Sweden's Tele2 has complained that most of the NFV applications currently on the market will not provide a long-term solution for operators looking to build cloud-scale architecture.
The pan-European service provider, which operates across nine countries in the region, this week shed light on plans to virtualize its networks in preparation for the launch of 5G services after 2020. (See Tele2 Gets 5G-Ready With NFV Moves.)
Tele2 AB (Nasdaq: TLTO) expects NFV investments to lead to cost savings and support "standardization" efforts across its network footprint.
Even so, Niklas Sonkin, Tele2's chief operating officer, is not entirely happy with the current state of NFV technology.
A particular sore point is the actual architecture of NFV applications. "If you look at the current NEPs [network equipment providers] and their application architecture, most of them are porting existing applications," he says. "They take some sort of chassis-based solution and every blade becomes a virtual machine -- this … is not a long-term solution."
Progress in this area will be important for reasons of scalability, according to Sonkin, as Tele2 invests in cloud-scale architecture.
A desire for application software improvements also appears related to Tele2's support for OpenStack virtualization technology, which the UK's BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has recently criticized, arguing the standard is not yet ready for a carrier deployment of virtual enterprise CPEs. (See BT Says OpenStack Still Not Up to Spec.)
Sonkin believes some of the criticism of OpenStack has been "over hyped."
"Maintaining carrier-grade service on OpenStack is important [but] it should not alone be responsible for providing the carrier-grade [service]," he says. "We feel that the NEPs need to take some of the responsibility to design an application that can handle failure and moves [operators] more towards cloud-scale architectures."
Sonkin points out that some NEPs have begun taking steps in this direction but says the "transformation … will not happen overnight."
He agrees that a potential future solution could be the introduction of microservices. In this kind of set-up, a network function would be decomposed into small individual components that an operator could reuse and recompose in many different ways to create customized, scalable applications.
Heavy Reading 's Caroline Chappell describes microservices as "real cloudification" but says vendors have little incentive to provide them.
"They have got investments in a huge amount of code in existing products," said Chappell during a recent conversation with Light Reading. (See The Real NFV Revolution Is 5 Years Away.)
In the meantime, microservices represent an option that Tele2 is "investigating," according to Sonkin.
Another NFV bugbear for the Tele2 executive is the state of interoperability as industry initiatives continue to proliferate -- a problem that Light Reading's The New IP Agency (NIA) is trying to address.
"It may be difficult to gain common standards if there are multiple groups working on the same interface," he says.
The issue is one that has been noted by other service providers pioneering NFV deployments. Just this month, Nico Fischbach, the director of strategy, architecture and innovation for UK-headquartered Colt Technology Services Group Ltd , urged network vendors to get involved with interoperability testing being carried out by the NIA.
"That is important for you as vendors, because you keep repeating the same parts," Fischbach said during a presentation at the recent MPLS/SDN/NFV World Congress in Paris. (See Colt Says NIA Can Help Speed Up NFV Rollout.)
For Tele2, perhaps the biggest NFV challenge involves transformation of an organizational and cultural nature.
"Moving to a new way of working is a major change, bringing more parts of the organization into things like DevOps," he says.
The DevOps expression is typically used to describe an environment in which developers are able to collaborate effectively on the rapid design and release of new software.
Tele2 is not the only service provider highlighting these difficulties: Michele Gamberini, the head of core network and infrastructure for Telecom Italia (TIM) , even recently admitted his organization was "not ready" for such a transformation. (See Telecom Italia Not Ready to Transform, Admits Exec.)
Offering more insight into Tele2's NFV plans, Sonkin told Light Reading the Swedish operator's first NFV use case would be a virtual EPC (evolved packet core), which will be introduced by the third quarter of this year.
"This is important for us as it will be a greenfield deployment for one of our recently launched LTE networks," he says.
A likely candidate, then, is Croatia, where Tele2 launched a nationwide 4G network as recently as February.
Besides Sweden and Croatia, Tele2 also has a presence in Austria, Estonia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
Beyond virtualization of the core, Tele2 will look at migrating some functions closer to the edge of the network, says Sonkin -- a move that could help it to provide 5G-based services more cost-effectively.
But the Tele2 network strategy also bears a resemblance to that of Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), which aims to reduce the number of service platforms it maintains across its various European markets through investments in all-IP, SDN and NFV technologies. (See DT Plots Pan-Net, 'Answers' B2B OTT Threat.)
"One of the key drivers for us is to benefit from stretching services across multiple markets and creating a single pan-European cloud platform," says Sonkin.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading