The arrival of a greenfield 4G Player in the Indian market last year triggered a shift from what was hitherto a voice-dominant telecom market in India to the largest mobile data market, globally. India has reportedly become the top country in mobile data usage globally, with its 120m subscribers consuming in excess of 1000 petabytes (1 Exabyte) of data per month. With the deployment of a Pan-India all data 4G network, lower operating costs and the adoption of the more spectrally efficient Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology to deliver voice services, this greenfield operator has lowered the cost of producing and delivering a megabyte of data. The entire telecom industry, still largely characterized by legacy, multi-technology networks primarily designed for voice, is being challenged by this new cost benchmark and operating model. As Indians consume data services more voraciously than ever before, issues of scale, Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) become critical differentiators for success and Telco Cloud is ready for prime time in India.
New network requirements
Fast-paced smartphone mobile device penetration, increased distribution and consumption of video and multimedia services, growth in mobile banking transactions and digital payment systems, and greater access to cloud-based content are generating more complex and dynamic traffic patterns that impose new requirements on modern networks.
Networks have to be scalable and adaptable; linearly scaling up infrastructure is not economically sustainable in the face of near-infinite demand and the wide-range of possible services ( from video streaming to driverless cars) make network requirements more complex than existing architectures can manage cost-effectively. Increased network efficiency and agility have therefore become a critical part of the network economics of the future and are key to delivering the customer experience promise.
SDN and NFV
Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) decouple network functions from the underlying infrastructure enabling previously expensive proprietary hardware to be replaced with commercial-off-the shelf alternatives, thereby reducing cost and avoiding vendor lock-in. The ability to spawn new Network Functions without physically deploying new hardware increases provisioning agility significantly and allows for dynamic scaling.
Benefits of SDN and NFV
The architectural approaches motivated by NFV enable the transformation of traditional highly integrated vertical stacks of hardware and software in a typical network from a single vendor, to layers of generic hardware and cloud software that can run applications from any telecoms vendor reducing cost, vendor lock-in and increase the opportunity to innovate. Highly intelligent but expensive network nodes that define network topology are replaced with centralised software control that can hide the complexity of the network from applications and services and increase flexibility and reduce cost. Fork-lift based deployments and upgrades that typically take months become “software image” deployments in minutes. Manual and function-specific complex automation are replaced by highly automated orchestration able to “build and deploy” new services in minutes from libraries of software.
Beyond the CAPEX and OPEX savings promised from a more agile, shared, open and automated infrastructure for the network, Telco Cloud also enables new services and business models. NFV enables the on-demand instantiation of functions in a format that makes it easier to load-balance, scale up or down and allows movement of functions dynamically across distributed hardware resources in the network.
A game-changer in India
The disruption created in the Indian market, the inexorable shift of the India telecom market from voice to data, the economic need to reduce the cost per megabyte of data and stringent QoS and QoE requirements, make the implementation NFVs and SDNs in India inevitable. There is a good potential for this technology in India especially at a time when the industry is going through a networks evolution towards mature 4G.
As traditional industries digitalize their businesses, operators are uniquely placed to connect value chains end-to-end with a promise of end-to-end SLAs across devices, apps, data, sites and policy etc. Operators can extend their networks into their customer domains, projecting Network Functions into customer networks as a service, federating customer infrastructure into the operator’s network as a seamless managed service.
They can also leverage NFV and SDN to consolidate the many fragmented network deployments across India – centralised where it makes sense and distributed for performance, efficiency and regulatory reasons – ensuring there is only “one-network” per operator nationwide which can reduce any national opex duplication. In this scenario, transformation of the networks is an absolute must for the Indian telcos.
The way ahead
Telecom is fast moving towards a software base paradigm enabling major savings on hardware. This not only makes optimal use of existing resources, but enables scalability and agility to use virtualized network functions from multiple vendors.