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Cloud Native/NFV

Desperate times as VMware hurls old-timer NFV into Vodafone's COVID-19 fight

NFV has been called up and sent to fight COVID-19 despite its advancing years as the telecom industry scouts for any resource it can find in the war against the pandemic.

The old-age technology was getting ready to enjoy its dotage alongside other senior citizens of the networks sector, such as ATM, Frame Relay and 3G, when it received its marching orders from VMware.

It has been deployed in the network of Vodafone, where VMware hopes its experience in automation will pay off.

Eight years since it was first conceived, NFV has turned out to be one of the industry's biggest disappointments, failing to provide the revolutionary breakthrough it originally promised. These days it usually keeps a low profile, snoozing in the background while the younger and much fitter NFC (network function cloudification) shows off its form.

But NFV has now been offered a chance for redemption as the industry faces COVID-19. "Operating a reliable, agile network that can be more efficiently upgraded to maintain the quality of coverage has never been more important as Vodafone customers across Europe rely on the operator to provide critical connectivity and communications services during the COVID-19 crisis," says VMware in its press release.


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Aware of its underwhelming reputation, VMware is careful to avoid too many references to NFV in its latest dispatch. The NFVi (network function virtualization infrastructure) acronym has been dropped in favor of NVI (losing the function), and there are seven references to the cloud.

Vodafone is using a VMware platform at more than 57 European sites and 25 in Africa, Asia and Oceania. It supports about 900 virtual network functions and has halved the operator's associated costs.

"Working with VMware, we have improved the speed and efficiency with which we can support customers and estimate that the cost of our core network functions has been reduced by 50%," said Johan Wibergh, Vodafone's chief technology officer, in Vodafone's release.

VMware evidently believes NFV's automation skills could be a vital safeguard as the pandemic rages: Without NFV, Vodafone would have to rely more heavily on human effort (what VMware calls "manual intervention") to operate and maintain networks.

VMware and Vodafone become the first companies to assign such an important role to NFV, with most other service providers highlighting their broader network capabilities and the need for broadband infrastructure when discussing their response to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Japan's Rakuten is deploying drones to inspect basestations, allowing field engineers to rest safely at home. While its move has not been linked to COVID-19, the drones could prove critical in the war against the virus: One of Europe's biggest operators has board-level concerns about staff safety during the pandemic, a spokesperson told Light Reading.

But younger network technologies including the vaunted 5G standard may see little action this time round, having only recently made it through basic training.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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