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SDN Technology

SDN Enables WebCo Collab: ATIS Members

CHICAGO -- Light Reading's Big Telecom Event 2014 -- Service providers, both cable and telco, are struggling today with how to work with web companies like Google and Facebook, but it's a challenge they're hopeful SDN and NFV will resolve on their own, according to several operators and one vendor member of ATIS.

Executives from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T) this morning bemoaned competition from over-the-top providers and the difficulty in working with web giants like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which is deploying networks of its own. But Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CTO Marcus Weldon had a suggestion to fix it all: deploy SDN and NFV. (See AlcaLu: Going With the Flow.)

"NFV and SDN are great enablers of collaboration," he told attendees, noting that once deployed, there is no barrier for smaller vendors to come to the fore. "It's going to be a fantastic collaboration tool. It's a big transformation, but you don't have to worry about the ability to collaborate if we build that network."

By its nature, a software-defined network uses APIs to access its resources and can onboard applications more easily, quickly, and cost effectively. Operators can leverage this to share customer data with web companies and build services that create a positive customer experience driven by the cloud and mobility, not silos and battles over revenues, Weldon said. (See Carriers Warm Up to Service Innovation.)

That said, he warned there is a mindset change needed to take advantage of SDN and NFV, which includes no longer working as individual entities, regardless of if you're an operator or vendor. "We'll die on the sword of SDN and NFV if we don't fully leverage it," he said. "That interworking is key to create value."

So are the operators up for it? The three on the panel had their doubts. Their key concerns were around integrating these new technologies with their legacy infrastructure, changing the culture of silos and network-centricity, fragmented vendor products that don't give a complete network view, and operationalization concerns that hold them back from truly innovating. (See Telcos Report From NFV Front Lines.)

For example, Telus CTO Ibrahim Gedeon said his company is interested in delivering content to any screen a customer might use, but it's held back by the business model of the content industry.

"We need a contract for every medium we transmit on, which I think is very stupid," he said, adding that he's a geek, not a business guy, so he can say that. "The technology is brilliant; it's beautiful, but if the business models don't change drastically, the technology will not support the business case."

The service providers are all members of Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and are working toward more industry collaboration, but haven't been able to make much progress as the web companies are not members. They are both solving issues, like security and encryption, on their own, but end up doing it in spite of each other rather than together for the benefit of both. Weldon said the two camps need to figure out how to implement services for the end user perspective, rather than their own. (See Google to Open Key Network Models for Industry Comment, Standardization and ATIS Works to Avert Web Control Battle.)

"The biggest culture shift we need to make is [to foster] a better understanding of the customer experience, and then help them through the network direction," added Jay Bluhm, vice president of network planning at Sprint. "Now you are opening things up more -- opening up new opportunities -- and customers will invent how to use services on their own."

The panel members were also given the chance to fantasize about what one thing they would do if they had a magic wand. Their big wishes? A massive underlay of small cells globally interconnected for AlcaLu, a spotless network with no dropped or blocked calls for Sprint, a service management view across network elements for TWC, and the ability to peer with other operators for Telus.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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