opinion


Can operators really wait for commercial SDN implementation?

cloud network SDN NFV

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this post, Chris Halbard from cloud service providers Synchronoss asks whether it is realistic to expect mobile operators to wait 3-5 years to benefit from full SDN capability.

The benefits of deploying software defined networks (SDN) are well documented and the cause of considerable industry excitement and expectation. The ongoing trend of digitization means operators need to demonstrate more service agility than ever before and radically enhance their response times. SDNs enable operators to accelerate the delivery of services and applications while dramatically reducing IT and infrastructure costs. The ability to reduce CAPEX and OPEX in this way will no doubt result in healthier margins, and, consequently, more profitable operators.

Discussions around SDNs therefore revolve around when and how operators should deploy them, not if. The case for the ‘why’ appears increasingly irrefutable. The commercial reality is that achieving the full potential efficiencies SDNs offer will take 3 to 5 years to come to fruition. The burning question is can operators really afford to wait this long?

The reality of SDNs

Even with successful Proof of Concepts, full SDN implementation is a major undertaking that will take several years as operators execute a phased deployment to navigate the complexity of integration with legacy assets for maximum possible ROI.

However, it is a path operators will take as the advantages SDN delivers in terms of optimising service delivery and shortening time to market make it a necessary migration. The downside is SDN will not create tangible differences in the short-term, and operators need to react to market competition in the interim if they are in a lengthy holding pattern while the SDNs are built. Operators cannot afford to continue to cede more ground to growing competition in terms of new service delivery, customer comfort and mindshare – they need a compelling FMCG experience now, not in five years.

If operators are to stay relevant they must adopt the same approach to service launch and delivery as OTTs – quick to ramp up, activate and share with consumers – launch multiple services at one time and not be afraid of some of them failing. This requires operators to think and act differently and move away from conservative mind-sets that hinder innovation.

Showing progress today using the cloud

Operators are increasingly moving away from the inflexibility of the vendor lock-in that plagues legacy network architecture, towards digital platforms with virtualised network functions. This approach creates an abundance of creativity at the network level. These cloud-enabled cloud platforms can help operators work more closely with multiple vendors and buy some time as they migrate to SDNs. In fact, processing clean data courtesy of cloud service orchestration platforms has the potential to deliver between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of full SDN functionality in a matter of weeks and months, and at a fraction of the cost of a compete technical transformation. These platforms can facilitate radical advancements in new service delivery, time to market and overall service management capability. It achieves this by understanding OSS/BSS complexity and applies process mapping and consolidation to deliver efficiencies.

Converging the silos with service orchestration platforms

A key challenge delaying the deployment of SDNs and other major network transformations is the need for operators to manage and consolidate multiple operational departments and teams. This is becoming increasingly common and complex with the increase of M&A activity going on in the global operator community. Global consolidation continues to be driven by operators wanting to become converged service providers – ultimately diversifying away from pure-play fixed or mobile telecommunications.

There are more and more operators formed of separate companies trading under the same brand identity. This creates issues internally, especially when looking to process complex orders from large enterprise customers. These organisations often require elements processing from all separate entities to service thousands of employees across multiple sites and locations. The reality is that in most cases these operators have no way of receiving such orders, know how to process them efficiently or track progress against each order across the different combining business functions.

This presents a clear use case for service orchestration platforms. By leveraging a series of activation gateways, these platforms can map out a process for core central order entry and provide assurance, billing and customer care services to its enterprise customers throughout. Each customer is given the ability to track all orders via an operator branded portal, supported and hosted in the cloud. For the operator, it is able to fully automate the order process for greater efficiency and consolidate multiple order catalogues centrally to provide one all-encompassing view of all its multiple service offerings.

The net result is that the cost of service delivery for the operator reduces dramatically. It is also able to maintain a disciplined business according to its centralised product catalogue and speed up service delivery by adapting to new service requirements. To build a full SDN-enabled order platform from scratch, that can emulate this functionality would likely cost an operator between $100 and $200 million and take several years to deliver. Service orchestration platforms are able to deliver similar results in just three to six months. The same functionality and benefits can be applied to any operator service and keep them competitive while the SDN-related heavy lifting is completed.

 

Synchronoss Chris Halbard International President Mar2014Chris Halbard serves as EVP and President, International at Synchronoss. He leads the direction and execution of the company’s international business development initiatives and operations. Chris is responsible for driving global growth and international sales initiatives. Prior to joining Synchronoss, Chris was a Senior Advisor to The Boston Consulting Group serving clients within the technology, media and telecommunications industries. Previously, he was the COO and CFO of the Global Services division of British Telecom plc (BT). Prior to British Telecom, Chris held a number of senior positions at Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Arthur Andersen & Co.

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