Telefonica, China Unicom tout mobile network virtualization

Telecom operators Telefonica and China Unicom, which are collaborating on development of network virtualization technologies, released a white paper that outlines numerous potential use cases, including virtualization of the mobile network.

The companies spelled out the difference between software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). SDN, they noted, is focused on separating the control plane from the data-forwarding plane in the network architecture, while the goal of NFV is to virtualize network functions into software applications that can be run on industry standard servers or as virtual machines running on those servers.

The companies said virtualization of the CPE (customer premises equipment) is one of the most promising use cases of NFV. But their white paper also addresses several other use cases, including unifying the IP edge of telecom networks to have a common pool of resources that can be used for different IP edge functions. "The virtualization of a mobile core network is a natural sub-case of the IP Edge virtualization, with just the mobile blocks" such as the evolved packet core (EPC), said the companies.

In addition, Telefonica and China Unicom's white paper discusses virtualization of the broader mobile network, recommending that the first step should be virtualization of the base station and radio access network (RAN). "Pooling base stations' baseband processing capabilities allows for supporting advanced features that require tight synchronization and/or the exchange of large quantities of information (e.g., quantized IQ signals)," the companies said.

The operators also push for virtualizing mobile backhaul to simplify the access equipment and improve network stability.

Telefonica and China Unicom argue that other use cases--including deployment of SDN in data centers and virtualization of network control plane functions such as IMS--are less critical than the use cases they outline in their white paper. But they acknowledge the popularity of the other virtualization efforts, saying those initiatives offer value by "demonstrating network virtualization potential and obtaining significant savings in terms of opex and capex."

In other news, Telefonica, through its Telefonica Digital unit, is joining with China Unicom in an effort to globally promote development of M2M and the Internet of Things. The operators will collaborate on constructing, maintaining and operating M2M platforms and developing the corresponding technical specifications. Their agreement is part of wide-ranging strategic alliance entered into by the two operators.

For more:
- see this joint release and this release

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