Much of the focus around virtualization right now is on getting the right approach in place to manage and orchestrate software-defined networks and virtualized functions. But there is another pressing challenge to this critical network transformation that the telecom industry needs to address quickly and as a whole.
There needs to be an organized effort to redefine net neutrality in the virtualization era in a way that allows the industry to move forward with creating network flexibility and efficient use of resources, without fear that regulations are going to limit the ways these can be commercially applied.
I'm not talking in any way about a draconian move that undermines the core principles of open access to the Internet, or seeks to undermine innovation. I think the telecom industry's interests are quite the opposite -- but that is not the public perception. While telecom network operators are facing the very real threat of being made irrelevant by web-scale content and service providers, they are still publicly perceived as the Internet's all powerful bullies, looking to suck the life out of Internet startups and innovators.
That's why there needs to be a positive discussion around the benefits of things such as network slicing -- applying the specific resources required by an application -- and other application-specific impacts on the network, to those beyond the telecom inner circle. Some of this discussion must involve those who stand to benefit, who should be enlisted as allies. In this case, I would specifically engage apps developers, smart city leaders, higher education standard bearers and companies engaged in Internet of Things efforts in partnership with telecom.
The concern about net neutrality isn't coming out of left field. It was an issue clearly on the mind of some European operators at Mobile World Congress. Executives from both Telia Company and Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) spoke up about 5G business models put at risk if regulators limit their ability to use NFV to offer the benefits of network slicing. (See NFV Key to 5G Business Case, Says TeliaSonera and Net Neutrality Rules Threaten 5G, NFV – Telenor.)
There has been relatively little discussion among US players about the impact of net neutrality rules on NFV deployments -- that doesn't mean there isn't the chance that the same forces who rallied public opinion to get new rules imposed at the federal level last year won't rise up again as virtualization becomes more real.
The best way to forestall such action is developing a realistic and honest picture of how the competitive landscape can and should evolve in the virtualization era. Telecom can tell its own story now or wait and let someone do it for them later.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading