NFV (Network Function Virtualization) was obviously one of the hottest topics at MWC 2013. Several use cases were demoed by tier-1 platform vendors, telecom equipment manufacturers, service providers and operators to show the benefits of the NFV concept.
These use cases can be classified into two categories. The first one is the migration of functions traditionally located in at the customer premises into the operator’s infrastructure.
One example is the concept of a “virtual CPE” that can be applied either to consumer or enterprise markets. The new architecture relies on a very simple CPE (modem, switch and antenna) and all services run on a central server in a virtual network appliance. CAPEX is considerably reduced. Software updates, service configuration, introduction of new services, maintenance are also greatly simplified, so service providers and operators can significantly reduce their OPEX as well.
The cloud RAN (Radio Access Network) concept similarly reduces both CAPEX and OPEX for mobile networks. In the conventional network architecture, each antenna connects to a co-located eNodeB from which traffic is backhauled to the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) over an IP link. With the Cloud RAN approach, however, the eNodeB at the antenna is replaced by a low-cost Remote Radio Head. The digitized RF data is then connected over a fiber link to a centralized Baseband Unit pool in which the baseband processing is performed.
A second category of use cases addresses core network functions. In contrast to the first one, the equipment is already located in the core infrastructure. For instance, virtualizing EPC functions for mobile networks in virtual machines on generic platforms instead of dedicated equipment reduces the CAPEX. Dynamic allocation and management of network resources bring more flexibility and better usage of network resources, thereby reducing OPEX and increasing ARPU.
Will NFV be the real first transformation of the network and telecom business? These different uses cases seem to be very attractive for operators, enabling them to increase their margins and deploy differentiating services faster. To make this happen, end users will also need to see real reductions in their Internet expenses.
However, all the concepts have to come back to reality. Virtualizing hundreds of CPE or complex EPC functions on a single server requires high performance network bandwidth to be distributed to the virtualized functions. Today, standard virtualized architectures that work perfectly well for computing won’t be able to deliver the required network performance without optimized solutions like our 6WINDGate™ software. Please check how many software layers a network packet has to go through before reaching an application running in a virtual machine.