SK Telecom SVP: Future of SDN, NFV is mobile

So far, much of the open networking around SDN and NFV technologies has been focused on fixed networks, but the future of networking is mobile, and traditional telcos need to transform their networks into something that more closely resembles the Facebook-style networks of the world.


 Kang-Won Lee

That was the message from Kang-Won Lee, senior vice president of R&D at SK Telecom, who presented at the Linux Foundation's Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, Calif. He also said that SK Telecom is working with Facebook and Samsung on virtual reality, something else that's going to add more traffic to everyone's mobile networks.

During his keynote the day prior at the summit, AT&T (NYSE: T) Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan told attendees that virtual reality represents a new source of demand on mobile networks. Sending one minute of virtual reality play can take 100s of megabytes compared to just 4 megabytes for sending a minute of mobile video, which is one more reason AT&T needs to move faster to virtualize its network. Traditional hardware is too slow, he said.

Lee echoed many of the same concepts as AT&T. Lee, who spent years at IBM's Watson prior to joining SKT, said traditional methods in telco are simply too slow to be able to react to the network traffic demands. He joined SK in part because it's a "fairly advanced technology company" in terms of providing wireless, as well as a lot of OTT services like navigation and social networking. SK provides good coverage to its customers and boasts a 50 percent market share.

But the challenge is keeping up with the traffic demands. Cisco expects traffic to increase five times in the next four years, and that presents a significant challenge.

SK Telecom wants to transform itself into a platform company. "We want to make the mobile network as a platform" where new services can be created and supported, he said. That could include traditional telco applications for accessing data, media apps like mobile streaming and different types of IoT applications. This requires the telco to become more similar to the likes of Facebook and Google. "We need to transition the telco network infrastructure into more like a data network infrastructure" with wireless access connectivity so that it can be more agile and faster with new service offerings.

How to make it work? One way is to leverage open hardware and software as much as possible. "We want to make our infrastructure more flexible," he said. Right now, it requires a lot of work to manage the mobile network and provide good connectivity.

Similar to the Facebooks and Googles of the world, "we want to move fast," he said, and not take a lot of time to deliberate, which is what the standards process requires. That's a philosophy that Donovan shared as well in his keynote – there's no time to sit around and argue about the way forward. Lee said: "We want to prototype … we want to fail fast," and repeat until it's right – which represents a new way of operating in the telco world, Lee acknowledged.

SK Telecom is collaborating on various open source projects, working with various organizations, vendors and other service providers. It has developed some of its own hardware and put its own software stack on top of it.

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