Network functions virtualization (NFV) has emerged as a revolutionary operational and service-building model that has grown into a booming market in a short time. Network by network, venue by venue, we are seeing a significant transformation in the virtualization of communication infrastructures, yet we have only scratched the surface. In fact, by 2021, forecasts show that NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) markets will grow significantly, hitting $158 billion.
As the industry looks to aggressively ramp up NFV efforts, it becomes critical for strong and interoperable industry standards to eliminate vendor lock-ins and create a marketplace for best-in-breed services. Without standards collaboration, we will be up against an alphabet soup of deployments, which is costly, time consuming and slows future innovations around virtualization.
To realize NFV's potential through standards adoption, it all comes down to collaboration and convergence.
NFV and the two Cs: collaboration and convergence
The advent of virtualized communications is enabling a new, worldwide digital economy. In turn is a new set of challenges that can only be addressed through close collaboration across operators, carriers, service providers, OEMs, enterprises and more. Together we can influence the definition of open, advanced and virtualized IP networks. We must depend on each other, challenge each other and leverage our strengths to launch successful NFV environments. As we look to power a new generation of connectivity, this will be especially important for network convergence.
Take 5G for example. 5G will be based on the unified aggregation of multiple bands and technologies. The wireless industry has largely accepted that this will include the convergence of LTE and WiFi or other unlicensed channels. This is because 5G is not economically practical without coexistence between licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Using cloud-based technology, NFV can upgrade network equipment -- servers, switches and routers -- to handle new standards like 5G and switch users from licensed to unlicensed and vice versa seamlessly, all while eliminating complete system overhauls. This makes it paramount for industry players to align on virtualization standards to ensure varying NFV deployments work harmoniously across the entire communications ecosystem.
IoT, M2M communication, airplanes and autonomous vehicles also introduce a new frontier in wireless where NFV is expected to be a game changer as each application comes with a diverse set of network requirements. In these scenarios, NFV can be used to improve scalability, increase data visibility, distribute data centers and keep information integrity.
Unification through the New IP Agency
Many industry experts are working to make NFV synonymous with The New IP Agency (NIA). The NIA understands the call for collaboration, recognizes the shift toward convergence and as such is working tirelessly to drive forward new interoperable standards.
Specifically, the organization is engaging specialized member committees with companies like Boingo to assist in the creation of a hierarchical NFV taxonomy and repository for service models -- both of which will be used to support the creation of a HEAT/Openstack-based certification. Ongoing evaluations that look at multivendor interoperability between Management and Orchestration (MANO) and Virtual Infrastructure Management (VIM), as well as other tests, are taking place to secure the right building blocks that will help accelerate the adoption of NFV.
The bottom line? The NIA is moving quickly to make NFV the power player of the communications industry. With all signs pointing to virtualization, it's time for us as an industry to come together and work with the NIA and be part of the shift. Are you ready to play your part?
— Derek Peterson, PhD, is chief technology officer at Boingo, where he is responsible for the company's technical vision and strategy.