We’re getting closer to the NFV promised land

Talking with Red Hat and Netscout at MWC 2018 reveals that NFV seems to be finally getting there, and not a moment too soon.

From Red Hat EMEA we met Timo Jokiaho, Principal Technologist for Telco (right, above), and Nik Stankau, Business Development Director for Telco (left). Red Hat makes its money from fine-tuning open source software to make it commercial-grade, so it’s in a good position to comment on the state of the software being developed to make everything work – the plumbing if you like – as we move into the 5G era.

They explained that, within Europe at least, France is setting the pace when it comes to NFV development – especially Orange and SFR. Apparently the arrive of Free Mobile a few years ago, and the resulting trashing of margins, motivated the incumbent operators to look harder for efficiencies and one source of those is expected to be NFV.

The flexibility, scalability and ability to innovate that is promised by NFV will be a big part of this. One more specific subset will be Media Function Virtualization, which will offer flexibility when it comes to the use of resources for video provision. This seems to be a refinement of the network slicing concept that will allow dynamic allocation of network resources at times of peak video usage.

As you might expect from Red Hat, they think a big reason for the progress they observe is the non-proprietary approach that is facilitated by open source. Operators are increasingly taking control of the process away from traditional vendors, especially when it comes to orchestration. They also noted that containers are set to be a major factor in the next phase of development of the telecoms plumbing.

Over at Netscout we met Richard Kenedi, President of the New Markets Business Unit, and Petrit Nahi, Chief RAN Scientist. They explained that business assurance specialist Netscout has been accelerating in the telco direction with the help of acquisitions such as Arbor Networks. Thanks to its network and service assurance work Netscout feels in a good position to comment on the state of the network.

They confirmed that NFV is definitely getting there and that the increased focus we’re seeing as 5G gets nearer is forcing practical action upon the industry. Initially CSPs are likely to focus a lot on capacity, and fixed-wireless access seems to be getting a lot more traction thanks to good R&D on millimetre-wave propagation. Meanwhile the low-latency part of the 5G equation is leading to a lot of talk about mobile-edge computing.

The third pillar is IoT and Netscout confirmed our previous finding that it’s all about NB-IoT now. They confirmed that there is a lot of CSP activity around NB-IoT and that the activity is largely moving from B2C to B2B implementations and business models. They also said network slicing will be a critical factor in taking IoT to the next level. Lastly they confirmed the vibe we got from a lot of other people at the show that the overall market will bottom-out this year and then start to pick up.

As with so much else at MWC 2018 the perspective from a couple of companies involved in the plumbing of the network was a sense of ramping and practical measures being taken in preparation for 5G in 2019 and beyond. Which is just as well as, unless we get that stuff right, all the clever New Radio in the world won’t amount to much.

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  • Network Virtualization & SDN Americas

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