Telefónica is looking to network virtualization to fuel growth for its Tu Go mobile offering, which allows customers to access GSM services through broadband connections.
Running on a smartphone, the Tu Go application and underlying service lets customers who are out of range of a cell tower make calls and access other services by taking advantage of available WiFi connections.
Running on a desktop, the app lets users make voice calls, or use OTT services such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype. It supports up to 15 devices.
The service provides advantages in a variety of scenarios, Boaz Refaeli, engineering group manager for Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) Digital, tells Light Reading. End users in locations that are remote, where LTE is weak or unavailable, can use their phones unimpeded from their own number over WiFi. Even users in densely populated areas find Tu Go useful where they can't get a signal, such as 3 million daily users on the London Underground, where WiFi is free and cellular service is virtually nonexistent. Travelers can send and receive calls over WiFi without incurring roaming charges. And Tu Go lowers the cost of international calls -- for example, for a large population of Chinese immigrants living in Colombia.
"Each of the [business units] within Telefónica took this in his own direction," Refaeli says.
The service launched in the UK last year, and has expanded since then to Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, with plans to grow into Brazil. It's based on technology from Jajah, an Israeli startup purchased by Telefónica in 2010 with expertise in VoIP and security.
Tu Go helps Telefónica appeal to the coveted 24-32-year-old male customer demographic, Refaeli says. This group of customers is demanding, willing to pay extra for what they want, but also apt to churn. In the UK, after deploying Tu Go with O2, Telefónica saw that Tu Go helped reverse the decisions of departing customers in that demographic category. Previously, only 3% of those customers could be convinced to stay, but with Tu Go that number climbed to 20%.
Telefónica Digital, which provides Tu Go, is a business unit within the carrier designed to bring the New IP spirit and startup agility to the big company. Telefónica Digital provides services for each of Telefónica's national operational business units. Most of the team is located in Israel, with some in Spain. (See Telefónica Digital Plays By Its Own Rules .)
Tu Go runs 95% of its infrastructure on VMware virtualized servers, with fully redundant infrastructure from electric to the server to provide high availability. In addition to VMware, Telefónica also works with HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), as well as a variety of startups, and collaborates with them on product directions to ensure they meet Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s needs. (See Telefónica Taps HP for Unica NFV.)
Telefónica is looking to NFV technology from Oracle to further virtualize its network. It's deployed a virtualized session router for managing customer connections in its hundreds of labs to generate a complete environment for testing on the fly. Telefónica is also looking to deploy virtualized session border controllers (SBC).
The company is looking to build a telephony backbone based on Oracle products. It's now based in hardware, but the company wants to virtualize the services, Refaeli says.
NFV "gives us the ability to control services in a much more agile way and change according to need within the existing load," Refaeli says.
He adds, "Once you have the interface between the telco world and Internet world, you can put anything over it. Before you've extended the expense for LTE, you can already show business benefit in the market."
The Tu Go project is just one part of a much larger NFV commitment Telefónica has made. The company announced plans to virtualize much of its network under a plan it calls Unica, in February, 2014. Telefónica is a founding member of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specification Group, which is committed to SDN as well. (See Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)
Telefónica named HP to provide NFV services for Unica in March, 2015. (See Telefónica Taps HP for Unica NFV.)
And the carrier introduced its own openMANO NFV Orchestration Stack, to help develop VNFs that interoperate in a vendor-neutral manner. (See Telefónica Releases OpenMANO NFV Orchestration Stack.)