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Virtualization (NFV)

ETSI fends off NFV fragmentation as industry groups vye for influence

Carrier network virtualization is one of the few technologies in the history of the telecoms industry which has become ‘real’ more quickly than expected. On the mobile side, the typical pattern is to proclaim the ‘year of’ an emerging standard at least three years running, before it actually becomes mainstream – the kind of approach which feeds the Gartner hype cycle. However, while virtualization of data centers and some enterprise network elements is well established, applying that approach to a carrier network appeared to be a massive mountain to climb when it was first mooted. Yet, with ETSI’s NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) initiative as the catalyst and a rare point of near-consensus, this architecture is actually becoming real. It is in commercial products and even a few commercial deployments in some parts of the network, including the packet core and CPE, and on the horizon, it will be an integral part of 4G evolution and of 5G.

Perhaps this experience shows that virtualization is fulfilling a genuine and urgent need to change the economics and the behavior of carrier networks, whereas too many conventional network technologies exist mainly to prolong the life of an ageing carrier business model and therefore of the vendors whose business was built on that. Deconstructing the network from transport to CPE to reduce cost; allocating resources where they are needed with infinite flexibility; supporting vast numbers of use cases and service providers with different ‘slices’ of capacity; moving intelligence and data processing to the extreme edge to save resources – all these are rapidly becoming accepted as hallmarks of the new network, and essential to the future health of operators old and new. And they all rely on virtualization, and usually software-defined networking and orchestration too.

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