BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2016 -- Virtualization technologies, and not just a new radio interface, will be needed to support a number of critical services that operators will deploy on their future 5G networks, according to Mats Svardh, the head of networks for Swedish telecom incumbent TeliaSonera.
Operators are looking to provide a broad range of services over 5G infrastructure, from low-latency connections for industrial sensors to multi-gigabit ones for virtual reality and video. To cope with that complexity, Telia Company plans to make use of NFV technologies so that it can dynamically allocate resources to specific customer groups -- a concept that is being called "network slicing."
The operator is already moving ahead with the rollout of NFV as it prepares for the launch of 5G services in the next few years, Svardh told Light Reading on the sidelines of this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"There are use cases that we can't deliver on today that will be key in future," he says. "These can't be delivered only by a new radio interface -- 5G is a whole stack and has much to do with the platforms behind access."
TeliaSonera has already introduced a number of virtual network functions, including IMS and vCPE, and claims to be running some network points of presence (PoPs) on a vEPC. The vCPE, in particular, has already led to benefits for customers, according to Svardh, and TeliaSonera is now trying to learn from these experiences as it develops use cases for 5G. "What we're doing today isn't 5G but it's on that path," he says.
The Swedish player is not the only operator to have recently emphasized the importance of virtualization and network slicing to the 5G business case.
US giant AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has outlined plans to virtualize its mobile core and then distribute this closer to the network edge so that it can more cost-effectively support higher-bandwidth and lower-latency services. (See AT&T: Virtualized Mobile Core Key to 5G.)
Earlier this week, Norway's Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) told Light Reading that operators would "forego an opportunity" if they did not invest in NFV to support network slicing.
But Telenor is also concerned that regulatory moves on net neutrality could prevent it from offering these kinds of differentiated services to customers on the same network.
That is a worry that Svardh shares. "I think the whole industry has a challenge with regulatory requirements," he says. "We have a lot of obligations put on us and that is sometimes in conflict with what we need to do in the new world."
Another concern is on the interoperability of NFV technologies. "There are still challenges on open interfaces," he says. "If you go from the bottom and up the stack, we need to make sure between each layer we are open and clear enough and that we don't have technologies that are diverging."
TeliaSonera is working with a number of suppliers on its NFV rollout, including Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) as well as ADVA Optical Networking and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Svardh says there is definitely an opportunity for smaller players to have a role in this multivendor environment.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading