Software Defined Networks (SDN) for telecom networks are the next big thing and MWC was not short of announcements and new marketing campaigns from big vendors. It comes at the right time too, when LTE and data awareness now require greater network flexibility, scalability and cost performance. The difference with earlier technologies is that IT vendors are now entering the telecoms market since SDN (or virtualization) is a concept widely used in the IT market.
The other big infrastructure vendors – namely Alcatel Lucent, NSN and ZTE – did not announce a thorough telco SDN strategy, but it is very likely that they will do so during the first half 2013 to take advantage of the current industry momentum. Another important change is that IT vendors are entering the stronghold of infrastructure companies and can potentially cannibalize the established market of Ericsson and Huawei. Since the promise of SDN is specialized software running on commoditized hardware, infrastructure vendors have a lot to lose if IT vendors can implement network components in software. However, mobile operators are still expected to partner with large vendors to some extent for their whole network, rather than contract a variety of smaller specialists. But the promise of SDN and the entry of IT principles in the telco domain may change this in the long term.
A selection of key vendor announcements is presented below:
Ericsson announced its SDN strategy in 2012 and reinforced its messaging during MWC. The Ericsson strategy consists of three key parts: Integrated network control, Orchestrated Network and Cloud management and Service Exposure. The approach unifies control across legacy and new networks while the vendor builds on the superiority of its existing equipment to provide advanced QoE for end users.
Huawei has made big announcements about their SDN strategy which is titled Softcom. The new strategy is based on four pillars: a form of OpenFlow (separation of control and data plane for network switching), NFV (implementation of network components in software), data centre and service exposure. Huawei expects that IP-RAN and cloud EPC will be the first components to benefit from SDN and virtualization.
NEC and Telefonica
NEC has partnered with Telefonica for a migration scenario study to virtualize edge IP network elements which will be portable between different hardware platforms. Although this is strictly a lab trial and demonstration, it showcases that SDN may allow new companies to enter the competitive Western European market.
Juniper Networks announced the virtualization of EPC components through software in its JunosV App engine, the first IT vendor to announce an implementation of what NFV is attempting to standardize. Although Juniper – and similar IT vendors – would traditionally not be able to displace telecom infrastructure vendors, strength in the IT domain and experience with computer networking provides them with a much better position.
Many smaller vendors also made announcements regarding their SDN strategies, some aiming to virtualize existing product lines for higher efficiency, others attempting to enter new areas. For example, F5 networks and Tekelec announced the virtualization of signalling controllers while Amdocs announced the implementation of billing and PCRF equipment in virtualized environments too. The other big vendors (Alcatel Lucent, Cisco, Samsung and ZTE) are expected to announce telco SDN strategies soon since all can build on existing expertise and equipment to enable virtualization.
SDN Vendor activities at MWC imply that operators want to accelerate the evolution and adoption of virtualized environments, perhaps before the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) forum standardizes the telco SDN concept. Moreover, Tier-1 initiatives add more functionality on top of NFV, including service exposure, data centres and unified network control. Although the industry has yet to decide about telco SDN, it’s clear that the big vendors are placing all bets on these new concepts.