NFV: How to get out of a virtual labyrinth

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Robin Kent, Director of European Operations at Adax looks at some of the concerns and uncertainties around NFV and how to resolve them.

For many years, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) has been the source of a lot of uncertainty for the telecoms industry. And by no means is the fight to dominate this technology over. The slow pace at which virtualization has progressed has meant that feelings of frustration have overcome the initial enthusiasm.

A broad mix of business and technical challenges, such as skills shortages and operational change, are taking their toll and effectively slowing down pace and scope of commercial implementations. As a result, the majority of service providers questioned in a survey by Telecoms.com now say that over the next five years NFV will have only a modest impact on business success. This begs the question: should we believe the hype?

The NFV hype

It is not unheard of in the telecoms sector for new technologies to generate a lot of hype from analysts and media commentators alike. In NFV’s case, there has been continuous dissolution. As we head into the fifth year since the emergence of NFV as a game-changing telecoms technology, with no real fruition, it is justifiable to wonder whether it is worth the hype.

Fewer than 10 per cent of service providers said that their company is meeting their deployment schedule for NFV. Despite all this uncertainty, many service providers do see benefits surrounding virtualization – increased network agility, shorter time to market and the creation of new services and revenue streams.

The concerns and uncertainties of NFV

NFV is expected to be most important for reducing operating expenses but high costs of deployment, complexity of NFV operations, skills shortages and lack of investment in/internal commitment to NFV are the main barriers to success for companies with regards to deployment. Similarly, another major challenge for service providers is integration with legacy equipment. They are also finding that NFV is seemingly complex and difficult for many service providers to deploy at scale.

With regards to the architecture, the breadth and the number of distinct components make it challenging to design, build and support. It is essential to integrate NFV into already-existing network architectures. Further hindrance to deployment is caused by a lack of “blueprints” and mature standards for the implementation of NFV.

That said, NFV will be able to deliver high-performance networks with greater scalability, elasticity, and adaptability at reduced costs compared to networks built from traditional networking equipment over time. New network requirements such as Internet of Things, 5G and SD-WAN ensure the drive of NFV, but it also covers a wide range of network applications.

Why service providers should take a carefully measured view to virtualization adoption

With NFV service providers must work towards improving the network performance and reliability and ensure that they have the ability to integrate existing operational and billing systems with legacy network architectures. To successfully deploy this, service providers must adopt a virtualized signalling gateway solution to integrate the old with the new. They need to ensure that they maximize the return of investment in their networks and are keeping TDM equipment in service – particularly the end-node voice switches.  A gateway can deliver the scalability, flexibility, throughput, and performance to manage the convergence and growth of networks while maintaining legacy TDM SS7 connections and infrastructure. This reduces the total cost of ownership of legacy equipment and enables the seamless transition to new IP-based networks.

For service providers, NFV demonstrates clear benefits not just to costing, but also bolsters efficiency and adaptability. It is undeniable that the ongoing uncertainty surrounding NFV has impacted the speed of its implementation. If the benefits of NFV are to be realised it is important that service providers see beyond the hype and push forward with their deployment schedule.

 

Robin Kent - Chairman Berks PGL Comms CommitteeRobin Kent is Director of European Operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, wide area network, and office automation markets.  He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s successful transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.

The need for an effective packet core in IoT

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax, looks at some of the technical steps that need to be taken before we can realise the potential of IoT.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is being hailed as the next big thing in the tech world. The way in which we live our day-to-day lives will change forever when all of our products and devices become ‘connected’ – that’s if we’re led to believe everything we see and hear.

However, the market has somewhat slowed down. Equipment manufacturers continue to push the IoT-line, but those who need to lay the infrastructure to ensure the phenomenon becomes a reality remain reserved. This hesitancy is highlighted through an industry report which found that a massive 86 per cent of service providers admit they are not ready for IoT and only a few are showing actual progress.

Despite this slow progress, IoT promises to heavily shape the telecoms industry. We’ve heard about the benefits IoT can bring not just for consumers looking to build their connected homes and drive connected cars, but a range of different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and retail.

The demand to be consistently connected, and to digitally communicate with anything from another phone to a kettle, for example, highlights that this phenomenon is not going away anytime soon despite the slow uptake. Thus, the reliability of connections will become vital for the growth and success of the IoT revolution. Many are predicting that 5G will go some way to supporting the vast number of connections, but there are still likely to be problems with performance and reliability if the right solutions and network infrastructure aren’t implemented.

The huge scale of IoT adoption is a major challenge for network operators. Experts believe that network operators have the power to unlock the true capabilities of IoT, but speed is of the essence and the industry is frantically trying to keep up with end user demands and expectations. In light of this, a key problem that needs to be addressed is the protocols needed to run IoT applications.

If IoT is to truly take off and its full capabilities realised, operators must be prepared to maintain enough capacity in the core network, and more importantly, manage the connections to it without creating bottlenecks. Typically, GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) solutions have been able to handle up to 25-30,000 Packet Data Protocol (PDP) contexts per application, but operators now need to be looking towards coping with millions. By foreseeing this huge surge operators can prepare appropriately rather than waiting for it turn up unexpectedly at their door.

Operators need to consider a GTP solution that enables traffic capacity to be increased by accelerating data paths and removing bottlenecks, which in turn, accelerates the GTP tunnels and packet filtering. This results in higher performance and vastly improves QoS and Quality of Experience (QoE) for the end user. This bandwidth throttling or rate limiting is performed to guarantee QoS return on investment (ROI) via the efficient use of bandwidth.

Operators should also be prepared for the varying levels of service requirements across different applications. It’s when device numbers are massive; both the signaling and data plane throughout is dependent upon good performance from the GTP-U. The effective solution to low latency tolerance is a control plane issue and requires good GTP-C and most importantly effective SCTP.

Another potential headache for mobile operators is that IoT has many additional security requirements, because of the nature of the endpoint devices and the potential high level of service criticality. In serving a high volume of devices, networks are exposed to signaling storms, and intentionally malicious denial of service attacks. Such attacks can have a serious detrimental impact on devices, and the quality of experience the end user expects and demands. In a bid to tackle such issues, operators should adhere to the GSMA’s IoT Security Guidelines for Network Operators.

These guidelines have been designed with the entire IoT ecosystem in mind, including device manufacturers, service providers, developers, and, where this topic of discussion is concerned, network operators. The GSMA describes the most fundamental security mechanisms as; identification and authentication of entities involved in the IoT service; access control to the different entities that need to be connected to create the service; data protection to guarantee the security and privacy of the information carried by the network for the IoT service; and the processes and mechanisms to ensure availability of network resources and protect them against attack.

It’s clear that IoT is only set to grow in popularity so capacity and security must be an issue that operators address now or face falling behind competitors in delivering the high level of service customers have come to expect in the connected world. To ensure the capabilities of IoT can be embraced and implemented, network operators must take the lead and apply their own measures and protocols. An effective packet core needs to be dimensioned for cost-effective deployment and operations, but it should also be able to expand rapidly to maintain reliable performance as the number of users and devices keeps growing.

 

Robin Kent - Chairman Berks PGL Comms CommitteeRobin Kent is Director of European Operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, wide area network, and office automation markets.  He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s successful transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.