Even so, the vendor community still has a long way to go to fully satisfy Orange's own demands, according to senior executives.
By the end of next year, the operator wants to introduce a "universal CPE" that can replace all of the 400,000 CPEs currently deployed globally and ensure that Orange can deliver new virtualized services at customer sites.
"Cisco, Juniper and other vendors are starting to introduce some boxes but at this stage the solutions are still quite expensive and not something we can deliver easily," says Laurent Perrin, an IT pre-sales architect at Orange Business Services. "We also need to have something that is powerful enough to add services virtually without having to change the box."
Orange executives have seized the initiative and begun experimenting with white box technology to reduce costs. The operator has already carried out a proof of concept (PoC) using an x86 box running virtual network functions. During that process, it replaced the x86 chips with ARM-based smartphone processors, and used container technology rather than virtual machines.
Containers essentially decompose network functions into much smaller individual components that service providers can re-use in different ways to create customized, scalable applications. Analysts have already said they could form an integral part of a second virtualization wave, following some investment in more clunky machines, and deliver more extreme business benefits to operators. (See The Real NFV Revolution Is 5 Years Away.)
"At this point today, we are not gaining a lot because VNFs are so big you need a large x86 engine," says Pierre-Louis Biaggi, the vice president of sales development and partnerships at Orange Business Services, in describing some of the challenges the operator faces.
The next step for Orange will be a PoC with a customer based on a vendor solution, according to Perrin, and the operator is already working on the selection of what he calls a "target solution."
But the company acknowledges that some traditional vendors are unhappy with these developments, even if they are being forced to adapt to them.
"Cisco and others are not looking at this very nicely because it is a way of changing their business model and separating the hardware from the software, meaning the replacement of the solution can be much easier," says Biaggi.
Despite the vendor concerns, Morales expresses optimism that a broad range of solutions will take shape in 2017, allowing Orange to make a decision on the universal CPE technology by the end of that year.
And as the technology and service proposition changes, so is the Orange organization.
The operator has set up an entirely new division that will initially cater to customers buying NaaS products, but other divisions will need to evolve as on-demand services become increasingly important to the overall Orange business.
"There is a huge human resources program that has just started at a Group level to ensure we are prepared globally," says Morales. "The evolution of skills is going to be a concern for the Orange Group between now and 2020."
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading