Interest in the potential offered by software-defined networking (SDN) is growing rapidly among major telcos, if the membership of the recently formed Industry Specifications Group focused on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), which has just held its first official meeting, is anything to go by.
The group was formed late last year by a core group of major carriers -- see Carriers Collaborate on Network of the Future -- but has now grown to include 18 operators (NTT is represented by two separate units). A handful of those operators are "participants," as they are not full members of European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), which has created and hosts the Industry Specifications Group. (ETSI stresses, though, that any company can join the group.)
Those members and participants are exploring the potential gains that virtualization of multiple network functions might be able to deliver: In theory, reduced capex and opex, quicker time to market, greater flexibility and a more competitive supplier ecosystem are all potential advantages, but the operators want to figure whether these can be realized, or if they're just wishful thinking.
That concern was clearly explored during the group's first meeting, held near ETSI's headquarters in the south of France from Jan. 15-17 and attended by more than 140 executives, when the topic of "reliability of network functional virtualization" was discussed. (See Telcos Turn Spotlight on Virtualization.)
Other areas of focus included the extension of OSS data models to support virtual network appliances, the provision of network service using NFV service APIs (application programming interfaces) and the nature of common hardware network elements for virtualized nodes (among many more).
During that meeting, the group elected Dr. Prodip Sen of Verizon Communications Inc. as its chairman (for two years), Uwe Michel of Deutsche Telekom AGas vice chair, and Don Clarke of BT Group plc as technical manager.
The carriers currently involved are (full member status unless noted otherwise):
- AT&T Inc.
- BT Group
- CenturyLink Inc. (participant)
- Colt Technology Services (participant)
- Deutsche Telekom
- DOCOMO Communications Laboratories Europe GmbH (a subsidiary of NTT Docomo)
- Everything Everywhere Ltd. (EE) (participant)
- France Télécom – Orange
- KDDI Corp. (participant)
- KT Corp.
- NTT Corp.
- Portugal Telecom SGPS SA
- Sprint Nextel Corp.
- Telecom Italia SpA
- Telefónica SA
- Telekom Austria AG
- Telstra Corp. (participant)
- Verizon Communications (represented by Verizon UK)
- Vodafone Group plc
- Telecom Italia SpA
In addition, China Mobile Ltd. was one of the operators involved at the group's inception and it is believed to still be involved, but is not currently named as a member or participant.
But while the operators are in the driving seat, they're not alone: Major hardware and software vendors and systems integrators, including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson AB, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Siemens Networks, but not ZTE Corp. currently, are also members of the group.
In a statement outlining the aims of the group, ETSI noted that the group will "develop requirements and architecture specifications for the hardware and software infrastructure required to support ... virtualized functions, as well as guidelines for developing network functions. This effort will incorporate existing virtualization technologies and existing standards as appropriate and will co-ordinate with ongoing work in other standards committees. The first specifications are expected before the end of 2013."
Making sense of NFV and figuring out how new technologies such as SDN protocol OpenFlow can exist in wide area networks is a key challenge for the industry this year, as Heavy Reading Chief Analyst Graham Finnie noted in the title of his recent note, 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading