Thursday, May 29, 2014

NFV & SDN part III: mobile video

I have spent the last couple of months with some of the most brilliant technologists and strategists working on the latest networking technologies, standards and code.
Cloud, SDN, NFV, OpenStack, network virtualization, opendaylight, orchestration...

Everyone looks at making networks more programmable, agile, elastic, intelligent. Some of the sought benefits are faster time to market for new services, lower cost of operation, new revenue from new services, simpler network operation and service orchestration... This is very much about making IT more flexible and cost efficient.

Telcos, wireless vendors and operators are gravitating towards these organizations, hoping to benefit from these progress and implement them in wireless networks.

Here is what I don't quite get:
Mobile is the fastest growing ICT in the world (30% CAGR). Video is the largest (>50% of data volume) and fastest growing service in mobile (75% CAGR). 

Little, if any, of the working groups or organizations I have followed so far have dedicated telco (let alone wireless) working groups and none seem to address the need for next generation video delivery networks.
I am not half as smart as many of the engineers, technologist and strategist contributing to these organizations so I am missing something. Granted, in most cases, these efforts are fairly recent, maybe they haven't gotten to video services yet? It strikes me, though that no one speaks of creating better mobile video networks.

If wireless video is the largest, fastest growing consumer service in the world, shouldn't we, as an industry, look at improving it? A week doesn't go by where a study shows that wireless video streaming demand is increasing and that quality of experience is insufficient.

I am afraid that, as an industry, we are confusing means and goals. Creating better generic networks, using more generic hardware, interfaces and protocols to reduce costs of operation and simplify administration is a noble ambition, but it does not in itself guarantee cost reduction and even less new services. What I have seen so far are more complex network topology with layer upon layer of hierarchical abstraction sure to keep specialized vendors busy and rich for the decades to come.

In parallel, we are seeing opposite moves made by the like of Google, Netflix, Apple, or Facebook. When it comes to launching new services, it doesn't feel that these companies are looking first at network architecture, costs savings, service orchestration, interfaces... I am sure that it gets addressed at some point in the process, but it looks like it starts with the customer. What is the value proposition, what is the service, what is the experience, how will it be charged, who will pay...

Comparing these two processes might be unfair, I agree, but if you are a mobile network operator today, shouldn't you focus your energy on what is the largest and fastest growing service on your network, which happens to not be profitable? 
85% of the video traffic is OTT and you get little revenue from that. You are struggling to deliver an acceptable video quality for a service that is growing and uses already the majority of your resources and you have no plan to improve it. 
Why aren't we looking as an industry at creating a better wireless video network? Start from there and look at what could be the best architecture, interfaces, protocols... I bet the result could be different from our current endeavors. 
None of the above mentioned technology have been designed specifically for video. Of course it is generic networking, so video can be part of it, but I doubt it will be able to deliver the best mobile video experience if not baked-in at the design and architectural phase. Then, if these are not the venue for it, what is?

I am not advocating against SDN, NFV, OpenStack, etc... but I would hope that sooner rather than later, wireless and video specific focus are brought to bear in these organisations. It wouldn't feel right if we found out down the line that we created a great networking framework that is great for IT enterprise but not so good for the most important consumer service. Just saying... 

3 comments:

jonesthefone said...

Bravo Patrick - couldn't agree more! The problem you're describing is exactly the one being addressed by two of the startups I am advising - one you know well, the other is still in stealth mode.

software defined network said...

As a far as i know in this technology, SDN and NFV are about data center, SDN is about creating a data center with programmable network, changing the core of network is something impossible sooner. But having all those technologies in mind such as OpenStack let's build optimized data centers and deliver the best experience to consumers. NFV is about running network function over commodity hardware, having this you could simply adjust your network to fit the needs. I'm not sure but SDN and NFV are big deal than delivering video with high quality...

Peter said...

Hi Patrick, Although I agree that more needs to be done in terms of taking a bottoms up approach to deliver products and services and designing solutions around it, however at the same time I do see that the industry groups such as ETSI that is building framework around NFV has a strong telco contribution with many European Telcos heavily involved and pioneering it including Deutsche Telekom. There is a lot of hype around SDN and NFV as you have noticed with vendors developing their own versions of ecosystems instead of aligning with industry standards. Opendaylight is a very encouraging development in the area of SDN standardization. Regarding your question specific to video delivery solutions for NFV and SDN, you can think that if we have reliable hardware that is enabled for SDN and NFV and a standardized robust control plane ensuring QoS, then the solutions used for in pre-SDN and pre-NFV environments can be ported over. Imagine that an encoder application that is running currently on a rather proprietary appliance can now be virtualized on an industry standard (e.g. intel based) commodity server hardware. After that is done, the SDN enabled delivery network will use the standard protocols such as netflow to control the flows with a controller and network visualization/analytics engine creating appropriate policies for flow control. The bulk of the development is in creating accurate network visualization data. IMO the industry situation is that all these above mentioned aspects are moving together and we haven't quite reached the critical point yet for a solution that meets the needs why the SDN and NFV initiatives were created in the first place.