The launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio last year has put the spotlight on virtualization as a must-deploy technology for rivals of the aggressive new entrant.
"The launch [of RJio] helped pave the way for software-defined networks [SDN] and network functions virtualization [NFV]," says Abel Tong, the senior director of marketing at optical equipment maker Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN). "You could call this a tipping point for service providers to shift their core focus."
"While pricing may differ for each service provider, the key point is that there is competitive pressure from Jio for service providers to adopt virtualization," he adds. "And we will likely see similar announcements from other providers in India."
Previously, service providers had been unsure about deploying virtualization at all. But that is no longer the case. As a "greenfield" operator, Reliance Jio has not had to worry about any legacy networks in deploying state-of-the-art SDN and NFV technologies. And introducing virtualization technologies into the network has become increasingly important for its rivals from a service perspective. (See Indian Telcos Start Exploring SDN & NFV .)
“Now, it is more about how to do this instead of if we have to do this at all," says Anand Patil, the India head of software-defined data center sales for VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW). "India is traditionally a wireless market so there is a huge promise and potential associated with virtualization. It brings down time-to-market and also helps them add flexibility and agility in the network."
But service providers clearly face some big challenges. For a start, they have longstanding deals in place with vendors regarding the management of their networks. Typically, those deals are based on a revenue-sharing or per-user model. Operators might have to rework such arrangements to take full advantage of SDN and NFV, or even assume greater control over their networks.
“The network operations are not really under the direct control of the telcos and to an extent this is hindering the adoption of virtualization," explains Patil. As a consequence, Indian telcos are somewhat behind their global counterparts when it comes to the adoption of SDN and NFV. (See VMware Aims for Key Role in India's Virtualization Market.)
For that reason, virtualization in India seems likelier to be deployed in wireline operations before wireless ones. "The service providers don't have much legacy in the wireline side and they are also in pretty good control of their networks in this space," says Patil. "Wireline is likely to witness virtualization initially before it is incorporated in other networks but, ultimately, wireline, wireless and IT will all be converged."
This is not the only reason for the virtualization lag, however. A lack of standardization and regulation in this area is also holding up technology rollout. “Indian service providers are generally held back by lack of standardization and regulation in virtualization," says Tong. "One of the main challenges is providing basic security to cover the millions of subscribers."
"With scores of telecom employees having direct access to customer data, it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure," explains Tong. "Specifically, there is no compliance mandate for virtualization in India -- as opposed to highly regulated desktop software -- which is inhibiting adoption."
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading