Maybe it's time for the Virtual World Congress

Tammy Parker, FierceWirelessTech

BARCELONA, Spain--Attendees at this year's Mobile World Congress were treated to a plethora of announcements and discussions regarding all varieties of network virtualization, so much so that the show seems to have morphed into the Virtual World Congress even if it is not rebranded as such.

Network functions virtualization, which was barely a glimmer in the industry's eye this time last year, captured much of the spotlight at the 2014 MWC. AT&T's (NYSE:T) surprise naming of four vendors for its Domain 2.0 effort was huge news. And there was a veritable smorgasbord of NFV news from vendors.

For example, Hewlett-Packard announced OpenNFV to help get service providers on board with virtualization and also released an NFV reference architecture called HPOpenNFV Labs as well as an accompanying partner program for NFV applications and services.

Meanwhile, Wind River unveiled what it claims is the industry's first commercial carrier-grade platform for NFV, and, as always, the devil is in the details as lots of folks claimed similar things. But in my meeting with Wind River, they did lay out what seemed to be a pretty compelling argument for their modular yet comprehensive approach to NFV.

Wind River also got the world's largest operator, China Mobile, on board to develop an NFV proof of concept highlighting a cloud radio access network (C-RAN) base station. Speaking of C-RAN, Intel and SK Telecom demoed what they call a virtualized RAN (vRAN) for FDD LTE. The companies said vRAN enables processing functions normally handled by individual base stations to be overseen via virtualized general-purpose network equipment installed in a central station.

Juniper Networks also got in on the action, announcing a number of offerings that expand on its open, standards-based, software-defined networking (SDN) portfolio, including its Contrail technology. The company claims its new SDN solutions will enable service providers to quickly implement NFV and provision new services.

Nav Chandler, IDC research manager, commented that Juniper's approach to open, multi-vendor network management of NFV-based services, such as virtual firewall and VPN, "is what service providers are saying they need in order to grow revenues and satisfy consumer and enterprise requirements for flexible service offerings."

And let's not forget Cisco's new Quantum virtualized packet core (vPC) software solution. The company stressed that it does not see NFV or SDN "as isolated developments, but rather as part of the broader Cisco Evolved Services Platform, a comprehensive unified virtualization and orchestration software platform."

The list of MWC-related virtualization announcements, both large and small, goes on and on. In fact, one might imagine that with so many announcements coming down the pike, the specs and use cases for NFV must already be written in stone. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, changes are afoot at the ETSI NFV Industry Specifications Group, which originally intended to wrap up business late this year upon the second anniversary of its existence. Several folks explained to me during MWC that ISG members have realized they still have loads of work ahead as they nail down what exactly NFV's role will be in the network of the future. ISG members are slated to meet this May in Okinawa, Japan, where more plans for NFV, and the ISG itself, will likely be laid out.

By this time next year, NFV/SDN development and the accompanying hype cycles will have evolved further as operators prep their networks for massive virtualization wherever that makes strategic sense. Watch for proofs of concept and pilots to proliferate through this year and next as operators chase the agility they need to offer new applications and services that heretofore were merely pipe dreams.

All of this leads me to wonder how long it will be before we really do have a Virtual World Congress, where tens of thousands of industry players can simply take advantage of video conferencing and augmented reality to attend a trade show rather traveling around the world to meet up in person. This scenario would certainly make life less hectic, but I'd miss the tapas.--Tammy

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