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Business Imperatives for Network Function Virtualization

According to the latest global market study by 4G Americas, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) could help mobile network service providers deal with significant challenges facing the industry -- such as capacity limitations, increasing traffic diversity and the need to improve new service delivery agility.

The mobile industry association has explored the considerations for planning NFV deployment, the advantages of the virtualized architecture and the potential challenges of LTE mobile network architectural changes.

Their proposed strategies and solutions aim to address these issues and others by leveraging IT virtualization technology to consolidate many network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, networking and storage systems.

NFV is about separating network functions from proprietary hardware and then consolidating and running those functions as virtualized applications on open-source commodity servers. When deployed, NFV will enable mobile carriers to virtualize embedded network functions and run them as software applications within their networks.

NFV focuses on virtualizing network functions such as firewalls, Wide-Area Network (WAN) acceleration, network routers, border controllers used in Voice over IP (VoIP) networks, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and other specialized network applications. NFV is applicable to a wide variety of networking functions in both fixed and mobile networks.

"NFV is making great progress throughout the world as operators work with their vendor partners to address the opportunities of increasing efficiency within their network infrastructure elements," said Chris Pearson, president of 4G Americas.

The three primary benefits of NFV include:

  • Service agility, innovation and differentiation: In deploying these new VNFs, time-to-market for new network services can be significantly reduced, increasing the operator’s ability to capture market share and develop market-differentiating services.
  • Improved capital efficiency: Provisioning capacity for all functions versus each individual function, providing more granular capacity, exploiting the larger economies of scale associated with Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) hardware, centralizing Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) in data centers where latency requirements allow, and separately and dynamically scaling VNFs residing in the user (or data or forwarding) plane designed for execution in the cloud, control and user-plane functions as needed.
  • Operational efficiencies: Deploying VNFs as software using cloud management techniques which enables scalable automation at the click of an operator’s (or customer’s) mouse or in response to stimulus from network analytics. The ability to automate onboarding, provisioning and in-service activation of new virtualized network functions can yield significant savings.

In particular, mobile network operators can take advantage of NFV as new services are introduced. Enhanced messaging services, among others, are an example of new capabilities that would apply these virtualized solutions. Some operators started deploying elements of NFV in 2013 with an expectation that many service areas could be virtualized in the next decade.

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