Cisco customers leading drive to ‘virtualization transformation’

Not surprisingly, Cisco's view is the biggest business opportunities in 5G are going to come more from the enterprise markets. (FierceWireless)

There might be grumblings from various circles that network functions virtualization (NFV) is not living up to the hype, but Cisco sees virtualization as a transition in which its customers are in different stages.

To wit: Last week, T-Mobile announced the completion of its virtualized packet core build-out across its nationwide footprint using Cisco’s distributed SDN architecture, supporting more than 70 million customers.

“It’s the largest of its kind worldwide,” said Kishen Mangat, vice president and general manager of service provider networking at Cisco, on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) last week.   

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Some of Cisco’s customers are leading the charge in terms of driving the virtualization transformation, he said. Key benefits for operators include leveraging a common footprint to deploy multiple applications and consolidating operating costs.

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In the U.S., 5G is driving operators to virtualize. The next step after virtualization is the control plane and user plane separation, which is critical to 5G because if you have a 5G network that’s intended to deliver faster speeds and lower latency, you need a more distributed network architecture, he said.

“We have a point of view that the biggest business opportunities in 5G are going to come not from the traditional consumer markets but more from the enterprise markets,” Mangat said. “So all of the architecture shifts that we’re driving in terms of pushing subscriber services closer to the edge… that supports the more flexible creation of new services.

As for the mobile edge, it’s a popular subject of late, but there are many different ways to define it.

“I would say mobile edge computing is quite a flexible term and I think different players define it differently,” he said. The OTT web players have a different definition as it relates to server content, while mobile providers have an evolving understanding of the edge based on the location of their network resources.

“From our perspective, it’s about providing the core as a more distributed architecture based on the evolving topology of the network,” he said.

Today, there’s the core, the edge, the regional data center and the cell site. There’s sort of four levels to the network, “and it’s not about defining which of those four levels is going to be the so-called edge. It’s about how do you deliver the right programmability, the right visibility into the subscriber, the right level of control at the right place in the network for the given application,” he said.

Ericsson and Cisco announced a partnership in 2015 that was supposed to lead to a multi-faceted relationship, offering customers the best of both companies in terms of routing, data center, networking, cloud, mobility, management and control and more. Thought to be a way to counteract Nokia’s acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, that relationship famously did not transpire as envisioned, but neither company is saying much about it.

“We’re still partnering in some different areas,” Mangat said.  

Separately, asked if Ericsson’s partnership with Juniper Networks means it’s no longer working with Cisco, Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice president and head of Networks at Ericsson, told FierceWirelessTech that Ericsson will continue working with Cisco after the original plan did not materialize the way either company had expected.

“It’s been refocused a little bit” toward innovation and business development in the mobility space, he said during an interview at MWCA.