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Sprint Eyes SDN to Re-Craft Its Core

Sarah Thomas

CHICAGO -- SDN and NFV are the flavors of the month right now, according to Sprint's chief technology officer, but the network man sees both technologies as a way to re-create its core -- someday, at least.

Stephen Bye, CTO and SVP of Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), told Light Reading this during the Q&A session of a panel the operator held in Chicago on Tuesday. While acknowledging that both software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are hyped right now, he said they are a serious development for the wireless industry.

"For us, it represents an opportunity to re-architect how we do the core network and how we think about it," Bye said. "It's really bringing some of the more evolved software practices into a telco infrastructure that over time hasn’t kept up with how technology is going from a software perspective. It's not a question of if, it's a questions of timing and how we evolve to that."

That timing may come down to when the technologies are more standardized. Bye said Sprint is working with its new parent, SoftBank Corp. , as well as operators across the globe on standardization to help drive down costs. He said there's a lot of work going on around SDN, giving a nod to Sprint partner and fellow panelist Nokia Networks VP Bill Payne, who added that NSN is on the front-end of both SDN and NFV.

Bye and Payne were joined on the panel by Brian Berner, regional VP of Spotify , and Yankee Group Research Inc. analyst Rich Karpinski. The discussion covered a range of topics from network evolution to mobile entertainment to attracting more budding engineers. (See Sprint Accelerator: Changing Carrier DNA.)

Click on the image below for a few snaps from the event in downtown Chicago.

Sparking a Panel Discussion
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sandra Guy lobs questions at Sprint CTO Stephen Bye, NSN VP Bill Payne, Spotify VP Brian Berner, and Yankee Group analyst Rich Karpinski.
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sandra Guy lobs questions at Sprint CTO Stephen Bye, NSN VP Bill Payne, Spotify VP Brian Berner, and Yankee Group analyst Rich Karpinski.

One thing Sprint is (still) working on today is evolving its wireless network through Network Vision and filling in the gaps in its LTE network. Sprint has said in the past that it will fire up an LTE market when it at least has "street-level coverage," but Bye said his priority today is covering entire markets with Spark, which spans three frequency bands -- 800 Mhz for indoor coverage, 1,900 MHz, and 2.5 Ghz, its "workhorse in terms of capacity and speed." (See When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway?, Sprint Sparks It in Chicago, and Sprint Sparks Up Vendors for Faster 4G LTE.)

"Coverage is not about isolated pockets, but creating a ubiquitous experience," Bye said. "We are working on three cell sites a day, adding capacity and speed to that infrastructure."

That includes deploying small cells where needed, both indoors and out. NSN's Payne added that small cells address high-density local traffic, and the key for the vendor in deploying them is to build equipment that can accommodate quick capacity upgrades when needed. (See Sprint Plans Indoor, Outdoor Small Cells in 2014.)

Interestingly, Bye said it wasn't the cost of equipment that is the biggest hindrance to Sprint's ambitious network build; it's the cost of working with a city like Chicago. (See WiFi: Small Cells' Trojan Horse? and Small Cells in the City .)

"When we look at the infrastructure investment we make, we deploy hundreds of cell sites. Equipment is a small part of the cost. It's construction, zoning, permitting that creates the long time frame to build and takes up the most investment. No one wants a big cell tower. It's not really about the equipment. It's all the infrastructure and labor around it. We are spending billions per year building out infrastructure."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Dave @ TMFORUM (Tectonics)
Dave @ TMFORUM (Tectonics),
User Rank: Light Beer
3/7/2014 | 6:06:43 AM
Operationalization the key to the future of SDN nd NFV
Hype cycles are certainly real but driven by opinions of the future rather than what is being delivered.

NFV and SDN as being practiced display unusual characteristics:

  • Both promise cost saving and improvements in service agility;

  • Both are starting with practical implementations to drive standardisation which allows the potential operational benefits to be assessed practically in advance of firm standards.

Such characteristics encourage the investigation of operational aspects of these technologies earlier in their lifecycle than hitherto.

Operationalization requires organizations to tackle both the traditional OSS BSS integration with technology, and the logistics of deployment as mentioned by the panellists. Addressing Operational Readiness within an organization covers aspects such as Procurement and acceptance processes, operational practices and workforce skill transformation. Notable the move to software based networking will enable a move to a DevOps operation model more akin to Enterprise Data Center operations which has demonstrable lower cost and higher agility .

An early focus on implementation enables organizations to address practically these important operationalization aspects early in the technology lifecycle, and allows concurrent investigation of the technology and the business impacts arising arising from operationalization.

Those involved with the TM Forum ZOOM program will be aware that we are laser focussed on operationalization of NFV  based on early prototyping and a 360 degree view of impacts on Service Providers. These will  transform lab prototypes into operational monetized business propositions.

Service agility is about bringing both the technology and organization's capability together at the same time and dramatically shortening the timescales of both. Cleary these points need to be got over to our government colleagues if their practices and process turn out to be the 'long pole in the tent' that delays delivery of benefits to citizens.
User Rank: Moderator
3/6/2014 | 10:31:56 AM
Re: class dismissed
We also need to understand that moving first is still going to be a relatively small step. SDN needs to get into real world deployments that go beyond small test environments. This is the only way to figure out the real operational side of things - monitoring, troubleshooting, analytics, capacity planning, maintenance and failure implications, change control, and other operational considerations. 

Keep in mind that most of the carriers are expecting to use open source for their point of control. OpenDaylight is absolutely promising, but its first release is just over 4 weeks old. Meaningful deployments will take time. 

I do think it's interesting that folks on the customer side are starting to lean into the hype. This is exciting as it might compress the early deploy-iterate-redeploy cycle.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
3/6/2014 | 10:30:09 AM
Re: class dismissed
True, but sometimes there are benefits to not be the first mover. Verizon had such an advantage in being first with LTE, it seemed, but then it didn't really matter now that AT&T has caught up. Not saying that Sprint has the best network strategy (ha), but wait and see might not be a bad approach given where it's at now.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/6/2014 | 12:33:56 AM
Re: class dismissed
While Sprint is talking about SDN, AT&T is far along in planning and NTT in implementation. And I wonder whether cloud providers like Microsoft will end up competing with service providers to supply enterprise virtual networks.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/6/2014 | 12:32:43 AM
Re: class dismissed
The problem with the hype cycle is that the trough of disillusionment becomes a trap for self-delusion.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
3/5/2014 | 2:39:01 PM
Re: class dismissed
I don't know if the interest, or even the hype, is gone, a lot of telcos just aren't willing to be first movers. Sprint has been the most quiet about it in the US, probably because it has its hands full with its other network issues.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/5/2014 | 2:31:30 PM
Re: class dismissed
We use something internally we call Interest Maps. It looks a little like the hype wave but is less sophisticated (probably because I came up with it during an especially pointless staff meeting under the old regime). All these things do go through predictable phases, but it seems like the cycle times are condensing quite a bit. Back in the good old days (like four years ago), the initial upward curve would last a year or more. Now we're down to a few months.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/5/2014 | 2:23:56 PM
Re: class dismissed

I think we are just riding the wave!


User Rank: Light Sabre
3/5/2014 | 2:16:30 PM
class dismissed
So the experts who are already relegating SDN to the "what was" pile are being ... prematurely dismissive?
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