operators have already seen positive results while appearing to be less immediately ambitious. What they have done is to focus on virtualisation of the core while adding a small number of agility-increasing or revenue-generating services through virtual network functions (VNFs). Their thinking can be summarised as: “We’ll build out small instances of NFV that will improve our agility or deliver new revenue.”
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of VNFs, one for the consumer market and one for the enterprise market that qualify as sensible starting points for VNF rollouts:
If it is not already clear, video quality of service is becoming the primary measurement that subscribers use to discern the quality of your network. Here is some industry context. Today 76% of network traffic is video and that percentage is increasing daily. 80% of that video traffic is encrypted. And according to a recent survey, subscribers say they would consider abandoning their network provider if video is not delivered in less than six seconds.
One example of optimisation delivered as a VNF is that of a Middle Eastern operator that was able to give 30% more of their users the ability to watch DVD quality videos. Video stall times were reduced by 75%, while saving 30% of bandwidth. Deploying VNF components that have the agility to distinguish flows, monitor real time QoE, and optimise the use of RAN resources (through a closed loop feedback) is one very smart place to start.
In terms of the enterprise market, the software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) allows operators to connect enterprise networks over large geographic distances. Enterprise customers have been using cloud technologies in one form or another for years and the expensive fixed circuits and proprietary hardware involved in a WAN currently are something of an anachronism as they demand flexible, open and cloud-based solutions.
SD-WAN technology can apply virtual private networking (VPN) and other security services to existing broadband Internet connections. By provisioning connectivity and services through the cloud, SD-WAN can be faster, more efficient and more flexible. One example of this flexibility could be to scale up connectivity during times of peak demand. For the majority of operators globally, the enterprise opportunity is still relatively untapped. SD-WAN is one very good starting point to realistically address their needs.
Whatever starting point operators choose, it is wise to start small and focus on use cases that improve subscriber experience, increase agility or increase revenues. Although it may not be immediately intuitive, starting small is allowing operators to feel the impact of NFV much faster than the all-or-nothing approach which is already bogging many operators down.