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Telefónica CTO: It's Time for Unica Phase II

Ray Le Maistre

The road to virtualization is a tough and bumpy one -- just ask Telefónica group CTO Enrique Blanco, who has hit a number of speed bumps as he works to transform the Spanish giant's international networks sooner rather than later.

Blanco emerged as one of the figureheads of the carrier SDN and NFV sector in 2014 with his bold plan for the transformation of Telefónica's network infrastructure in Europe and Latin America, christening the plan as Unica. (See Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)

The past two years have delivered a great deal of insight and some changes in direction: After only a matter of months, Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) reversed its decision to work with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as its primary vendor partner and has instead turned to Ericsson, announcing the Swedish company's role during Mobile World Congress. (See Telefónica Chooses Ericsson as Its New Virtualization Kingpin, Telefónica Ditches HPE as Virtualization Lead and HPE Will 'Continue to Work With Telefónica' on Unica.)

For the Unica project, the end of the HPE prime contractor engagement marked the end of Phase 1 for Unica, while the recently formed close relationship with Ericsson is the start of Phase 2.

Blanco is not prepared to go into detail about what happened with HPE and declined to comment on market talk from Light Reading sources that HPE struggled to meet the open ecosystem brief and that its virtualization technology simply wasn't up to the standards required for a carrier-grade deployment.

But he stresses that HPE is still very much part of the Unica blueprint. "For our next phase we have chosen Ericsson to build the Unica infrastructure, but does that mean HPE is no longer involved? Not at all -- we are very confident that HPE will be providing servers for Unica. HPE will be one of the main partners for Ericsson and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. will most likely be a partner too," stated Blanco in an exclusive chat with Light Reading.

Telefonica's global CTO Enrique Blanco (before he shaved).
Telefónica's global CTO Enrique Blanco (before he shaved).

He adds that Telefónica "learned a lot during phase 1 -- a lot about IMS, virtual CPE, virtualization... there has been a lot of open discussion." And that learning process goes on: In Brazil, the field trial of virtual CPE (virtual router) technology that began more than two years ago now involves about 20,000 customers but there is still work to be done. "We are still fine tuning -- it is a live test and we are still working to get to the point where we have a very small number of customer issues," states Blanco. (See Telefónica Preps NFV Trial .)

And the interaction between the new virtualization technology and legacy OSS was always a big question mark: Now Telefónica has a clear view of how it will overcome that particular challenge with what is now known as the OpenMANO approach. (See Split Emerges in Open Source MANO Efforts.)

Need to know more about the management and orchestration of virtual network functions? Then check out our dedicated NFV MANO content channel here on Light Reading.

The overall pace of transformation is undoubtedly slower than Blanco had first envisaged and hoped for, but that was almost inevitable: Telefónica has been one of the Tier 1s leading the way in being more experimental, in trying out new technologies in the field and shortening the time in the lab, where anything new would, in the legacy days, spend years before going anywhere near a customer.

And his enthusiasm for the project is as great as ever, even though it will be some time yet before Telefónica achieves the goal of developing and delivering fully automated cloud-based services using all facets of the Unica architecture. "Eventually the cloud services will run on Unica and we will have a unified service that will enable us to provide SLAs [service level agreements] for cloud services. For sure we have to build carrier-grade cloud services but that can wait… but we cannot wait to introduce VNFs [virtual network functions]," says the CTO.

Introducing VNFs -- starting with "non-critical network components" such as virtual PCRF (policy control) and virtual DNS -- is what Blanco is aiming to do in Germany this year and then, possibly, Argentina next year, though the CTO said the Argentina rollout plan was still to be decided.

Germany is certainly first, though. So why that market in particular? The conditions are right, says the CTO, as Telefónica is in the process of bringing together two previously independent businesses and networks, Telefónica Deutschland and E-Plus. (See Eurobites: Telefónica Gets EC Green Light on E-Plus Deal and Euronews: KPN to Sell E-Plus for €8.1B.)

"We are bringing together networks there and consolidating so it's a great opportunity to virtualize and get rid of some legacy technology," says Blanco. In Argentina, maximizing efficiencies and creating a high-quality VoLTE service would be the drivers for the rollout there.

So what exactly is Ericsson charged with doing in Germany? It's delivering a range of telco data center systems and tools -- the Hyperscale Datacenter System (HDS) 8000, Cloud Manager, OpenStack-based Cloud Execution Environment, Cloud SDN virtualized routing -- as well as various VNFs and systems integration and support services.

Still key to Telefónica's vision, though, is the avoidance of vendor lock-in: Ericsson needs to deliver an architecture that can easily integrate third-party hardware and software, including multiple Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIM) tools that will enable the integration of hardware and software from multiple partners.

Now the clock starts ticking. Ericsson has to develop and prove its plan during the first half of this year with a view to a deployment in Germany during the fourth quarter of 2016. All eyes will be on Ericsson and Telefónica to see if the Swedish vendor makes the cut and delivers a working platform in Germany by the end of this year.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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User Rank: Blogger
3/7/2016 | 1:40:15 PM
Merger focus
Some financial analysts have been talking about NFV as a driver of merger activity, so it's really interesting to see Telefonica targeting its German operations and using NFV to realize improvements as it integrates the O2 and E-Plus businesses. I wonder if we'll see other telcos doing this kind of thing -- assuming they can first get regulatory sign-off for merger activity. 
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