MORE AND MORE at The INQUIRER we find ourselves looking at the burgeoning market for network function virtualisation (NFV), a trend set to revolutionise the telecoms market. But what exactly is it? And why is it such a big deal? Let us try to explain.
At the beginning of the year, Analysys Mason made its usual Mystic Meg-esque predictions for the year ahead.
Within that list the analyst firm said: "The increased agility and openness of NFV and software-defined networking will force the industry to focus on policy and security to control authorisation, authentication and access before virtualisation can become widespread.
"The focus on NFV orchestration will shift from proof-of-concept to the business case, as operators identify the most effective approaches at the network and service levels."
Canonical and Ericsson announced the OPNFV service, deploying Ubuntu Server OS on equipment from Ericsson, while Oracle and Intel demonstrated a proof-of-concept system at the Oracle Industry Connect show in Washington DC which will be available later this year.
Samsung, not to be left out, had been announced as SK Telecom's NFV partner in February with its AdaptiV Core. So it's Mystic Meg 1, NFV Ignorance 0.
But why should you care? Quite simply because NFV is going to be one of the biggest revolutions in telecoms since the mobile phone.
By removing much of the clunky hardware, some of which dates back to the 1950s and earlier, and replacing it with virtual arrays, hypervisors that can control the size and shape of the network, and linking that to the Internet of Things (IoT), you create a telecoms network that can do so much more, and cope with almost anything you throw at it.
The agility of an NFV network has one very obvious benefit which anyone who has ever been to a rock festival, football match or convention centre will recognise only too well.
When a lot of people are gathered in one place, more often than not, a static network cannot cope. Calls don't get through, texts get delayed, data slows to a halt.
With an agile, software-defined network, on the other hand, you can add more nodes to the network in the area you want covered with a few clicks, or more likely with an automated process.
No additional transponders, no wiring, just extra capacity on demand. And when the demand goes away, it will shrink back to a more normal size.
This process is known as management and orchestration, and entire standards based around it are in the process of being formulated at the European Telecom Standards Institute, hopefully therefore avoiding a proprietary format war such as we are seeing with the under-regulated IoT. Not to mention that most of the solutions we see are open source too.
But the rise of the IoT is an important part of the NFV process. By using sensors, the network can be pre-warned of events that will need it, whether that be an increased footfall, or a concentration of emergency vehicles, or even the date being new year's eve.
After David Cameron's much talked about demands for national roaming in not-spots, he should be delighted with this news.
In simple terms, it means that data speeds and call quality will increase, and prices of communicating will be forced to fall, which is good news for everyone.
The telecoms industry is an unwieldy beast for which problems are rarely solved overnight. As such, it is highly unlikely that you will see changes to the domestic telecoms environment for some time to come.
However, what you will start to see is virtual networks in business environments taking on much more of the attributes and advantages brought by VoIP, without the need for clunky phone exchange rooms, and the ability to create a call centre in seconds for, say, a product recall and take it down again equally quickly.
And as the time comes to upgrade at an infrastructure level, you will start to see the huge monolithic phone exchanges replaced by a single agile server, and at that point you will also start to see broadband being activated in seconds, not weeks, and services that are now still being fed to a military green box in the street, but will plant the seeds of universal fibre to the home at a rate that Google can only dream of. µ
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