Spectrum limitations combined with growing demand for bandwidth are pushing Indian telcos to explore technologies like SDN and NFV, which have the potential to help them to maximize resource utilization.
"We are conducting half a dozen trials for telcos in India right now," says Ryan Perera, the country head of Ciena Communications India, the local division of the Ethernet equipment maker. "It is largely driven by the enterprise space [but] telcos are also looking at virtualizing their own internal networks."
Although leading operators in other regions -- such as SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) -- have started using these technologies to provide better services to their enterprise customers, India's players have yet to make similar moves. Yet while the market for technologies like NFV and SDN is far from developed in India, the conditions are ripe for a widespread deployment in the next two or three years.
"As of now there is no vast adoption in India of SDN/NFV in India, but telcos are exploring the economies of adopting this technology," says Swapna Bapat, director of systems engineering at Brocade India, another vendor. "They are testing it out in pockets. We foresee NFV deployments to pick up pace in 2016 but for SDN it might take a little longer."
Both technologies could have an important role to play in India, where operators have struggled to recoup their huge investments in spectrum because of pricing pressure and low average revenue per user. While this dynamic has left companies with limited funds to spend on upgrading and modernizing their networks, SDN and NFV could help operators to reduce costs and speed up service development in future.
"Some Indian telcos have started thinking about it, because it can help them in managing their networks and services better, besides offering on-demand and differentiated services, and thus lead to enhanced revenue and/or margins," says Amresh Nandan, research director of communications service provider research for Gartner.
The deployment and expansion of 4G technology could also persuade operators to adopt SDN and NFV so they can maximize their return on investment. Because the launch of 3G and 4G services is generating such huge demand for capacity, operators will have to virtualize their networks to get the most out of their spending.
"When you [the telcos] are investing so much in 4G you want to manage it better to derive maximum value out of it and telcos know that these technologies are a must in enabling them to do so," says Nandan. "NFV provides opportunity to telcos to automate processes, improve their resource utilization and service assurance."
Nevertheless, the journey to NFV adoption will not be without major challenges for India's operators. "Implementation of these technologies can be complicated," says Nandan. "There are numerous questions, [including] what should be virtualized first and why, before operators can adopt these technologies."
As Nandan explains, deployment will also involve a significant overhaul of telcos' back-end and IT systems, which were obviously designed for legacy networks, as well as changes to OSS/BSS and the introduction of new components. "Basically, the entire operations would need to be redefined in a gradual manner," says Nandan.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading