Light Reading

The Rise of Virtual EPC

Gabriel Brown

Any customer of Heavy Reading research services will know that network functions virtualization (NFV) is now one the most critical initiatives in telecom networking. The technology applies to virtually all parts of telco network and the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), in particular, has emerged as one of the more tangible examples of how NFV can be useful -- even transformative -- in carrier networks.

Virtual EPC was an emergent theme at the 2013 Mobile World Congress, with Cisco, NEC, and Intel showing demos, and at the 2014 event it was one of the biggest networking stories at the show. AT&T's announcement that it would work with virtual EPC startup Affirmed Networks epitomized this. (See AT&T's Cloud Future Takes Shape.)

There are, I think, two primary reasons for this interest in virtual EPC: (1) because EPC is a substantial enough application that it would present meaningful progress for an NFV initiative; and (2) because the nature of the application lends itself to virtualization, making virtual EPC "doable" as well as meaningful.

In my new Heavy Reading report, "The Rise of Virtual EPC: A Mobile Packet Core Forecast & Analysis," I examine these drivers in more detail.

We know from our mobile operator research that demand for virtualized mobile core is real. There is enthusiasm from mobile network operators for a software-centric core network that is programmable and can be more easily customized and optimized for end-user needs. In principle, they say, the model is very attractive.

Equally, it is clear that there will be a long period of development of virtual EPC, for reasons of technical maturity and operator investment cycles. In practice this means adoption will be piecemeal and initially focused on less-critical, smaller-scale use cases.

In the first instance, virtual EPC will tend to be deployed in parallel to the main production EPC and will focus on machine-to-machine (M2M) and customized enterprise services. These types of services can have specific traffic profiles that might benefit from a particular EPC configuration (and specifically, a virtual P-GW configuration), and they provide an opportunity for operators to experiment with a virtual core without putting mass-market services at risk.

There is also a substantial near- to medium-term opportunity for virtualization in what is sometimes called the SGi-LAN – the services complex between the 3GPP-defined mobile core and external networks. These functions, such as DPI, Web proxy, video optimization, content and charging gateways, and firewalls, can be virtualized and mapped to software-configured service chains to create a more efficient and programmable value-added services domain. Startup ConteXtream is one of the pioneers of this concept.

Over time, there's potential for both approaches to evolve and, eventually, to transform the mobile core. For example, it will be possible to combine SGi and EPC functions into bespoke, software-configured service chains. And virtualized P-GWs, initially targeted at early adopter enterprises, will scale to more customer types and be used to add capacity to (and in time start to replace) the "classic EPC" as the technology matures.

In terms of vendor positioning, all of them now endorse the idea of virtual EPC, and over the past 12 months, spurred on by operators, most have come to embrace the opportunity wholeheartedly.

I'll write more about this in a follow-up column, but for more detail, the full report covers the following vendors: Affirmed Networks Inc., Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems Inc., Connectem Inc., Ericsson AB, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Mavenir Systems Inc., NEC Corp., Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), Samsung Group, and ZTE Corp.

— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

(2)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 4:55:46 AM
Re: Early win
"Virtual EPC is an opportunity to demonstrate an early win and accelerate deployment of NFV"

^ That's a view that companies working to develop the NFV eco-system present (e.g. Intel). EPC is a substantial and important enough of an application to be meaningful. More so than, say, CG-NAT or a TAS.

The benefits to mobile operators at this stage are less clear cut. There is interest in EPC -- more than kicking the tyres -- but for the most part it's experimental or small-scale. That's why the nearer-term market opportunity is in parallel (overlay) deployments for, say, M2M or for other small-scale uses.

There is interest from greenfield operators as well -- e.g. NEC's claims its deployment in Myanmar is the first commercial vEPC. Osnova Telecom in Russia was also named in Cisco's vEPC press release.

One challenge for virtual EPC is that existing platforms are good at what they do.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/26/2014 | 2:48:29 PM
Early win
Virtual EPC is an opportunity to demonstrate an early win and accelerate deployment of NFV. Operators looking to find benefits to NFV can look to successful virtual EPC deployments for an example.
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
As telecom operators dig deeper into the NFV and SDN worlds, they are finding that with more virtualization comes more security risks. That opens up opportunity for security improvements and new services.
FPGA and ASIC usage grows in the telecom market. FPGAs and ASICs are widely used in networking and telecom systems, from complete SoC designs to simple connections between different interfaces on merchant silicon devices.
The research and development (R&D) race is on for 5G, with many vendors working toward a common goal: developing the technologies that will become 5G and its industry standards.
Huawei joins a slew of equipment vendors seeking to make their mark in the North American cable space with products for both cable's new DOCSIS gigabit spec and CCAP.
Now that cable operators have invested heavily in WiFi, the big question is how they can optimize and monetize their wireless networks most effectively.
From The Founder
The comms industry is rallying to the cause of open, independent interoperability testing.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Tail-f, Cisco & What the Future Holds

10|9|15   |   8:17   |   (0) comments

Steve Saunders meets with Tail-f's Director of Technology, Carl Moberg, in Stockholm to discuss becoming part of Cisco, ETSI MANO, virtualization and the need to combine science and business in order to create opportunities for service providers.
LRTV Interviews
Broadband Forum Embraces SDN & NFV

10|9|15   |   02:42   |   (0) comments

At Gigabit Europe 2015, Robin Mersh and Kevin Foster from the Broadband Forum explain how the industry body is adapting to meet the SDN, NFV and cloud needs of the access network sector.
LRTV Interviews
Top Tips for FTTH Operators

10|8|15   |   02:26   |   (0) comments

At Gigabit Europe 2015, Ventura Team co-founder Richard Jones talks about some of the key business case considerations for FTTH network operators.
LRTV Interviews
M-net Calls for FTTx Unity

10|8|15   |   03:45   |   (0) comments

At the Gigabit Europe event, Jörn Schoof from M-net, the Munich city network operator, calls for industry collaboration on fiber broadband access rollouts.
LRTV Documentaries
The Business Case Challenge for NFV

10|7|15   |   03:47   |   (0) comments

Virtual CPE is one of the early success stories for network functions virtualization, as service providers are finding flexible, programmable CPE solves a lot of logistics problems and reduces their cost. But even here, Masergy Communications faced a business case challenge, says CTO Tim Naramore.
LRTV Interviews
JT Offers Some Gigabit Lessons

10|7|15   |   4:08   |   (1) comment

Barna Kutvolgyi, managing director, Global Consumer, at JT, the incumbent operator on the island of Jersey, talks about how other service providers can learn from his company's gigabit broadband rollout experiences.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T's Chiosi on the Potential of Open Source

10|6|15   |   06:27   |   (0) comments

AT&T Distinguished Network Architect Margaret T. Chiosi talks to Light Reading's Carol Wilson about the potential for open source technology to liberate communications service providers.
LRTV Interviews
Network Security in a Gigabit World

10|6|15   |   05:52   |   (0) comments

Masergy's James Harrison talks about some of the network security and data center issues network operators need to consider as they expand their broadband services portfolios.
LRTV Documentaries
Telefónica: In Search of Virtual Simplicity

10|5|15   |   07:30   |   (0) comments

Francisco-Javier Ramon Salguero, head of Telefónica's NFV initiative, admits virtualization initially means greater complexity, but with the right abstraction layer, it is possible to create a services-driven network architecture. He explains how Telefónica's current trials and initiatives are aimed at doing that, and what his company and other carriers need to ...
LRTV Interviews
Gigabit Europe Takeaways

10|5|15   |   03:47   |   (0) comments

Participants from the inaugural Gigabit Europe event in Munich share their key takeaways from the conference.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Intel Urges Women to Take Advantage of Their Seat at the Table

10|5|15   |   4:27   |   (1) comment

Have inclusive and constructive conversations, attach a bigger meaning to your work and get involved in the cause, Intel's Monique Hayward advises women in comms.
LRTV Interviews
BT Updates on Plans

10|2|15   |   03:16   |   (2) comments

Peter Bell, CIO at Openreach, the access network division at UK incumbent BT, provides an update on the operator's trials and how Openreach is planning to deploy the broadband technology in its street cabinets.
Upcoming Live Events
October 14-15, 2015, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA
November 5, 2015, Hilton Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA
November 17, 2015, Santa Clara, California
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 2, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
All Upcoming Live Events
Network appliances have a strong value proposition in today's networks and will continue to do so in the NFV and SDN-enabled networks of tomorrow.
Hot Topics
M&A Speculation Swirls Around Juniper
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 10/6/2015
Cisco's Chambers Rules Out Political Bid
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 10/6/2015
Cord Cutting? 'Fraid so.
Brett Sappington, 10/7/2015
Infinera Fleshes Out Its Metro 100G Story
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 10/7/2015
Cisco Makes 'Martian' Connection
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 10/9/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
With so many new and exciting communications technologies now under development, it's easy to get caught up in the industry's escalating hype cycle. That's why the ...
Last week saw a big day in the 15-year history of Light Reading when Editor-in-Chief Ray Le Maistre and I were invited to interview the Deputy Chairman and Rotating ...
Cats with Phones
"What?! I'm on with Finisar about their stock price tanking" Click Here