Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are under pressure to embrace network virtualization. But, the technology is still in its relative infancy, and deployment has proven to be more difficult than expected. We surveyed a cross-section of decision-makers in the telco industry. This post outlines our survey and key findings from our report, "The Future of Networks".

 

Dealing with Transformation in a Virtualized World: Our Survey

Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are under pressure. The explosion in customer demand for data is stretching traditional operations to the limit, requiring evermore investment in network capacity. This, combined with growing competitive pressures from both traditional and Over-the-Top (OTT) services, is compelling CSPs to transform their businesses and adapt to remain competitive.

CSPs need to find ways to control costs, increase agility, and efficiently scale their networks and operations.

Software-Defined Networks (SDN)  and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are seen as critical to meeting these challenges, enabling organizations to leverage the power of cloud infrastructure to provide multiple business and operational benefits.

The current momentum behind these technologies is very real. What was mainly a marketing concept a few years ago, now boasts significant support from the industry’s major players.

Indeed, there is no shortage of NFV/SDN initiatives. Many industry bodies and open source projects seek to accelerate deployment, including TMForum Zoom, the Telecom Infra Project, Open Networking Foundation’s CORD, MEF’s OpenLSO, and the Broadband Forum’s Open Broadband.

Leading CSPs have also established their own programs focusing on management and orchestration, such as AT&T’s ECOMP (which joined Open-O to form ONAP) and Telefonica’s OpenMANO. The direction is clear.

However, while virtualization has been proven both in labs and in initial production environments, it is still in its relative infancy. Progress has been slower than expected and there are yet questions that firms need to answer, such as: Is the new technology as reliable as legacy networks and are there enough skilled staff to meet demand?

To delve deeper into the biggest challenges, we interviewed some of the industry’s most prominent decision makers. Their responses are outlined in our survey report: "The Future of Networks: Dealing with transformation in a virtualized world".

Methodology

Through over 40 interviews and an online survey with over 100 respondents, Cartesian reached a cross-section of decision-makers from telecoms vendors, system integrators and communication service providers.

Senior technical and operational executives revealed the status of network virtualization, the challenges they are facing, and approaches to overcome them.

Their responses provide a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing an industry undergoing significant transformation.

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Key Findings

  • Enabling the faster delivery of innovative services and supporting the creation of new revenue streams consistently ranked as the most important business drivers for network virtualization.
  • Network reliability is a key concern: 90% agree that virtualized networks need to be as reliable as the traditional networks they are replacing. The reliability and stability of NFV/SDN technology ranked as the biggest concern among respondents.
  • NFV/SDN technologies haven’t yet lived up to their early hype. Operators are finding it difficult proving their business cases due to higher than projected cost and longer than anticipated implementation of their virtualization initiatives.
  • Multi-vendor integration is a challenge. In some cases, interoperability testing is being delayed by incomplete implementation of the NFV specifications.
  • The distributed architecture creates uncertainty in terms of vendor accountability for network issue identification and resolution. Therefore, within an operator, the most cautious voices are frequently the people in charge of network operations.
  • As well as technological changes, CSPs are facing organizational upheaval which can put hurdles in the way of a smooth transformation. Fears around a lack of operations support and the trust factor between network and IT departments are at the heart of a cultural struggle.
  • Removing silos is a key part of the process. Virtualization requires a multi-disciplinary, horizontal approach, where different departments (e.g. applications vs. networks vs. security) must be able to work together to achieve the strategic aims.
  • CSPs must continue to operate and maintain existing physical networks in parallel with the new virtualized infrastructure. Managing across this hybrid environment further complicates the operational task and was identified as a main cause of bottlenecks by 65% of respondents.
  • As the move to virtualized networks gathers pace, the industry is facing a skills gap. Interviewees pointed to factors such as a lack of internal expertise and a need for more investment in training.

Download the full report: The Future of Network: Dealing with transformation in a virtualized world


 

Afterword by Robin Mersh, CEO Broadband Forum 

The transition to software-driven, cloud-based services in the telco industry has been well documented but, despite recent rapid progress, we are clearly still in the early stages of our journey.

The initial hype surrounding NFV and SDN technologies prompted numerous Communication Service Providers to invest in technology development and transformation efforts but, although some have seen the benefits, the challenges have proven to be quite complex and harder to manage than many were hoping.

As illustrated in this research, this has resulted in some serious issues, most notably a shortage of technical skills and cultural blocks. Various operational, migration and interoperability difficulties are also holding businesses back in their transformation efforts, prompting feelings of frustration from some within the industry.

As reported in the survey, there is a need to unlock the potential for new services and reduce time-to-market by leveraging NFV and SDN technologies, so we welcome this research and the chance to tackle the most prevalent industry challenges.

Whether through recruitment drives, a greater focus on standardization or the provision of educational programmes, the research shows that we know where changes need to be made, which is a positive conclusion.

The Broadband Forum community of more than 150 Service Providers and manufacturers, along with its partners in standards and open source, have already taken steps to progress the industry that align with the findings outlined in this report, including management of hybrid networks, network architecture, interoperability and migration strategies.

The key projects of the Forum addressing these issues (Cloud Central Office and Open Broadband) have made great progress, however, we also recognize that there is still a lot further to go.

We hope the research carried out by Cartesian will provide the industry with extra momentum as it continues down the path to digital transformation and are optimistic that the recommendations provided will help the future of networks be realized sooner rather than later. <>

For more information on the Broadband Forum initiatives: broadband-forum.org/ob