Not everyone in the telecom business is struggling with virtualization.
Comba Telecom, a Hong Kong-based antenna and radio specialist that sold $870 million in gear last year, sees network functions virtualization (NFV) opening up new opportunities for smaller firms.
For one thing, according to Comba's international head Simon Yeung, it means more demand for its core products -- antennas, radioheads and distributed antenna systems.
"These are the equivalent to tires on a car. It doesn't matter if it's an electric car or a diesel car -- you still need tires and a windshield," he says. "You also need the final remote radio antenna. You'll never virtualize that."
The virtualization shift also curtails vendor financing practices by big suppliers -- "especially the ones in the town next door," Yeung says, referring to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763).
"They're very aggressive in giving a whole network for free, subsidizing it and replacing it," he says. "They lose a lot of money at the beginning but they come back with network enhancements and software upgrades in order to provide the profit back for them."
"But this is going to be a disruption to them," adds Yeung. "Now anybody can run on an X86 server -- it's all software and there's no swap-out.”
As well as ending the proprietary lockout, NFV is also making networks more heterogeneous. Video, data, the Internet of Things, smart home and connected cars all bring different technical requirements.
"That's something that will be great for vendors like us," Yeung says. "It means multi-tier, heterogenous networks. An enterprise can run its own wireless networks, possibly with the help of an operator."
This generates demand for new kinds of products, especially on the network edge, where Comba has developed a mobile edge computing (MEC) solution. (See Will ETSI Lose Its Edge as Fog Rolls In? and ETSI Gets Edgy About Mobile.)
Yeung cites the company's experience as one of the big wireless suppliers to the Brazil World Cup and Olympics stadiums. Telefónica 's backhaul ran out of capacity during the World Cup opening ceremony in 2014.
"It was a disaster," he recalls. "How can you support 60,000 people who want to look at a live replay? You need a mobile edge computer, you need a server that serves locally."
By providing an intelligent solution to manage data traffic locally, the MEC also becomes a platform for other services.
Operators can sell in on an infrastructure-as-a-service basis to vertical customers, with features such as unified communications and security.
Or Comba can sell it directly to enterprises to provide connectivity for high-density indoor and outdoor areas. The company has built an analytics platform on which it is testing out apps such as face recognition and augmented reality.
"After you put the server there you're not just solving the problem of bottlenecks," says Leung. "There are a lot of things you can provide with an inexpensive local server."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading