Time to scale network virtualization

The telecommunications industry is a mature sector that is being revitalized and challenged by its customers and new competition. Subscribers seeking digital life styles and enterprise customers seeking to be agile digital businesses all depend on the communication networks more than ever before. Carriers have a tremendous opportunity to service these highly desirable customer segments; however, while demand for bits is rising, intense pricing competition is resulting in lower revenues and margins. Automation based on cloud-native architecture is key to scaling operations to compete and thrive in this new environment.

Signs of disruption

Historically, high-margin services have been eroded by more efficient, upstart players. For example, 80 percent of messaging traffic consists of WhatsApp, Viber and iMessage, and a third of international voice traffic is Skype. Companies such as Iliad have launched no-frills operations in France and Italy, where they are rapidly gaining market share with low-priced all-you-can-eat plans. Iliad has captured roughly 20 percent of market share in France since it launched Free Mobile in 2012. In the United States, consumers are benefiting from a price war for wireless services. The major U.S. carriers are offering unlimited data plans, as well as attractive package deals and other incentives to retain and grow their subscriber base. Carriers around the world are feeling the pressure on revenues and margins.

Opportunities for transformation

From a technology perspective, there are a number of disruptions and opportunities that are occurring because of these shifts in the market.

Consumer networks and 5G potentially create new opportunities for traffic offload, in effect reducing some of the pressure for increased capacity on private networks.

Network virtualization technologies and virtual security technologies are changing the dynamics of a private network’s added value. Clouds and inter-cloud networking are changing the dimension and intensity (ingress/egress) of WAN/backhaul and the availability of networks. IoT networks and edge or near-edge computing capabilities are enabling function and platform as-a-service capabilities.

Bandwidth aggregation is happening across self/partnered networks into more coherent network platforms: wireless/media/private/public share (formerly individual bearer networks). Finally, function placement and service chaining with a customer-direct or self-service capability are reducing time to value, as well as improving declarative configuration (auditability).

Time to virtualize, automate and transform

The time has come for carriers to digitally transform — specifically, to virtualize their networks and automate processes in order to reconfigure their operations in line with digital and rapidly explore new digital business models. The IT industry has shown how virtualization (more broadly cloud) and automation (more broadly DevOps) can shorten product cycle times from months to days, and reduce service-provisioning times from weeks to minutes.

Most carriers are already exploring network virtualization, with some carriers such as AT&T planning to virtualize over 75 percent of their network by 2020. But the virtualized network functions (VNF) marketplace is nascent and comes with the problems of any early stage marketplace — fragmentation. The LEF’s Simon Wardley talks about how “novel and new things constantly appear as a consequence of the desire for companies and individuals to gain an advantage over others,” so we can expect VNF providers to drive this behavior as long as there is advantage (profit) in it for them.

New way of thinking

The fragmented VNF marketplace is not the only problem facing telcos. Transforming a large legacy infrastructure base is no easy task. Planning and deploying a virtual overlay that is made up of dynamic chains of VNFs without interrupting existing service requires a new way of thinking and new tools. The network (not the network department) must intelligently manage loosely coupled VNFs that must have been onboarded with the right integrations, policy management and operational controls (yes, this is the work of the network department). Migration and rollout strategies should be built on the principles of continuous deployment — high-frequency, incremental changes that reduce work-in-progress and minimize risk.

This is a space that our team has spent a significant amount of time thinking about lately. After working with telcos on many of these challenges, we believe that the highest levels of automation must be delivered as part of a modular, multi-tenant, cloud-native architecture to ensure scalability, resilience and adaptability.

Challenges like these are not easily handled by a single provider — it’s why DXC has developed a comprehensive partner strategy, including within our telco practice. In this case, we are partnering with NFV pioneers such as EnterpriseWeb, which ran the first ETSI-sanctioned NFV proof-of-concept (“CloudNFV”) and is now leading ETSI’s Zero touch Network and Service Management proof of concept, to address such challenges. While DXC can bring the expertise to tackle the scale challenges, companies such as EnterpriseWeb can provide the additional end-to-end technology and services required for telcos to design, build, test and deploy carrier network virtualization at scale.

We know the business problem is real. But we also believe the solutions and technical components are available, and scale is a tractable problem. Let us know what you think — how are you tackling the challenges surrounding digital transformation?


Dan HushonDan Hushon, DXC Technology’s senior vice president and chief technology officer, drives innovation strategy and growth for the company’s solutions and ensures technology excellence. He is responsible for defining DXC’s long-term technology strategy and vision, and advocating for that vision with customers.
@DanHushon


Kavi Pelpola headshotKavi Pelpola, DXC Technology’s chief technology officer for Consulting, has spent his career working for tier-1 consultancies, helping clients develop and execute large-scale, complex transformation programs that deliver visible business outcomes. Kavi is focused on digital transformations in large multinationals. These transformations are particularly challenging as they involve changing established cultures and ways of working, changing complex technology estates, and coordinating programs of work across multiple geographies.

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