Wireless operators and vendors are lining up to virtualize the network via software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). The latest examples of this trend arrived this week with separate announcements from carrier AT&T (NYSE:T) and vendor Cisco Systems.
AT&T announced its Supplier Domain Program 2.0, whose goal "is to ensure that each investment accelerates our move towards an advanced all-IP broadband, all-wireless, and all-cloud infrastructure," said Tim Harden, president of AT&T supply chain.
The carrier expects its revamped architecture will accelerate time-to-market for technologically advanced products and services. Integrated through AT&T's wide-area network (WAN) and using NFV and SDN, the architecture is expected to simplify and scale AT&T's network by separating hardware and software functionality, separating network control plane and forwarding planes, and improving functionality management in the software layer.
"We eventually see this extending to the RAN, but that is not our initial focus. The initial focus is mostly in the core and metro network," an AT&T spokesperson told FierceBroadbandWireless.
"AT&T operates as an integrated carrier end to end. Therefore, the customer will be able to interact with our network in an all-IP environment for their wired as well as wireless requirements," the spokesperson said.
AT&T's announcement is a shot across the bow for network gear suppliers and potential suppliers, who now know that they must include support for SDN and NFV in their wares.
The operator said some of its new network focus will require new providers with different skills and capabilities in addition to the current providers it has. The operator intends to begin selecting vendors and awarding business late this year and through 2014. The company said it is not revising its previously announced capital expenditure guidance for 2014-15, but over the next five years AT&T expects virtualization will bring down capex.
In related news, Cisco introduced its Network Convergence System (NCS), which it says is "a network fabric family designed to serve as the foundation of a massively scalable, smarter and more adaptable Internet." The system's programmability and virtualization capabilities are designed to enable service providers to accelerate their transition to SDN and NFV.
"All of the benefits and advantages on why customers wanted a fabric in their data center, the next logical step is to extend those to the WAN--a WAN fabric that is capable of virtualizing with a platform, with southbound and northbound APIs that allows programmability of the network," said Ray Mota, founder of ACG Research, who was quoted by Network World.
NCS consists of three platforms--NCS 6000, NCS 4000 and NCS 2000--which can be managed as a single integrated system. Cisco's NCS is expected to compete against Juniper Networks' PTX and Alcatel-Lucent's (NYSE:ALU) 7950 XRS routers.
"When deployed as part of the Cisco One Service Provider Architecture, which embraces and extends SDN/NFV, the Cisco NCS family can help network operators reduce total cost of ownership by 45 percent while consuming 60 percent less power," the company said.
KDDI, Telstra and BSkyB (Sky) are deploying Cisco's NCS. "This network evolution will help us to continue to have Australia's largest and most reliable IP and 3G/4G wireless network," which can "manage the hyper-growth in video, the continued adoption of smart phones and the industry shift to cloud-based services," commented Mike Wright, Telstra's executive director of networks.
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