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Telcos Report From NFV Front Lines

Dan O'Shea

CHICAGO -- Light Reading's Big Telecom Event -- Telcos are making much progress with NFV, but even those that have been leading the innovation know that challenges remain, and that they will take time to overcome.

Three carriers -- CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), NTT America Inc. , and Orange (NYSE: FTE) -- provided updates on each of their own adventures with NFV in this morning's BTE session, "Virtualization Innovation: Service Providers in Action."

James Feger, vice president of network strategy and development at CenturyLink, said his company is 18 months into a project to "embed more of a computing infrastructure" into its network, and so far has succeeded in doing this in about 26 network locations in nine countries. With CenturyLink's progress thus far, it's not surprising to see the carrier as the sponsor of a four-vendor distributed-NFV demonstration this week at BTE. (See Inside CenturyLink's NFV/SDN Strategy and 4 Vendors Bring Distributed NFV to BTE).

But Feger warned that telcos looking at like-minded transitions shouldn't take them lightly, especially if they have yet to complete certain other major network transitions. "If you haven't solved the TDM-to-IP/Ethernet transition yet, the move to NFV and SDN is going to be that much harder for you," he said, adding that the demands of the earlier transition and the need for engineering talent with IP experience caught some telcos flat-footed.

NTT America has made its own innovative stride with the new launch capability for enterprises to choose and activate their own cloud services on a usage-based billing model. The capability is built on the Universal One platform the company acquired with Virtela. Still, NTT America CTO Doug Junkins said that integrating new NFV-based services into its existing BSS/OSS infrastructure remains the carrier's biggest ongoing challenge. (See NTT Launches NFV-Based Cloud Services.)

Christos Kolias, senior research scientist based out of Orange's Silicon Valley office, detailed Orange's virtualized Evolved Packet Core project, describing it not as virtualizing a network function per se, but as virtualizing an entire architecture. He reiterated the company position that NFV is a major transition that not all carrier can or should rush into.

"NFV will be profoundly transformative, not only technically, but culturally, changing how we train people," he said. "This transition will happen incrementally. How fast depends on what your priorities are, what you want to do first."

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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