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Expected Evolution of the Modern Telecom Service Layer

As reported in my previous column in Light Reading, the telecom service layer has a significant role to play in the strategies of nine out of every ten telecom operators. This is according to a recent survey by Heavy Reading, commissioned by OpenCloud. The survey shows that interest is swinging towards a converged service layer (CSL) architecture that can serve multiple legacy and new access networks, with 76% of respondents expecting to have launched a CSL within 24 months. (See Convergence of the Service Layers.)

Guided by insight from the research, this column looks deeper at the driving forces for adopting a CSL, the potential gains delivered and the key factors network operators are looking for in their chosen solution and its provider.

All change
It's clear that the introduction of all-IP networks is acting as a catalyst for significant transformation of telecom networks. NFV is one such example. The transition to all-IP networks is also seen as a good opportunity to transform the service layer from a collection of disparate service siloes, each tightly coupled to the access network it serves (WiFi, LTE, 3G, 2G, etc.), into a converged service layer. Almost two-thirds of operator respondents rated interworking between disparate network generations and facilitating network transition as key technical and business motivators. More than one in three recognized faster migration to new access networks (e.g. 4G VoLTE) as a very attractive opportunity.

Re-architecting the service layer before, or at least in tandem with, the introduction of NFV is also a popular prospect. The introduction of NFV is identified as a key technical driver of converged service-layer deployment by more than half the respondents.

Telecom operators understand that introducing a converged service layer presents some challenges. In the context of NFV deployment -- and somewhat unsurprisingly since it's a common NFV issue -- management and orchestration together with scaling are seen to be the most significant longer-term technical challenges (extending beyond two years).

The need for the converged service layer to interwork across multiple generations of telecom networks, coupled with the NFV challenge, is reflected in operators' preference that the vendor has both IT and network domain skills. More than half the respondents (52% in both cases) rank virtualization experience and control-plane experience as critically important criteria when selecting a service-layer vendor.

Interest from savings
Cost reduction featured heavily as the most attractive business benefit of introducing a converged service layer, with 60% of operators rating capex reduction as very attractive and 45% identifying hardware opex reduction similarly. Concerns over platform costs are seen as the number one long-term business challenge, and almost two-thirds of respondents identified vendor lock-in as a significant (long- or short-term) challenge. The survey shows that operators highly value the opportunity to select a vendor-product combination that minimizes the need for change requests in order to reduce the deployment cost and ongoing cost of operating the converged service layer. The ability to enable flexible integration (with existing service layer equipment and with control plane equipment) are rated as of critical importance by more than half. Openness (and the ability to enable vendor-independent service development) is rated as critical or important by 87% of those surveyed.

This openness and the agility it engenders are of significant interest to telecom operators as they look towards the future. The next article in this series will look at how operators expect to leverage a converged service layer to deliver the next wave of communication services with greater agility.

— Jeff Gordon, CEO, OpenCloud

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