NFV: A tough nut to crack

NFV use cases - IHS Markit chart

Operators continue to grapple with the challenges that network virtualisation brings. As part of this process, network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) have emerged as key strategies for tier 1 and tier 2 telcos that want to fundamentally transform the infrastructure they use to deliver services.

Although NFV and SDN developments are in the early phases, there are already signs that operators are shifting their approaches and their expectations. A greater emphasis on benefits such as operational efficiency and improved agility have replaced an early focus on cost savings -- although the hope is that costs will be saved over time.

Essentially, operators want to achieve a new way to serve customers and have come to regard NFV and SDN as critical for their long-term survival.

What has also emerged is a curious disconnect between operator rollouts and standardisation processes led by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) that Patrick Filkins, telecoms analyst at TBR, described as "almost unprecedented".

Filkins also pointed to a high level of vitriol against vendors, with some operators lambasting the more traditional equipment manufacturers for being slow to respond to their need to become agile cloud service entities.

One of the reasons for this disconnect is that NFV and SDN are, frankly, very difficult to implement.

"The promise of NFV was great," said Filkins. However, the reality is that this will be a highly complex process that will take years to implement.

In Europe, tier 1 operators leading the way include Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Swisscom, and Telekom Austria.

At Vodafone, David Amzallag heads up NFV/SDN and is working on an NFV strategy codenamed Ocean that he said will form the basis for the transformation of all 26 national operators within the Vodafone group.

Meanwhile at Orange, Yves Bellego, the director responsible for network strategy, echoed similar comments from Amzallag believes that the implementation of NFV services depends very much on the maturity, resilience and capability of each solution.

In our latest special report, we speak to Orange and Vodafone about their respective strategies for NFV.--Anne