DUSSELDORF -- SDN & OpenFlow World Congress -- Japan's NTT DoCoMo remains confident it will have commercial services running over a virtualized evolved packet core (EPC) by March 2016, claiming that its NFV work with the vendor community has been progressing well.
The operator is renowned as a pioneer of new technologies, having led the way on the rollout of higher-speed fixed and mobile access networks, but its NFV targets look especially ambitious.
NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) first announced plans for a commercial launch of NFV back in May 2014 but now has less than six months to make good on its original timeline. (See DoCoMo to Offer NFV-Based LTE in 2016 .)
Nevertheless, the March 2016 target was reaffirmed by Hiroshi Nakamura, the managing director of NTT DoCoMo's R&D strategy department, here in Dusseldorf Wednesday morning.
"The commercial deployment of a virtualized EPC by March 2016 is a very fast use case," acknowledged Nakamura when providing an update on the operator's NFV activities during a keynote presentation.
Indeed, according to a Light Reading survey carried out in the summer, just 19% of operators worldwide hope to have deployed a vEPC commercially by June next year, with 70% aiming to introduce the technology by June 2018 at the latest. (See The New IP Goes Mobile With vEPC.)
A handful of players, however, are looking to establish an early lead in this field, while AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) already claims to be running live traffic and services over a vEPC. (See AT&T Touts Its First Virtualized Functions .)
Others will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on NTT DoCoMo's launch activities for signs of challenges and, ultimately, the benefits that NFV is supposed to confer.
Like other service providers investing in SDN and NFV, the Japanese incumbent believes the New IP technologies will help it to reduce expenses and introduce new services with much greater agility than is currently possible.
But Nakamura identified some big hurdles the vendor community must overcome if commercial NFV services are to fly.
The need for standards that support a "multi-vendor environment" is absolutely critical, according to Nakamura, with NTT DoCoMo as keen as other carriers to avoid being "locked in" to products and services from a single supplier in the New IP era.
He also said there was a critical need for interfaces with existing OSS and BSS technologies, which operators will not be able to overhaul in one go when launching SDN and NFV services.
European service providers expressed particular concern about the challenges posed by OSS and BSS during a panel discussion on Tuesday.
"It's a dangerous area because there is huge complexity," said a spokesperson for Colt Technology Services Group Ltd . "The risk is that in adding new capabilities and systems, and trying to integrate those, we keep adding complexity."
Although Nakamura gave a positive appraisal of NTT DoCoMo's dealings with SDN and NFV suppliers, he also urged vendors and operators to work together more closely in future.
As previously announced, NTT DoCoMo is working in partnership with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) on the virtual EPC rollout.
In March, the Japanese operator revealed that Ericsson has been designing a system to control virtualized hardware, while Fujitsu and NEC are developing virtualized EPC software.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading