How Wholesale Carriers can Leverage NFV and SDN For Delivering Agile, Innovative Solutions
By Eric Gillenwater, VP & Business Head - US & Europe, Airtel
With new carriers offering next-generation features at affordable price points, incumbent wholesale carriers today need to reimagine their offerings for sustained relevance. They must roll out new, value-for-money, differentiated services for diversifying revenue streams and enhancing customer satisfaction—while ensuring robust network security.
As the adoption of next-generation digital wireless technology soars worldwide, the demand for high-speed data access and reliable voice services keeps rising. Network carriers, accordingly, have started coming up with solutions that enable collaboration and synchronization between varied network elements. However, they are struggling to effectively collect, store and manage the unprecedented volume of data, besides having to deal with inflexible analytics and unresponsive vendors.
"Wholesale carriers today need agile, innovative solutions to access, monitor and configure their bandwidth demands more than ever"
Also, the very nature of the new data-driven service portfolio is highly network dependent, throwing up a host of opportunities and vulnerabilities that network carriers must contend with. Carriers are, therefore, turning to solutions that help simplify their complicated legacy infrastructure and facilitate enhanced agility.
The upcoming 5G revolution
In order to meet these challenges, amid the upcoming commercialization of 5G, network carriers are turning to Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software- Defined Networking (SDN) to orchestrate swift digital transformation. These technologies can enable wholesale carriers to overcome architecture-related obstacles and keep up with the rising demand for devices and data. NFV is useful as it decouples software from hardware, setting up carriers to offer network functions over Virtual Machines (VMs) in a pay-per-use model.
Previously dedicated hardware appliances can hence be phased out and replaced by generic servers that are flexible enough to perform ad-hoc network functions when the need arises. For carriers, this can translate into lower procurement and maintenance costs, reduced hardware dependence and considerably shorter turnaround times. Virtualized appliances can, thus, help network carriers cater to 5G requirements and more.
NFV’s additional benefits of slicing multiple VMs together can also optimize price and energy matrices, but these would be unattainable without embedding a degree of SDN into operations. Another next-generation technology designed to reduce hardware dependence, SDN allows carriers to shift lower-level functions to normalized control planes. Not only does this free up resources, it also lets more devices and bandwidth operate seamlessly. Consequently, the flow of data can be made smoother, faster and cheaper.
A brave new world for network carriers
The emergence of NFV and SDN on the telecom horizon represents a wide range of possibilities, in terms of transforming the customer experience and making operations more efficient and responsive. For instance, carriers have long realized that content is king, but their objective now is to make sure personalized, rich content reaches end users in no time. As carriers transform into agile new-age curators of innovative IP-driven solutions, they can only complete this transformation by deploying newer applications and speeding up customer support services massively.
To gain a competitive edge, carriers can embrace NFV and SDN to reduce time-to-market and tie their diverse services together. They are increasingly realizing that combining these two virtualization technologies is easier to provision for, and it is simpler for vendors to explain and sell to customers too. With additional benefits including offer pricing based on software utility licensing, and service chaining—for scaling up services without implementing new hardware—carriers can bundle necessary services. Doing so can pave the way for the creation of new business models and increased profitability of older ones.
Finally, SDN also boosts network security in a distributed manner that transports encryption layers closer to end devices where the data resides. Carriers can thereby significantly reduce overheads related to security and improve on the quality and timeliness of security services. In an increasingly vulnerable space where new cybersecurity risks crop up every other day, the responsiveness offered by SDN can help carriers dynamically shut down or reroute network traffic.
Wholesale carriers today need agile, innovative solutions to access, monitor and configure their bandwidth demands more than ever. The more versatility they can offer to customers while doing this, the better. NFV and SDN provide carriers with the flexibility to opt for plans that suit their unique business requirements—and this works to provide greater efficiency and tighter network control to offer unique services and IP-innovations. However, SDN and NFV are simply not about flipping a switch. If carriers do not have an accurate hold on all of their network and element-level inventory, then these new technologies will not deliver the desired results.