T-Mobile mostly mum on SDN/NFV activities

Neville Ray
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray talked about the "uncarrier's" ideas about 5G during a Competitive Carriers Association meeting last month.

While AT&T and Verizon have been talking about aggressive moves toward SDN and NFV architectures and their relevance leading up to 5G standards, T-Mobile US, by comparison, has been pretty quiet on the subject.

Asked by FierceWirelessTech recently about its plans and work around SDN and NFV, T-Mobile declined to expand. But analysts didn't necessarily take that as a sign that T-Mobile is doing nothing in this area – it’s just not interested in talking about it right now.

“I don't think there's any doubt that TMO is working on NFV,” said Peter Jarich, VP for Current Analysis’ Consumer and Infrastructure services. “At this point everyone is. If nothing else, they know that vendors will stop (at some point) offering non-virtual functions. That said, talking about NFV or SDN doesn't really fit into TMO's brand. They've been very focused on speaking to the consumer.”

To that end, higher data rates or better network coverage is a message that fits them. “Ask the average consumer about NFV or SDN and they don't know what you're talking about... much less care,” Jarich noted.

Broadly speaking, NFV allows carriers to virtualize hardware functions and turn them into software within their networks. SDN enables carriers to use software to control network functions and policies in the cloud. Both are expected to reduce operators' reliance on expensive proprietary hardware platforms, helping to slash operational expenses tied to a reduction in physical space, labor and power consumption. They're also considered massive changes for big telcos that traditionally were slow to change.

During a presentation at the Competitive Carriers Association’s annual meeting in Seattle last month, Ray said he’s more interested in showing consumers what they can expect from 5G use cases rather than what he characterized as boring fix broadband substitutions like Verizon is talking about.

“We are going to be pushing the envelope really, really hard to make sure we are ready and prepared for 5G,” he said. “We’ve been pretty quiet on the 5G subject,” listening to the noise that’s out there, but “that doesn’t mean for us that we’re not doing anything. We’ve been extremely busy in trials.”

T-Mobile has spectrum holdings in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands that some suggested may give it a leg up in 5G trials. It acquired high-band spectrum when it bought MetroPCS in 2012.

Meanwhile, SDN and NFV are expected to play important roles leading up to 5G. Both AT&T and Verizon have talked about shifting toward an SDN/NFV infrastructure at the same time they're moving to 5G.

AT&T has been especially enthusiastic about moving to SDN and NFV and has said its goal is to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of its network using a software-driven architecture by 2020. Last year, Verizon Communications said it was moving to a software-centric network architecture to reduce costs and deliver new services to customers faster. It identified Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Nokia as its initial SDN vendors.

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