NFV Elements

Etisalat Expands NFV Deal With AlcaLu

Alcatel-Lucent must be doing something right with its virtualized radio network controller (RNC) system because influential Middle East operator Etisalat is expanding the use of the vendor's NFV platform.

Etisalat announced last May that it was deploying the vendor's Wireless Cloud Element Radio Network Controller (WCE RNC) at its Mobily Saudi Arabia operation, which the vendor claims is the first and still the only commercial deployment of a software-based, virtual RNC. (See Eurobites: Mobily Shows Faith in NFV and Mobily Deploys Alcatel-Lucent NFV Element .)

Now the operator is to use the same virtualized network function (VNF) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Sri Lanka as part of its infrastructure modernization program.

The move is notable for a number of reasons. First, it is a proof point for NFV: There are a lot of tests and trials of virtual network functions but this is one of the few examples of a virtual function being deployed in live networks. And given that these engagements in the UAE and Sri Lanka are follow-on deployments, that suggests a validation of the vendor's technology and some sort of positive gains for the operator from the initial Saudi implementation.

Second, and more importantly, it provides the potential for real insight into the impact of VNF deployment: The rest of the industry will be keen to learn about the deployment details and the technical and business outcome of Etisalat's deployments, with a focus on economic efficiencies, enhanced network resource flexibility and customer impact.

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In addition, it identifies both Etisalat and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) as NFV trendsetters, putting them in the vanguard of what is one of the most important trends in communications networking. The timing is of extra significance for the vendor, which has just announced the appointment of a new head of NFV strategy. (See Gorti to Pull the NFV Strings at Alcatel-Lucent.)

And Etisalat is worth watching: A long-time strategic partner of Alcatel-Lucent's, Etisalat has about 180 million customers in 19 markets across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and annual revenues of more than US$10 billion. (See Etisalat Expands 4G with Alcatel-Lucent, Euronews: Etisalat Tunes to AlcaLu's lightRadio, Etisalat Picks AlcaLu GPON and Alcatel, Etisalat Cooperate.)

Following more than two years of initial R&D and specifications work, operators worldwide are looking to get their NFV hands dirty and find out if there are real advantages to be gained from the NFV movement: It's hard to imagine there won't be many more similar announcements in the coming months, particularly as operators and vendors vie for attention ahead of and during Mobile World Congress in early March. (See ETSI NFV Group Publishes Specifications, Does NFV Have a Packet Processing Problem?, CenturyLink: Building the Case for NFV and Telekom Austria Plans NFV Boot Camp.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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