In the category of “really useful facts I learned last week (and can still remember after all this time)”, this one is certainly near the top of the list….

Skype.pngSkype now has over 500 million users and has seen 70 million conversations taking place simultaneously.

That means that if Skype was a country, it would be the third most populous nation in the world, below China and India but above the United States and Indonesia (thanks Wikipedia for the population data).

And presumably the 70 million Skype conversations that have happened simultaneously far outweigh the number of people in any of these countries actually talking to each other face-to-face, because those that aren’t on Skype are busy on Facebook, Renren, Sina, Weibo or WeChat describing what they just had for lunch.

These numbers came from a keynote address by Lori Lee, Senior Executive Vice President of Home Solutions at AT&T, during the TIA conference in Washington DC. As an interesting comparison, Ms. Lee pointed out that the 70 million simultaneous Skype conversations significantly exceed the total number of landlines provided by AT&T and Verizon combined.

This is a perfect illustration of the strategic threat faced by telecom service providers worldwide: the Over-the-Top (OTT) players continue to siphon revenue away from traditional voice and data services, while riding for free on the high-bandwidth networks into which exist only as a result of the massive capital investments made by the service providers themselves. While SDN and NFV promise to enable the service providers to efficiently deliver new, high-value services to both enterprises and consumers, most of the discussion still seems to be about cost savings rather than increased ARPU (Average Revenue per User).

TIA-2013-SDN-Workshop.jpgAt TIA, I enjoyed being part of a panel discussion that also involved executives from Ericsson (Don McCullough), Orange (Christos Kolias) and Tellabs (Stuart Benington).

During this session, moderated by Marc Cohn from Ciena, we talked about opportunities for Software Defined Networking (SDN) in mobile networks. So mostly we talked about Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), which celebrates its first birthday this week, having been formally announced during last year’s SDN & OpenFlow World Congress. It was encouraging that the audience questions were all about tactical topics relating to the deployment of NFV (network performance, end-to-end reliability, open-source software, Proof-of-Concepts). No-one seems to doubt that the overall NFV strategy makes sense; the issues are all about execution, timing and risk.

Our panel was part of a one-day SDN workshop held before the start of the TIA itself. The workshop included sessions that explored topics such as how carriers will gain a competitive advantage with SDN, the opportunities enabled by virtualization, what the big equipment suppliers are doing in SDN and where the investment dollars are flowing.

Throughout all these discussions (and there was certainly strong audience participation) there were a number of very consistent threads:

  • Service providers are very strongly predisposed to buy the technology that they need for successful SDN/NFV deployments, rather than develop it themselves. They will be heavily involved in PoCs and technology evaluations, but in the end they have a proven supply chain and there’s lots of benefit in preserving it.
  • Virtualization (network, server and storage) and cloud are key technologies that will enable the widespread usage of SDN and NFV.
  • OpenStack and Open Daylight are vastly preferred over proprietary solutions for orchestrators and SDN controllers.
  • The most important factor about “open” APIs is that they foster the development of a robust ISV community. That’s much more valuable than full compliance with complex standards that result from lengthy work by committees. De-facto standards are fine as long as ISVs can readily support them (of course the PC is the classic example of this). And the long-term goal is always “siliconization”, which leads to the ultimate in cost reduction.
  • Major vendors are starting to talk about real SDN/NFV products and there will be a large number of PoCs in 2014.
  • In 2012, “SDN” was widely considered to be synonymous with “OpenFlow”. Now, everyone understands that SDN is much more than a protocol and that OpenFlow is just one element within SDN.


SDNOF.pngI expect that many of these discussions will continue during SDN & OpenFlow World Congress in Frankfurt this week.


If you’re there, please do stop by 6WIND’s booth (number 16), where we’ll be demonstrating our accelerated Open vSwitch solution that’s optimized for SDN and NFV applications.

Hope to see you this week for NFV’s first birthday celebrations. Now please excuse me, my Skype is ringing…..