Traditional telecom networking equipment vendors have been preparing for the ongoing transition from hardware-centric business models of the past to a more software-oriented model. Meanwhile, the leading telecom service providers continue to adopt low-cost commodity hardware and open source software.
According to the latest worldwide market study by IHS Markit, 100 percent of the telecom service providers participating in their recent survey say they will deploy Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) at some point, with 81 percent expecting to do so by 2017. Moreover, 59 percent of telecom network operator respondents have already deployed or will deploy NFV this year.
However, integrating NFV into existing networks is an issue for a majority of survey respondents, as is the perceived lack of carrier-grade products. Regardless of these concerns, telecom service providers around the globe are rapidly moving toward NFV, which the latest study by IHS Markit bears out.
NFV and SDN Market Development Progress
The 'NFV Strategies Service Provider Survey' explored plans and strategies for evaluating and deploying NFV solutions. The study identified the drivers for this fundamental change in telecom service provider network architecture, the development stages and deployment timing for key use cases, applications, and target network areas.
These telecom carriers believe that NFV and its software-defined networking (SDN) companion are a fundamental change in telecom network architecture that will deliver benefits in automation; new, more agile services and revenue; operational efficiency; and capex savings.
Both will enable them to follow the lead of progressive service providers, such as AT&T, and thereby dramatically reduce their dependence on the legacy high-cost platforms from established networking vendors.
Many carriers are now moving from their NFV proof-of-concept (PoC) tests and lab evaluations to working with vendors that are developing and productizing the software, which is being deployed commercially.
The perspective toward NFV is changing quickly. In 2014, there was one standout barrier: operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS). In 2015 and 2016, resolving issues with the top barriers -- integrating NFV into existing networks and non-carrier-grade products -- demonstrate that telecom carriers are very serious about deploying NFV.
Exploring NFV Use Case Adoption
According to the IHS assessment, the vast majority of early NFV deployments in the next year will be for business virtualized enterprise customer premises equipment (vE-CPE), also known as vBranch or enterprise vCPE.
Growing in importance over the last several years, business vE-CPE can assist with revenue generation because it allows operators to replace physical CPEs with software so they can quickly innovate and launch new services.
The telecom industry is still in the early stages of a long-term transition to SDN and NFV architected networks. IHS analysts believe that carriers will learn that some avenues are not as fruitful as expected, and telecom equipment manufacturers and software suppliers may well invent new approaches that open up newfound applications.