By Fergus Wills, Director of Product Management at Openwave Mobility

The core goals of providing flexible service infrastructure and reduced costs, combined with a wider industry adoption of these principles, have made Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN), some of the hottest topics in telecoms.

The original aim of NFV was to leverage standard hardware and virtualisation technology across applications to allow remote and dynamic provisioning and configuration of networks. This will enable the cost reduction of hardware and allow for faster, more flexible operations.

Recently, ETSI agreed on the first eight use cases for NFV. These use cases include the virtualisation of the mobile core network, enterprise, home environment, Content Delivery Networks (CDN) and service chains, as well as infrastructure and base stations.

The result of this standardisation is that vendors will need to work out how to support NFV as more operators begin to incorporate it into their strategies, as they will require solutions that are compliant with the new standards. The standards drive the cost savings for commodity hardware, enabling a greater degree of utilisation of hardware as it re-purposes itself on-demand.

The benefit of NFV is that it allows operators to be truly elastic when it comes to dynamically adding more resources such as CPU, memory and storage to an application. It also enables resource orchestration across a whole suite of applications, which will result in the provisioning of lead times to be dramatically reduced – depending on the level of automation of network services.

The next step for NFV will be for OEMs to utilise it to provide new business opportunities for mobile data service providers. The practical rollout of multi-vendor NFV capable solutions enables the next step of dynamic network management.

The value proposition is more than reducing costs with COTS hardware and greater utilisation – it becomes a resource tool to dynamically apply services at the point of demand.  

One of the main issues with elasticity is conflict for resource prioritisation. Applications can end up competing for the same resources, which in turn could have detrimental effects on the network as well as the end-user experience. The higher level of control that Value Added Services (VAS) applications can provide, for example, will ensure that the right decision is made for the network depending on the environment.

There is no doubt that NFV could change mobile networking forever, but mobile data service providers will need to focus on implementing systems that will offer them the next set of use cases that drive new business cases.

It is no longer enough to be content with the promises of cost savings, which can be achieved through numerous ways other than NFV, like commodity hardware. But vendors and operators need to look at the practicalities of NFV and its role within next-generation networks, in order to establish which functions will truly benefit from virtualisation.

Therefore, it is vital that while operators are still going through trials with NFV, network equipment manufacturers need to develop NFV and nascent SDN solutions that do more than be deployable on COTS hardware, but rather have the responsiveness, management capability and integrated control to add additional value that will yield to new business in order to stay ahead of the curve. 

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