Telecom markets world over are witnessing an exponential growth in data uptake and usage. Therefore, telecom operators are constantly looking for appropriate technologies to establish a sustainable and future-ready network infrastructure. In this scenario, the adoption of software-defined networking (SDN) technology can help transform legacy networks, enabling them to support high-speed data-centric services, and also reduce the capex and opex requirements. Like several other countries, Indian operators, too, are gearing up to adopt SDN solutions in a big way. Paolo Sidoti, managing director (MD) and lead – communication network practice, Asia-Pacific, Accenture, and Aditya Chaudhuri, MD, CMT (communications, media and technology), Accenture in India, talk about the key SDN trends and their relevance for India…
What is the current level of SDN adoption globally? What is the Indian scenario?
Globally, SDN technology is moving from the proof-of-concept (PoC) phase and technology exploration towards actual deployment. However, the level of migration differs. While some operators have migrated only limited functions of their service layer (the ones that have been the easiest to migrate) to SDN, the others, particularly big players, are investing heavily in this space and are on more aggressive paths. My sense is that a complete migration from the existing network will still take several more years as operators have put in massive investments in their existing infrastructure.
Some of the operators are now trying PoC in India too. The single biggest driver is the need to reduce the cost-to-serve. The ongoing industry consolidation is a good trigger point in this regard. That said the adoption of SDN is a journey and there is an evolution involved. The unprecedented data usage taking place in the country will drive this adoption. Currently, video accounts for 30 per cent of data consumed, which is expected to go up to 70 per cent in the next 18 months. When a user runs a video, a huge amount of capacity, bandwidth, storage space, content distribution network, etc. is required. Moreover, this needs to be managed on-demand. Thus, SDN is the future of Indian networks.
What are the primary challenges faced by operators in SDN deployment?
From a technical perspective, the key challenge is the lack of standardisation. It is very difficult for operators to pick and choose different components from different vendors and still have high clarity on complete integration. So, to ensure integration, there is a need to test the interfaces. This is one of the key barriers although we are seeing progress every year and the increasing relevance of the open source model as a key element of consolidation of best practices.
The migration from legacy networks to a new environment is a challenge. Managing new infrastructure is quite complex and there are several risks associated with the unknown. The behaviour of a traditional network machine during a fault is predictable. However, in the case of SDN, the level of control is less clear. Therefore, the chief technology officers need to be cautious when considering the move towards SDN. They need to develop internal expertise, which most of the companies lack at the moment.
How can telecom operators overcome these challenges?
First, they must make the process of technology transition as fast as possible. To this end, several operators have formed a consortium, but we are yet to see the industry reaping any substantial benefits. Second, they should do a fair and serious assessment of their own skill-set to understand how they can move to the next phase swiftly. The strategy exercised today is focused more on analysing the technology and less on the operational model and business implications.
How is the SDN landscape likely to evolve in India?
The SDN evolution in the country will mostly happen in two ways. Some companies will be ahead of others along the adoption curve and will embrace the complexity. They will collaborate with suppliers and other players in the ecosystem. Meanwhile, there will be a second set of companies that will adopt a wait-and-watch approach and will proceed after learning from the experience of early adopters.
That said, it is pretty clear that SDN disruption is coming through, and it will depend on the level of adoption, the appropriate skill-sets as well as the ability to handle complexities. As the telecom industry becomes stable over the next 6-12 months, the SDN wave is likely to usher in, in some shape or form.