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Why NFV and SDN are the bricks and mortar behind 5G

As part of the Technical Consultancy team at Infradata, I’ve had the privilege of working almost exclusively with SDN & NFV technologies since 2014. Three years on, I confess, the technology has not caught on quite as rapidly as my younger self thought.

Whilst Broadband ISPs have wrestled both with the required skills leap and often prohibitive pricing from vendors, it’s the mobile telcos that are leading the charge towards SDN/NFV nirvana at a non-stop pace. And the driving force? 5G.

With its requirements for high density & bandwidth, and in particular, low latency; 5G is forcing network functions the be pushed closer and closer to the user to meet those low latency requirements.  This push from centralised cloud to distributed/edge cloud has increased both the scale and complexity of the network. This in turn drives much a greater level of automation. Not only that, but the demands of 5G users themselves add to the requirements, including:

  1. Increasingly complex services (whether they realise this or not!)

  2. High expectations of service activation & fulfilment. Users want new services, and they want them fast!

  3. Low cost – this is a competitive and commodity market place. Need to offer the user differentiated services, fast, at a low price, and right-first-time!

Today, I had the privilege of hosting a roundtable “Carriers World 2017” in London. The thought leaders present all recognised the need for a higher grade of automation to manage the increasing complexity of user services, whilst trying to navigate the challenges this brings.

The lead question I posed at the round-table was “Are mobile providers ready for SDN/NFV?” Consensus was that this is a necessary path, primarily due to rapidly increasing complexity - but is fraught with challenges. Who do you trust to partner with, and how? How do you maintain five 9s availability in a software-defined world? Can you trust your carrier-grade network to make use of open source software (such as OpenStack)? How do you recruit the necessary skills in the blended hardware/software world?

Another common thread was the massive increase in demand for cybersecurity offerings from carriers. For me, this is the anchor use case for NFV – the ability to create on-demand network services in a centralised or distributed fashion, in a simple, agile and maintainable way. But you have to be able to automate this effectively in order to meet the expectations of the modern customer.

5G is on an unstoppable track. Carriers have to automate - more, faster and better. If NFV is the bricks and SDN the mortar, it’s Automation that builds the house – and it needs to be built quickly!

Alex Walker is Technical Consultant of SDN/NFV at Infradata UK, where he heads up our Automation practice, and is Development Team Lead for our nuQulus Automation Platform.

Alex Walker - September 26 2017

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