The major surge in data consumption over the past year and the increase in the number of interconnected devices have had significant implications on operator networks. Capacity augmentation as well as the development of more scalable, software-defined and programmable networks is the need of the hour, with the roll-out of 5G around the corner. The adoption of new technologies such as software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) allows operators several benefits, including maintenance and optimisation of networks, automation and lower time to market. Vodafone India, currently the second largest operator in the country in terms of subscriber market share (and soon to be the largest player post its merger with Idea Cellular), is prioritising the deployment of these robust technologies to prepare its networks to support the scale and demand of services in the future. Vishant Vora, director, technology, Vodafone India, talks about the company’s SDN/NFV strategy, the benefits and challenges in deploying these solutions and the technology trends expected to shape the future of the industry…
What are the key benefits of deploying SDN and NFV for telecom operators?
The combination of SDN and NFV is enabling a revolutionary change in telecommunications architecture. In terms of benefits, general purpose compute infrastructure (commercial off-the-shelf infrastructure) based on OpenStack for multiple network functions results in zero vendor lock-in and disruptive capex reduction. Further, these allow automatic and dynamic configuration of the network as per the application’s key performance indicator requirements (OpenFlow based), which results in ubiquitous availability. Furthermore, SDN and NFV solutions offer a high degree of automation for providing enterprise-to-enterprise services, operations management and service assurance.
How is Vodafone India leveraging these technologies?
We have a global strategy for SDN and NFV technologies, and the same is being adapted and implemented in our operations in India. We are looking at virtualisation not just in the core and transport networks, but also in the radio space.
Currently, we are leveraging these technologies for real-time network visibility, analytics and agility, which results in dynamic service assurance. These solutions are used for virtualising control plane functionality for interoperability, for enhancing scale, for improving convergence and for reducing input/output hops. Also, these technologies help in establishing control and user plane separation to simplify network operations, reduce network-related issues and add dynamic features in a controlled environment of the control plane.
What are the key challenges faced in deploying such solutions? How can these be overcome?
While the benefits of deploying NFV are clear, challenges also exist. There are challenges pertaining to the availability of skilled labour. Skilled resources in the areas of native cloud, IPv6, yet another next generation (YANG) models, artificial intelligence, containers and Kubernettes are fewer in number and difficult to find. A shift to these solutions requires a move from network skills to software skills. Other areas of concern are forwarding plane capacity and the availability of n*100G I/O port on server blades.
Do you have a wish list for telecom network and equipment vendors in India?
Our wish list for telecom network and equipment vendors would include:
- Availability of high speed (n*100G) interfaces on server blades.
- High hardware availability of 99.99 per cent.
- Vendor software interoperability on the same/common virtual machines and hypervisors.
- A single orchestration layer for multiple vendor controllers.
What is your outlook for the adoption of SDN and NFV with the advent of 5G?
Our outlook for SDN and NFV, along with the roll-out of 5G, is positive. 5G mandates the adoption of mobile edge computing, resulting in SDN/NFV moving closer to the intended user. Ultra-low latency requirements demand SDN/NFV instantiation on demand at the edge of the network, resulting in very low latency.
What are the key technology trends that will shape the future of Indian telecom?
- IoT: Narrowband IoT, enterprise IoT.
- Intuitive-based networking: Closed loop resulting in automatic bandwidth allocation, problem resolution and path optimisation based on the application’s needs.
- Native cloud, and control and user plane separation.