5G can’t happen without network virtualization: survey

cloud network virtualization
Image credit: Blackboard / Shutterstock.com

Virtualization, cloudification, automation and DevOps are key topics in the context of reinventing telecom networks, especially for 5G. IBM’s Rob van Den Dam writes about how communications service providers (CSPs) are reinventing networks with cloud-based virtualized networking. He will be speaking at TM Forum Digital Transformation Asia in Kuala Lumpur about network virtualization, automation and new standards.

CSPs are facing highly disruptive challenges. Expanding volumes of data and video, mobile workload volatility, a greater number of internet of things (IoT) connections, and demand for low latency have spurred the introduction of 5G. With 5G, network virtualization and cloudification are fundamental to realizing network services delivery aligned with customer and service provider expectations.

In particular, network virtualization will enable 5G networks in which various virtual networks run on top of a single, physical infrastructure using technology that allows the network to be shared shared dynamically, or ‘sliced’. Virtual networks then can be rapidly customized to meet the needs of operators, consumers, and enterprise applications and services, such as those for remote healthcare and connected cars.

CSP executives’ view on network cloudification

In an effort to understand the industry’s progress in network virtualization, identify leaders, comprehend their vision and derive learnings to share with their peers, we conducted extensive research, including interviews with 200 CSP executives – including 71 CxOs – across the globe.

Our research revealed that network virtualization is already helping a number of CSP companies drive efficiency and agility in their networks to create new value. We applied cluster analysis to identify segments among the interviewees based on their approach to network virtualization and how they execute on that vision. Three archetypes emerged, which we have named CSP innovators, evaluators and laggards (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Most CSP innovators are already implementing virtualization and cloudification technologies to support current and/or new services. They understand the importance of automation and say that AI is a key underlying technology for effectively automating network operations. Many are also applying DevOps in some form in the network environment. Innovators (25% of the group we interviewed) are the standouts. They report they have outperformed their peers in both revenue growth and profitability in the past three years and also lead in innovation.

Evaluators are either conducting operational trials or testing the technology in a lab environment. They intend to integrate AI into their automation plans and to use DevOps when starting their network virtualization journey. Laggards are falling behind the “Innovators” and “Evaluators”. They are still in the consideration/evaluation phase, and automation and DevOps for network operations are not yet on their radar.

Adaptable and ‘thinking’ networks to pave the way for 5G

Virtualization at scale requires a network cloud infrastructure that allows optimization through rapid scaling and descaling, resource sharing, agility and availability through lifecycle management of network services and applications. This provides scalability, business agility, fast-service innovation and delivery – all three capabilities identified by the Innovators as the top three drivers for network virtualization. It also enables economies of scale alongside IT applications, which can help CSPs realize significant cost savings.

Network virtualization and cloudification go hand-in-hand with predictive, automatic and AI-enabled operations. AI-enabled systems can look for patterns – detect, predict and localize irregularities in the network – and take proactive steps to fix them before they impact customers. Innovators understand that proactively performing predictive maintenance on the network infrastructure and assets can yield a significant return in OpEx and customer satisfaction (see Figure 2). This all allows for a new level of automation, resulting in a “living” network that takes action based on a given situation.

Figure 2

The importance of DevOps and open source

Virtualization and cloudification not only bring automation and programmability to telecom networks, they also enable rapid innovation. In fact, they facilitate network enablement through agile network DevOps for continuously building, onboarding, testing and operationalizing new services, and implementing ongoing updates of existing services. Adopting an automated DevOps methodology reduces introduction of services from years or months, to weeks or days. Seventy-one percent of “Innovators” are already using DevOps to a significant degree for onboarding and testing network services throughout the service lifecycle.

Innovators also understand the crucial role of open source to help accelerate the adoption of virtualized networks. For 65% of them, better customizability is open source’s number one benefit: open source projects provide the code that they can build upon and/or modify to create market-differentiating products and services. Lower development costs and faster time-to-market for new products and services are seen as two other key advantages.

Is your network future-ready?

The following questions can help determine if you are ready to move forward with network virtualization.

  • How do you provide service assurance in a multi-vendor, multi-service cloud environment that brings together virtual and legacy networks?
  • What role do you foresee for machine learning as part of the automation process for operations? For lifecycle management?
  • How do you simplify and manage network operations efficiently with accelerated DevOps, augmented by AI and automation?
  • What actions have you taken to transform the workforce to help make sure you have the skills crucial for network virtualization?
  • In addition to bringing operational benefits, how are the new service capabilities being translated into new revenue streams?

Written by Rob van Den Dam, Global Telecom Industry Leader at IBM’s Institute for Business Value | Original story posted at TM Forum Inform

The TM Forum’s Digital Transformation Asia event is coming to Kuala 

Rob van Den Dam IBM

Lumpur on November 13-15. Disruptive.Asia is an official media partner with the event. All the details you need are right here.

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