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SDN Enables WebCo Collab: ATIS Members

Sarah Thomas

CHICAGO -- Light Reading's Big Telecom Event 2014 -- Service providers, both cable and telco, are struggling today with how to work with web companies like Google and Facebook, but it's a challenge they're hopeful SDN and NFV will resolve on their own, according to several operators and one vendor member of ATIS.

Executives from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T) this morning bemoaned competition from over-the-top providers and the difficulty in working with web giants like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which is deploying networks of its own. But Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CTO Marcus Weldon had a suggestion to fix it all: deploy SDN and NFV. (See AlcaLu: Going With the Flow.)

"NFV and SDN are great enablers of collaboration," he told attendees, noting that once deployed, there is no barrier for smaller vendors to come to the fore. "It's going to be a fantastic collaboration tool. It's a big transformation, but you don't have to worry about the ability to collaborate if we build that network."

By its nature, a software-defined network uses APIs to access its resources and can onboard applications more easily, quickly, and cost effectively. Operators can leverage this to share customer data with web companies and build services that create a positive customer experience driven by the cloud and mobility, not silos and battles over revenues, Weldon said. (See Carriers Warm Up to Service Innovation.)

That said, he warned there is a mindset change needed to take advantage of SDN and NFV, which includes no longer working as individual entities, regardless of if you're an operator or vendor. "We'll die on the sword of SDN and NFV if we don't fully leverage it," he said. "That interworking is key to create value."

So are the operators up for it? The three on the panel had their doubts. Their key concerns were around integrating these new technologies with their legacy infrastructure, changing the culture of silos and network-centricity, fragmented vendor products that don't give a complete network view, and operationalization concerns that hold them back from truly innovating. (See Telcos Report From NFV Front Lines.)

For example, Telus CTO Ibrahim Gedeon said his company is interested in delivering content to any screen a customer might use, but it's held back by the business model of the content industry.

"We need a contract for every medium we transmit on, which I think is very stupid," he said, adding that he's a geek, not a business guy, so he can say that. "The technology is brilliant; it's beautiful, but if the business models don't change drastically, the technology will not support the business case."

The service providers are all members of Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and are working toward more industry collaboration, but haven't been able to make much progress as the web companies are not members. They are both solving issues, like security and encryption, on their own, but end up doing it in spite of each other rather than together for the benefit of both. Weldon said the two camps need to figure out how to implement services for the end user perspective, rather than their own. (See Google to Open Key Network Models for Industry Comment, Standardization and ATIS Works to Avert Web Control Battle.)

"The biggest culture shift we need to make is [to foster] a better understanding of the customer experience, and then help them through the network direction," added Jay Bluhm, vice president of network planning at Sprint. "Now you are opening things up more -- opening up new opportunities -- and customers will invent how to use services on their own."

The panel members were also given the chance to fantasize about what one thing they would do if they had a magic wand. Their big wishes? A massive underlay of small cells globally interconnected for AlcaLu, a spotless network with no dropped or blocked calls for Sprint, a service management view across network elements for TWC, and the ability to peer with other operators for Telus.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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6/20/2014 | 9:06:23 AM
Rethinking the edge access provider
1) the carriers need to understand the customer experience isn't just on their network.  With 70% offload it's clearly on others' networks.  Moreover they need to work collaboratively to make sure access is seamless at the edge as the biggest and best customers (enterprises) are looking for seamless, low-cost, secure, reliable solutions across any boundary at the edge.  That's called the network effect and that will be the greatest driver of edge demand as it has already scaled the core to 1,000x or more greater cost efficiency than the edge.


2) that's what the core content and application providers want as well.  What the CTO of Telus says about individual contracts is absolutely correct, but he's looking at it edge-side, not core-side the way an aggregator like Netflix does.  Carriers can find sizable markets, but their TCO is off by several factors.


3) As for technology or supply-side solutions like SDN/NFV and associated APIs, the carriers would do well to make these openly competitive both internally and externally.  That means that the lower layer infrastructure guys inside the carrier have the opportunity to make build, buy, lease decisions just like the upper layer guys. 


4) and that will be the first step towards very necessary vertical disintermediation.


5) and open and competitive APIs will also play into the evolving "exchange" model of balanced settlements (not reciprocal or 2-sided, as those have negative connotations) that will facilitate rapid investment at the edge driven by "core-driven" demand and procurement necessary to amortize opex and capex for key performance issues such as capacity (particularly upstream), latency, QoS, security, and redundancy, cost effectively and ubiquitously for rapidly developing 4K VoD, 2-way HD video collaboration, seamless mobile BB, and IoT markets.  

Sorry, but screw net neutrality; a convenient fiction created by competitive apologists who failed to understand that data scaled out of competitive (WAN) voice markets, policy that mandated interconnect, and unintended monopoly (MAN) reaction in the form of flat-rate dial-up.


6) at the end of the day, it's not about supply, rather future demand from those 4 trends that will swamp everything in their paths on a cost/bit basis.


7) in addition to APIs, another good starting point would be to elevate the much-maligned wholesale teams in the carriers as they have a more complete view of global demand by virtue of their internetworking experience and dealings.  Unfortunately, these are viewed as the low-people on the totem pole and their organizations are being eviscerated as carriers shore up their castle walls.  For instance they might be ones to say, "to create global VoLTE markets rapidly let's aggressively embrace intentional wifi offload for voice and sms."  Just sayin, cause the internal network and marketing and strategy folks won't say that.
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