In this exclusive interview, Mavenir’s Ian Maclean shares his insights on SDN and NFV.
IM: “The industry debate isn’t about which one provides the most benefits. It’s more about which one is the logical first step for operators. We think that’s NFV. It enables operators to start reaping the benefits of virtualization today instead of waiting for a payoff that may be three or more years down the road.
“Familiarity is one major reason why NFV is the ideal first step. The virtualized network functions are simply software instantiations of existing core network elements onto virtualized platforms. Suppose that an operator already has an Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core. All of those nodes – Packet Gateways, Session Border Controllers (SBCs), Telephony Application Servers (TASs) and so on – all become virtualized network functions. But the logical interfaces between them remain the same, as does the management interface.
“As a result, although NFV is fundamentally different from traditional, hardware-centric networks, it still looks very familiar to mobile operators. That translates to a shallow learning curve. By comparison, SDN radically changes the network topology. So although SDN simplifies the network, which is a big plus, it does it in a way that requires operators to think and act differently. That takes time, which means the payoff takes time.”
How does Mavenir see virtualization changing how mobile operators will transform their networks to 4G LTE?
IM: “Mobile operators eventually will implement Voice over LTE (VoLTE). Some are doing it earlier than others for business reasons. For example, operators with legacy CDMA networks can use VoLTE to eliminate the expense and complexity of maintaining that fallback in the network and devices.
“One way to do VoLTE is to have several hardware to provide nodes such as the Session Border Controller (SBC), the Telephony Application Server (TAS), and so on. The virtualization way is to instantiate each of those nodes into a virtual machine that consists of one or two physical cores of a CPU on a blade.
“Mavenir has taken the latter approach, which enables us to quickly and easily implement services with nodes on a single blade. Our solution is an example of how virtualization reduces CapEx and OpEx.
“The IMS core is another example of where the CapEx and OpEx benefits are realized. A half chassis with as few as four to eight blades can provide an entry-level IMS network of, say, 100,000 subscribers. Without virtualization, you’re looking at several racks of hardware.”
With the implementation of virtualization technology, what new services do you see leading the way in telecommunications?
IM: “NFV still has a ways to go before it’s mature, but VoLTE is already generating a lot of interest for the reasons I mentioned. Increasingly, that interest is evolving into deployments. Some U.S. operators have launched VoLTE already, and Verizon Wireless says it will launch VoLTE later in 2014.
“Another reason for the interest in VoLTE is that despite its name, it also lays the foundation for operators to offer a wide variety of video and messaging services, including ones that compete with over-the-top (OTT) service offerings.
“VoLTE also is an ideal way for mobile operators to provide voice service to tablets, which many enterprises see as a replacement for desk phones and PCs. So VoLTE helps mobile operators push deeper into the enterprise and displace more wireline.”
How does technology such as virtualization change the offerings that operators will provide in the future?
IM: “Virtualization reduces the cost and complexity of networks, which reduces risk. That means operators can test more offerings when it comes to developing and implementing services. Some of those will be successful with customers, giving those operators more revenue and new opportunities to attract and retain subscribers.
“Virtualization also minimizes time to market and time to revenue. Mobile operators have traditionally taken a year or more to develop a service and implement it in the network. During that window, they’re vulnerable to rivals such as OTT players and other mobile operators. Virtualization enables operators to implement those services via software, so they can get to market much faster: potentially months or quarters rather than a year or longer.
“Finally, virtualization also enables new opportunities to maximize service quality, such as quicker call setups and HD Voice. Some customers, such as enterprises, will pay a premium for high-quality service, especially if they want mobile to replace some or all of their wireline services.”
What do carriers need to do to get started in taking advantage of this next generation technology?
IM: “The first step is to decide which parts of the network they want to virtualize first. Many of the operators Mavenir works with, are starting with the Evolved Packet Core, while others are starting with the IMS core. That’s another benefit of our virtualized solutions, operators can move at their own pace and virtualize whatever meets their business objectives.”
How is Mavenir helping mobile operators take advantage of these networking trends?
IM: “We have over 9 years of experience, substantial investment in wireless technology, and are engaged with tier one operators globally. Our unique experience of transforming mobile networks for the delivery internet protocol (IP)-based voice, video, rich communications and enhanced messaging services using virtualization, IMS and VoLTE enables mobile operators to transform their networks seamlessly and painlessly. We launched the world’s first VoLTE and world’s first RCS with MetroPCS, so we have the expertise and knowledge to move forward.
“We have a comprehensive suite of virtualized solutions, built on the mOne® software platform that enables operators to develop innovative, reliable services and get them to market quickly and cost-effectively. We have a suite of functions in the network that are IMS- and EPC-based, and designed for operators to deploy on their own in-cloud infrastructure today in a virtualized model. And when they’re ready to build out an NFV framework, Mavenir’s mOne® is designed to support that model, too.”