When you talk to Telekom Austria CTO Günther Ottendorfer about NFV, the conversation quickly turns to people.

Michelle Donegan

December 11, 2014

8 Min Read
Taking NFV to the People

Having recently fulfilled his dream of crossing the Alps on a mountain bike, Telekom Austria Group CTO Günther Ottendorfer is now preparing to take his technology teams on another grueling journey -- a three-to-five-year journey to NFV.

Interestingly, Ottendorfer's approach to tackling the challenges of virtualization appear to be as much about educating and retraining his staff as it is about technology. (See SDN & NFV: No Going Back.)

"I see an important need to take the technology teams that have been living in the digital world of telecom over the last 30 or 40 years and take them on a journey," he says.

Since taking up his post in September 2013, Ottendorfer has mapped out an NFV strategy for the European operator, which has about 23 million customers across eight countries. In addition to technology trials, a key part of his plan is a new training program designed to get all employees up to speed on virtualization at an early stage. That training is due to start in the first or second quarter next year.

"NFV is a big change for the mindset of the people," he explains. "It means real convergence between network and IT skills because a lot of those skills are already present in the IT world and less present in the network world. It means that we have to get familiar with many concepts of virtualization that are, again, much more present in the IT world. It means a completely new world of troubleshooting, incident management, even of monitoring our systems."

Figure 1: Destination NFV Telekom Austria Group CTO Gunther Ottendorfer is ready for the next technology journey. Telekom Austria Group CTO Günther Ottendorfer is ready for the next technology journey.

Inside the Telekom Austria Group , the convergence of telecom networks and IT starts at the top with Ottendorfer, because his role as CTO has responsibility for IT as well as network technology.

To help Telekom Austria's employees adapt to the new world of virtualization, the operator's NFV trial project teams have been developing a basic training course that will be open to employees at all levels within the company starting in the first half of next year. Following this initial program, more advanced courses will be made available for specific technology groups within the operator, such as planning and operations.

"We want to get people ready for this new world of NFV in several phases -- teaching them really what is virtualization, what is orchestration, how do functions work in this world, what do you have to look for in the planning and operating of this world," he says.

The idea is to take Telekom Austria's existing people on the journey to NFV. "We believe we have very qualified people working on our systems and platforms and we want to offer them the opportunity to get ready for this new world in a timely fashion," he says. "That's why we want to start the basic training early on."

Also, with this training program, Ottendorfer hopes to avoid ending up in a situation where the operator has just a few specialized people involved in NFV that could get isolated within the company.

Surf's up for virtualization
But as paradigm shifts go, Ottendorfer believes NFV is not unusual because new technologies inevitably require changes in culture, mindset and skills to be truly embraced. And he has experienced quite a few technology changes during his more than 20-year career. Prior to joining Telekom Austria in 2013, he was managing director of networks at Australian operator SingTel Optus Pty. Ltd. and oversaw the launch of LTE services. While there, the Austrian-born exec also discovered a passion for surfing.

Before that, he held senior technology positions at European mobile operators, including the roles of COO and CTO of T-Mobile Austria , CTO of T-Mobile Deutschland GmbH and European Technology Director at Group level for T-Mobile International AG .

Since returning to Austria, where surfing on the weekends is sadly no longer an option, Ottendorfer has swapped his surf board for a mountain bike. Over the summer, he cycled across the Alps on a five-day, 400-kilometer trek from Mittenwald, Germany, to Lake Como, Italy, a trip he had long dreamed of making.

So is that the kind of journey he expects the transition to NFV to be like? Not necessarily. But he explains that with technology shifts, as with surfing or mountain biking, "you always have to look ahead. You can plan your trip, but you have to adjust to the circumstances along the way."

He explains that every technology phase has its unique set of challenges, such as starting 3G, getting into the world of data, managing data growth, then managing LTE, to name just a few examples. "You have to look over the wide ocean of technology, find the right path for the company and get the team ready for that in multiple ways,” he says.

Next page: To NFV and Beyond, plus Back to Broadband Basics

To NFV and beyond
Telekom Austria trialled NFV in four of its markets earlier this year and is taking an "open community" approach to sharing the lessons from these trials within the company, Ottendorfer explains.

In June the operator tested virtual evolved packet core (EPC) technology from Affirmed Networks Inc. at its MobilTel (M-Tel) subsidiary in Bulgaria and virtual EPC capabilities from Connectem Inc. at its VIPnet subsidiary in Croatia. In September, the operator's Serbian subsidiary, Vip Mobile, trialled Metaswitch Networks ' Clearwater open-source IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) core.

And in December, the operator trialled a voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service with a virtualized telephony application server (TAS) running on a virtualized IMS environment, both from Mavenir Systems Inc. , at its Vip subsidiary in the Republic of Macedonia. (See The Rise of Virtual EPC and Ex-Stoke Startup Aims to Shake Up 4G Core.)

The IMS trial in Serbia marked the first time the operator has used an open source community project to implement telecom services in a virtualized environment in an operator network.

Ottendorfer believes open source will be a valid alternative for deploying systems. "The big advantage of open source is that you get an ecosystem around the common implementation, so a lot of things are already taken care of in the ecosystem," he said. "It also allows quick innovation moves by the community which will give us faster time to market. Open source projects KVM, OpenStack and Clearwater are communities that I think will bring up valid alternatives for telecom operators."

Ottendorfer expects to be able to introduce the first virtualized network functions in a live environment around the end of 2015 or in 2016 and notes that it will be a gradual process over the next two to three years.

"It's not a big bang approach where you say, 'this is the last day of the old system.' It will be a smoother introduction, where you in parallel [with legacy systems] ramp up the new world of NFV," he says.

Back to broadband basics
While Ottendorfer has his strategic eye on getting Telekom Austria to a virtualized future, he is also focused on more near-term technology priorities, such as the continued rollout of LTE and fiber broadband.

The operator, which is controlled by Carlos Slim's América Móvil S.A. de C.V. , completed a capital increase in November that raised €997 million (US$1.23 billion). The operator said in a statement that the proceeds would give it flexibility to pursue acquisitions in order to either strengthen operations in existing markets, add fixed-line assets in markets where it only owns mobile operators, or expand into new operations. In addition, the operator said the capital increase will enable it to accelerate its fiber broadband rollout between 2015 and 2018. (See Eurobites: Rights Issue Raises €997M for Telekom Austria, Eurobites: Carlos Slim Lands Telekom Austria and Eurobites: Slim Fattens Up Telekom Austria.)

Telekom Austria has earmarked €400 million (US$493 million) for fiber investment, but said this is dependent on whether the Austrian government goes ahead with its plans to spend €1 billion ($1.23 billion) of public funds to improve broadband coverage in the country.

In October, the operator hooked up the first residential customer using G.fast in a trial with Alcatel-Lucent. Ottendorfer is eyeing technologies such as G.fast and vectoring to help with what he calls Telekom Austria's smart fiber rollout. (See G.fast: Niche or Not?)

"The development of vectoring and G.fast is significant for us to make the best use of our access [network] in Austria," he says. "We have the possibility to bring fiber closer to the customer and then have really good speed using copper for the last 100 to 300 meters. Five years ago, you would have to go with fiber directly to the customer's home. So that change in technology allows us a much smarter and less investment-heavy rollout."

On the wireless side of the business, Telekom Austria offers LTE services in four of its eight markets -- Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and the Republic of Macedonia -- and is focused on expanding LTE coverage in those markets, while it also launched LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation in some cities in Austria and Slovenia during November.

The operator also recently joined the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Ltd. Alliance to share in the development of 5G technology.

Despite the technology changes looming for Telekom Austria, not to mention the on-going challenges from having to operate in difficult financial conditions in many of its markets, Ottendorfer maintains that now is the best time to be CTO of a telecom network operator.

"The attitude should always be that this is the best time, because there are a lot of opportunities ahead," he says. "This is the best time, but there were several other best times too."

— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.  

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