Technology Business Research (TBR) said some operators are already pressing ahead with early commercial deployments of network functions virtualisation (NFV) even though industry standards have yet to be adopted.
According to the research company, while cost reduction and the ability to offer services more quickly are the main drivers behind the deployment of NFV and software-defined networking (SDN), some operators also view them as critical for long-term survival.
These early adopters are also tending to take different approaches, TBR noted. For example, some are using products from several vendors to put together a complete "NFV stack", although the challenge here is to ensure interoperability of the different components.
Others, meanwhile, are buying a single stack from one vendor. Recent examples include Swisscom selecting Ericsson's full NFV portfolio, NBR added.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is the main driver in terms of setting NFV standards for the telecoms sector, but there are growing indications that vendors and operators want to move ahead now rather than wait until standards are in place.
NFV deployment is also expected to present diverse challenges. Although there is some consistency in operator requirements, many are also looking to address issues that are unique to their own businesses.
TBR suggested that most operators expect to implement some form of NFV and SDN within the next two years, indicating that proprietary technologies will be used in early deployments. These could ultimately be made standards compliant.
TBR telecom executive analyst Michael Sullivan-Trainor said the operational phase of NFV is now looming.
"Vendors will increasingly offer solutions that enable swift integration between legacy and back-office systems, such as OSS/BSS, CRM and network management," he said.
ETSI is widely acknowledged to be responding well to the mounting demands for earlier NFV deployments. In 2015, the ETSI Network Functions Virtualisation Industry Specification Group (NFV ISG) said it would focus less on requirements and more on adoption, and would aim to create a vibrant ecosystem and intensify collaboration with other bodies, among other factors.
Also in February this year, a new ETSI group called ETSI OSM started the development of open source software for management and orchestration (MANO) of NFV. The open source implementation will be aligned with ETSI's NFV ISG.
Luis Jorge Romero, ETSI director general, said ETSI OSM complements the work of the ETSI NFV ISG and vice versa.
"It will provide an opportunity to capitalise on the synergy between standardisation and open source approaches by accessing a greater and more diverse set of contributors and developers than would normally be possible," he said, noting that this would maximise innovation, efficiency and time to market.
In January ETSI said it had convened a "ground breaking" meeting of NFV standards bodies and open source communities that would boost adoption by reducing fragmentation in the sector.
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