|Topic:||Infrastructure – the ultimate challenge|
|Author:||Marius Catalin Marinescu,|
Marius Catalin Marinescu is the President of ANCOM, the National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications of Romania. In this capacity, he oversees the implementation of the national policy in the domains of electronic communications, audiovisual communications and postal services.
He has been in international positions such as Chairman of the Council of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the period 2013-2014, Chairman of the European Regulators Group for Postal Services (ERGP) for 2014, or Chairman of the Network of Regulators from French Speaking Countries (FRATEL) for the period 2013-2014.
Mr. Catalin Marinescu worked in the communications sector from 1990, both for telephony service providers such as Romtelecom (15 years) and for public institutions. His educational background is in telecommunications, being a graduate of the Faculty of Electronics and Telecommunications of the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, where he also got his diploma in Advanced Telecommunications Technologies
The future of network infrastructure is the ultimate challenge.
A wise conjunction of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) might just offer the solution to overcome potential infrastructure limitations and enable consumerisation of services. Change the network and you are able to change the world, the world of communications.
The Old Continent is experimenting all the newest technology and latest innovations, while setting the trend for many segments of the telecom market across the globe. The desire to meet the Digital Agenda objectives on both the supply and demand sides has raised the bar to the next level. Romania makes no exception, with a frenetic end-user enthusiasm for mobility and competitive communications services that generate a worldwide top score for high-speed internet use. Is there any response to such explosive telecom developments?
The network is the key
People, companies and providers alike are in continuous search for innovative services, business solutions, next generation devices and highly performing applications, all of which require an increasing amount of data at ever higher speeds. A lot of time and energy has been invested into services and technology for the end-user, but, at the end of the day, all these rely on one single underlying component: the network, which has to enable all services, everywhere, at all times and on any device. Change the network and you are able to change the world. The world of communications.
Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) promise to do just that. They are presently the cutting edge of networking El-Dorado, similar to what the VLANs were just a decade ago. They can be seen as the networks’ response to an increasingly “fluid” ICT eco-system, where the ‘ultra-band’ and ‘hyper-band’ replace the “broad-band”, the core moves towards the cloud, and where monetisation of big data analytics becomes increasingly important. But which one is the best solution for enterprises and providers? My answer is straightforward: we need to pay careful attention to both of them. A wise conjunction of SDN and NFV might just offer the solution to overcome potential infrastructure limitations and enable consumerisation of services.
On the one hand…..
SDN brings in a new perspective on the way we handle networks, making possible the separation between brains and muscles, namely, controls and forwarding functions, while facilitating their optimization. It makes underlying networks and resources of applications visible and controllable, without being dependent on infrastructure. Not only does it have applications for data centres, but it may prove extremely useful for networks with extensive video traffic, as expected. All in all, its promoters speak of benefits in terms of high service speed, reduced hardware costs, agility, network flexibility, not to mention the openness and transparency which is to be expected from OpenFlow, as opposed to proprietary ones.
On the other hand…
NFV comes with an alternative to hardware-based appliances for both fixed and mobile network infrastructures, by separating functions from hardware appliances. It works at the level of network services and makes ever more efficient use of resources, in that only the required resources for each specific functions are allocated at one time. Broadly speaking, virtualizing network resources brings cost reduction in terms of energy, investments and operations, speed, as well as efficient use of hardware resources.
A happy conjunction
Far from being in disjunction, SDNs and NFVs are complementary approaches to the way networks and corresponding services are handled. They provide a software-based perspective to networks, making them more flexible and highly scalable, more innovative in terms of achievability, more open in terms of transparency.
Although not dependent on each other, each seems to create favourable grounds for the other to be implemented. While SDN eases the way network traffic is directed, NFV enhances the possibilities of network services development. Together they contribute to leveraging the network so as to accommodate latest devices, programs and services that respond to growing demands of end-users, reduce CapEx and OpEx expenditure, and reduce the time to deploy new networking services. Dare to take the software out of the hardware dominance and move on to the next level, this is what the new stars in town promise to enterprises and carriers alike. One may even wonder what role is there left for scale, when infrastructure becomes a service. Is it natural to expect a diminished role for the economies of scale at least on the supply side, or with Google’s Andromeda there will be a shift towards other network layers? What about the future role of the scale on the demand side, i.e. the network effects?
What’s in it for me?
How do developments such as SDN and NFV impact countries like Romania, where, according to EU 2014 Digital Scoreboard, the share of ‘hyper-band’ connections outperforms by far EU averages (55% of all subscriptions with at least 30 Mbps, 25% with at least 100 Mbps in Romania, compared with 21% and, respectively, 5% EU averages)?
Though still premature to predict large scale moves towards virtualisation, it is not hard to expect that operators and businesses will rapidly explore what SDN and NVF have to offer. Infrastructure based competition presses towards ever more efficiency, and Romanians are used to competitive retail prices. At 111 Gigabytes average monthly internet traffic per fixed user at the end of 2013, Romanian customers are used to receive 4-play bundles for as little as 15-20 euros/month. Romanians are big consumers of over-the-top content, be it video, audio or other media. Speed is indeed the keyword for consumers in a country where 97% of the total fixed broadband connections use fibre optics up to a point close to or at the location of the end-user.
In line with their growing demand for OTT content, Romanian users’ appetite for mobility brought about omnipresent 3G coverage form several networks, rapidly expanding LTE coverage to urban population, as well as a 35% increase in the number of active mobile broadband connections, reaching a figure of 9.6 million at the end of 2013, with an average monthly internet consumption of 0,24 Gigabytes (1.24 Gigabytes monthly when only dedicated mobile broadband terminals are accounted).
Such dynamics constantly raise up the bar and demand for increased network performances and flexibility, for which sharing and virtualization of resources is a reasonable response. For example, in search of more efficiency and flexibility, one long established mobile operator in Romania has already opened a NOC (network operations centre) in Bucharest since mid-2011, which is currently used to monitor and control 2G/3G/4G network loads and incidents in seven other European countries. The same operators’ upgrades in the radio network are SDR (software defined radio) based since early 2011.
In such dynamic eco-systems, corporations and carriers must always find solutions to differentiate, escape competition by innovation and provide user accessibility to services and content. As such, there is no reason not to bet on incremental SDN upgrades at various levels, accompanied by what it looks like its killer app, the NFV. The bigger-better-more demand paradigm, together with less complicated, more flexible, scalable and definitely better optimized networks, appeals enough to drive investors’ appetite, despite the threat of OTTs. After all, this is what technology is (or should be all about): making our lives better by simplifying things.