SD-WAN Update: 5G Impact Still to Come, as the Market Consolidates

Move over aerial taxis and connected street lamps, 5G is coming for SD-WAN. But is 5G even the hero SD-WAN needs?

One of this year's latest hyped use cases for 5G is delivering added intelligence and transport options to SD-WAN services. Ahead of Mobile World Congress in February, Verizon and AT&T announced they would add 5G to their SD-WAN services. 5G could be used to dedicate network slices to improving SD-WAN's ability to manage traffic and prioritize applications.

Roman Pacewicz, chief product officer at AT&T Business, told Light Reading at MWC that the service providers' expanded relationship with VMware's VeloCloud would provide customers with the means to utilize advanced LTE wireless broadband as an option for transport technologies for SD-WAN networks, upgradeable to 5GE as networks are deployed.

"Software-defined networking is all about control -- routing application flows instead of just packets," said Pacewicz. "That intelligence could be enhanced through 5G where you could slice the network and provide specific performance for a subset of your applications and use cases. You could leverage dynamic-traffic management to protect certain streams."

Orange Business Services' Didier Duriez, EVP of Global Solutions, also told Light Reading at MWC that "5G will multiply the opportunities for SD-WAN ... I think it will be another boost to SD-WAN adoption."

With 5G deployments barely off the starting block, it's a little too early to tell what type of impact 5G will have on boosting both the SD-WAN market and the types of new features offered, says Sterling Perrin, Heavy Reading principal analyst of Optical Networking & Transport.

"5G has such a long rollout," says Perrin. "If you're talking about the next year or two, the impact has to be minimal for SD-WAN. What they're probably getting at is that in a hybrid situation with SD-WAN, you can see multiple types of circuits."

As an overlay technology, SD-WAN can already utilize 4G LTE as a circuit type if the broadband connection drops. SD-WAN could certainly use 5G in a similar capacity -- as another delivery option -- but beyond that, Perrin says we might have to wait and see how the 5G market matures in terms of the impact it could have one boosting SD-WAN services and sales.

In addition to kicking around the idea of 5G's impact on SD-WAN, Perrin shares insights on how the SD-WAN market might evolve this year overall by considering potential supplier consolidation, a new outlook on the economics of the uCPE model, growth opportunities for the managed services market, and why enterprises want to get back the basics with SD-WAN.

Will SD-WAN Replace MPLS?
When SD-WAN was the new kid on the block, industry predictions led many to believe it would be a replacement for MPLS. The conversation changed from SD-WAN or MPLS to SD-WAN and MPLS about two years ago, and Perrin predicts the "and" model still has quite a bit of runway.

"It's more a cap and grow strategy," says Perrin. "MPLS networks that are in place are going to be saved for the most critical, high-reliable traffic on the enterprise network. As things are put into the cloud, a lot of new capacity will be bought through an SD-WAN model … SD-WAN is not really in a position to eliminate MPLS because it's an overlay/underlay model. Guaranteeing that underlay is very difficult -- as long as enterprises have requirements for guaranteed traffic and highest reliability, there will be a need for MPLS for many years to come."

While typically a pricier option for customers, MPLS remains an important technology for delivering business-critical, highly reliable traffic. Because of that, SD-WAN won't replace MPLS anytime soon, but it will cap growth opportunities for MPLS, add Perrin.

Next page: Cable comes into the picture

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