DoCoMo completes proof-of-concept NFV trials with 6 vendors

It appears that NTT DoCoMo's sphere of vendors capable of supplying network functions virtualization (NFV) is getting bigger. The Japanese service provider announced it has completed proof-of-concept (PoC) trials using the software and equipment of six vendors: Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco, Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), Huawei, NEC and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Networks.

Earlier this year, DoCoMo said it had completed separate PoC trials verifying the feasibility of NFV with three of those vendors: Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and NEC. The service provider has been collaborating with those three vendors since November 2013, and getting more vendors on board is a good sign for NFV's evolution. One of the driving forces behind NFV is the ability for mobile operators to combine network hardware and software components of any vendor for deployment of network systems.

Using the virtualized Evolved Packet Core (EPC), the core network of LTE systems, the most recent trials successfully verified the interoperability of each vendor's EPC software with a different vendor's equipment, such as scalable data processing capability for congested data traffic and immediate network recovery in the event of hardware failure, according to a NTT DoCoMo press release.

"Thanks to collaborative efforts in the mobile network industry, NFV is soundly moving toward practical realization, rather than just ending up as a pie-in-the-sky dream," said Seizo Onoe, executive vice president and CTO at NTT DoCoMo, in the release. "I am delighted that we have confirmed the feasibility of NFV through multi-vendor initiatives with many of the top ICT players."

Earlier this year, NTT DoCoMo announced plans to virtualize its EPC in time to have commercial services running over it by the end of March 2016, a timeframe it reiterated this week.  

NFV enables operators to ditch dedicated, proprietary network hardware and replace it with less costly industry standard "white boxes" while network functions are offloaded onto software that can be managed from anywhere within an operator's network or the cloud. This approach promises to reduce time to market for new network services, slash capex and opex, as well as encourage innovation.

DoCoMo, one of the founding members of the Open Platform for NFV, says it is teaming up with mobile operators and vendors around the world to support development of an open-source platform for virtualization.

NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) are closely entwined. While SDN and NFV address different issues in the network, they've been linked together at least since NFV was formally endorsed by a group of carriers at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress event in October 2012.

At the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow World Congress in Düsseldorf, Germany, this week, the executive director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), Dan Pitt, released his predictions for the coming year, saying open-source software will become the predominant means toward developing network standards.

He also said that network operators will demand open SDN, not vendor SDN. "Network operators will recognize the value of SDN, not just network virtualization or network functions virtualization (NFV), both of which cannot reach their potential value without SDN underneath," he said.

In addition, network operators, including some enterprises, "will start to see through vendor solutions touted as SDN that in reality retain vendor lock-in and proprietary protocols, and in many cases do not even include the physical separation of forwarding and control," he added. "When as many operators as today are deploying new, green-field networks using SDN, they have the perfect opportunity to demand true open SDN, and demand they will. While many vendors are prepared for this, some are not, and that will be a detriment to their ability to compete for the business of savvy operators in the upcoming year and beyond."

For more:
- see this DoCoMo release
- see this Cisco blog post
- see this ONF press release

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AT&T exec leading ETSI's NFV spec group as it targets interoperability, open-source technology
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