The Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) are constantly challenged by the dynamic needs of the digital savvy customers and an increase in competition from non-telco players. The network and IT assets were inherited with very high capital investments and it demands heavy operations budget to keep the services alive and attractive.
The continuous investments in various transformation journeys by TSPs included technology refresh and pursuits for operational efficiency enhancement to stay in the race, if not ahead of the competition. While these transformations enabled TSPs to control operational expenses and improve process efficiency, it was fragmented in approach and the legacy assets continued to stress the TSPs. Over the years, the IT systems evolved as a very complex and mammoth system that it would take months to implement even a minor change or modification to respond to market demands.
On the network side, the Telecom OEM’s hardware-based solutions and associated support expenditure leave a deep hole in the TSP’s pocket. The very heterogeneous nature of the TSP network makes it complex and a nightmare for the network operations team to ensure interoperability and manage service assurance.
While these challenges were mainly from the in-house assets, the market challenges also bother the TSPs in all new dimensions. The voice revenues started declining due to free VoIP voice calls service providers and OTT players started enjoying the lion’s share of revenue with innovative service/product offerings and business models, leaving the traditional TSPs role marginalized to mere pipe providers.
SDN/NFV is a breakthrough in addressing the challenges faced by TSPs primarily by moving away from hardware-centric to software-centric network assets and brings in the much needed agility for provisioning new services.
SDN decouples the Control plane from Data plane. The SDN controller is a software solution that performs centralized control function with an overall view of the network and manages the packet traffic with ease as per the policies that are programmable through well-defined interfaces.
NFV virtualizes the network functions like Routers, CPEs, Firewalls, Load balancers etc., by deploying them in virtual machines in a cloud infrastructure.
The Journey Ahead
SDN / NFV would drive the software-centric network transformation. Many TSPs have announced SDN trials and preparing SDN roadmap. While there are initial teething troubles, it will stabilize soon. We expect that most of the network and services functions would be virtualized with defined controls and management interfaces. Until the entire network is transformed, hybrid SDN implementations to manage the legacy networks and enable smooth migration to a completely SDN-based Network.
SDN would also positively impact Critical communications, Industrial networking and be an enabler for IoT.
SDN / NFV is a game changer and would transform all walks of our lives for good.
SDN Use cases for Service Provider Networks – IEEE Communication Magazine Oct 2016
Networking Industry transformation through softwarization – IEEE Communication Magazine – Aug 2016