Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Report from SDN / NFV shows part II

Today, I would like to address what, in my mind, is a fundamental issue with the expectations raised by SDN/NFV in mobile networks.
I was two weeks ago in Dallas, speaking at SDN NFV USA and the Telco Cloud forum.

While I was busy avoiding bodily fluids with everyone at the show, I got the chance to keynote a session (slides here) with Krish Prabhu, CTO of AT&T labs.

Krish explains that the main driver for the creation and implementation of Domain 2.0 is the fact that the company CAPEX while staggering at $20 billion per year is not likely to significantly increase, while traffic (used here as a proxy for costs) will increase at a minimum of 50% compounded annual growth rate for the foreseeable future.
Krish, then to lament:
"Google is making all the money, we are making all the investment, we have no choice but to squeeze our vendors and re architect the network."
Enter SDN / NFV.
Really? These are the only choices? I am a little troubled by the conclusions here. My understanding is that Google, Facebook, Netflix, in short the OTT providers have usually looked at creating services and value for their subscribers and then, when faced with unique success had to invent new technologies to meet their growth challenges.

Most of the rhetoric surrounding operators' reasons for exploring SDN NFV nowadays seem to be about cost reduction. It is extremely difficult to get an operator to articulate what type of new service they would launch if  their network was fully virtualized and software-defined today. You usually get the salad of existing network functions with the newly adorned "v". vBRAS, vFirewall, vDPI, vCPE, vEPC...
While I would expect these network functions to lend themselves to virtualization, they do not create new services or necessarily more value. A cheaper way to create, deploy, manage a firewall is not a new service.

The problem seems to be that our industry is again tremendously technology-driven, rather than customer-driven. Where are the marketers, the service managers who will invent, for instance, real-time voice translation services by virtualizing voice processing, translation functions in the phone and at the edge? There are hundred of new services to be invented, I am sure SDN NFV will help realize them. I bet Google is closer to enable this use case than most mobile network operators. That is a problem, because operators can still provide value if they innovate, but innovation must come first from services, not technology. We should focus on what first, how after.
End of the rant, more techno posts soon. If you like this, don't forget to buy the report.


Pat Flynn said...

You nailed it Patrick - well said!

The Mobile industry is working with a business model that was successful in the 90's. Such as, provide more coverage, provide faster data rates and compete on price. In contrast, however, the OTT players (Skype, Viber etc.), Apple and Samsung etc. compete on new services - some work, some dont - but in aggregate, in the customer's eyes they bring new value and excitement. Guess who is setting the agenda?

Unknown said...

I'm not sure how much NFV will reduce the costs (Capex & Opex), as new investments will be needed in NFV MANO (orchestration) and with the fact the VNFs performance is a big issue in NFV, there will be a need to buy more COTS servers.
I think the main benefit of NFV will be reducing the time needed to introduce a new service. Today, a CSP may spends months to years until he is able to deliver a new service.

Ron said...


I hate to sound like a heretic, but I agree with your points on new services. Furthermore, I do not see how NFV/SDN is going to be the magical service enabler that advocates are touting. In my experience the biggest challenges when introducing a new subscriber service is integrating it into the existing infrastructure including provisioning and billing. There is also the very important, but non-technical, matter of marketing and positioning the service. Getting the hardware ordered and installed has rarely been the limiting factor.

Also, there has been relatively little discussion of capacity planning in an NFV/SDN world. The assumption seems to be that cloud hardware is so cheap that there will always be plenty of it available and we don't need to worry about planning. A nice story, but to me inconsistent with the cost reduction vision.

Patrick Lopez said...

Well, the real time translation service was launched by Skype today. I was just 3 weeks early in my prediction.

A missed opportunity for telcos.

Alex Lawrence said...

Not entirely - NTT DoCoMo demoed (launched, I think) just such a translation service in Feb 2014, doing real-time translating between Japanese, Chinese and English.
Mind you, Japan's always been a special case...