NFV: Getting a Handle on Virtual Networks
4G Americas reports on advantages of virtualized solutions
November 20 2014
BELLEVUE, Wash. – Network Function Virtualization (NFV) could possibly help LTE mobile service providers deal with big challenges facing the industry—capacity limitations, increasing traffic diversity and service agility—as well as other issues according to 4G Americas, a wireless industry trade association representing the 3GPP family of technologies, including LTE and LTE-Advanced. Today, the association published the white paper, Bringing Network Function Virtualization to LTE, to detail key considerations for planning NFV deployment, advantages of the virtualized architecture and potential challenges of LTE network architectural changes.
The strategies and solutions explored in the 4G Americas report on NFV 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. NFV is about separating network functions from proprietary hardware and then consolidating and running those functions as virtualized applications on a commodity server. Broadly speaking, NFV will enable carriers to virtualize 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,” stated Chris Pearson, President of 4G Americas. “There is a great deal of collaborative innovation and cooperation between wireless carriers, IT vendors, networking companies and wireless infrastructure vendors making NFV for LTE possible.”
Global communication service providers, along with many leading vendors, are participating in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s (ETSI) Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV ISG) to address challenges such as:
- An increasing variety of proprietary hardware appliances like routers, firewalls and switches
- Space and power to accommodate these appliances
- Capital investment challenges
- Short lifespan
- A long procure-design-integrate-deploy lifecycle
- Increasing complexity and diversity of network traffic
- Network capacity limitations
Three main benefits of NFV outlined in the 4G Americas paper include:
- 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.
- 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.
In particular, mobile operators can take advantage of NFV as new services are introduced. Evolved Packet Core (EPC), Voice over LTE (VoLTE), IP Multimedia System (IMS) and enhanced messaging services, among others, are examples of opportunities to use virtualized solutions. Some operators started deploying elements of NFV in 2013 with an expectation that many service areas could be mostly virtualized in the next decade.
“NFV also provides a beneficial framework for mobile operators and service providers to help transition into new management and orchestration functions that help automate this increasingly sophisticated combination of physical and virtual resources,” stated Bob Gessel, Head of Technology and Portfolio Strategy Development at Ericsson, co-editor and one of the work group leaders of the white paper. “This can impact existing operational procedures and service models; rearrange the operational responsibility and administrative domains of operators, ultimately reducing Operating Expenses (OPEX) and increasing agility for new services.”
Although NFV is currently picking up momentum within the wireless ecosystem, the paper concludes that each LTE operator should consider leveraging this opportunity to start down the migration path to NFV and begin reaping the benefits.
About 4G Americas: Unifying the Americas through Mobile Broadband Technology
4G Americas is an industry trade organization composed of leading telecommunications service providers and manufacturers. The organization’s mission is to advocate for and foster the advancement and full capabilities of the 3GPP family of mobile broadband technologies, including LTE-Advanced, throughout the ecosystem’s networks, services, applications and wirelessly connected devices in the Americas. 4G Americas contributes to the success of 3GPP technologies and their No. 1 place in the region. 4G Americas is headquartered in Bellevue, Wash. More information is available at www.4gamericas.org or www.facebook.com/4gamericas and www.twitter.com/4gamericas.
4G Americas’ Board of Governors members include: Alcatel-Lucent, América Móvil, AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Cisco, CommScope, Entel, Ericsson, HP, Intel, Mavenir, Nokia, Openwave Mobility, Qualcomm, Rogers, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and Telefónica.