Telco Continues NFVi Momentum

When 4G/LTE was first introduced, communication service providers (CSPs) were delivering uniform services and relying on proprietary equipments when they expanded their coverage. However, CSPs have been challenged by the widespread of mobile devices and cloud applications, which has led to the era of Big Data. CSPs revenue has shrunk due to a highly competitive market while users demand better quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience. In order to improve competitiveness in the demanding market, CSPs have embraced NFV (network function virtualization) to capture future business opportunities.

Current State

The incentives to adopt NFV are both technological and economical. NFV is the network architecture to virtualize the entire network nodes into component blocks, which can be connected to create service chaining, a highly beneficial factor for communication services. Meanwhile, NFV offers the use of VNF (virtualized network functions) that may consist single or multiple VMs (virtual machines) to run various software and applications on an open x86 server, also known as “white-box server”. Therefore, many CSPs have discovered the benefits to switch to NFV implementation due to the reduction in OPEX and CAPEX by adopting white-box hardware.

With more and more adoptions of NFV, this network architecture has evolved into two aspects:

  • NFVi (network function virtualization infrastructure) – under NFVi, all the hardware and software components within the infrastructure are decoupled, virtualized and then integrated to run VNFs.
  • NFV-MANO (network function virtualization management and orchestration) – this presents an architectural framework to manage and orchestrate VNFs and NFVi.

Towards an Open Ecosystem

As 5G is expected to be officially available by 2020, most leading CSPs will have nearly 3/4 of their network infrastructure virtualized, as claimed by AT&T. In fact, there is a tendency among world-leading CSPs towards a more open ecosystem, by introducing GSMA standardized, reference architecture and OPNFV (Open Platform for NFV) to shorten the development time, so that more vendors and associations could participate in the ecosystem.

Regarding the hardware aspect, the introduction of GSMA reference architecture and OPNFV will encourage higher volume of high-performance, open x86 compute platforms to enable a cloud-native NFVi. In fact, hypervisor will become a mandatory feature for the white-box hardware. Without the investment in proprietary, specific physical equipments for adding network nodes, CSPs can accelerate their service-provisioning/chaining and development lead-time to run automation, network orchestration and multi-tenancy in the future 5G era.