NFV: How to get out of a virtual labyrinth

April 2018 – For many years, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) has been the source of a lot of uncertainty for the telecoms industry. And by no means is the fight to dominate this technology over. The slow pace at which virtualization has progressed has meant that feelings of frustration have overcome the initial enthusiasm. 

A broad mix of business and technical challenges, such as skills shortages and operational change, are taking their toll and effectively slowing down pace and scope of commercial implementations. As a result, the majority of service providers questioned in a survey by now say that over the next five years NFV will have only a modest impact on business success. This begs the question: should we believe the hype?

The NFV hype

It is not unheard of in the telecoms sector for new technologies to generate a lot of hype from analysts and media commentators alike. In NFV’s case, there has been continuous dissolution. As we head into the fifth year since the emergence of NFV as a game-changing telecoms technology, with no real fruition, it is justifiable to wonder whether it is worth the hype.

Fewer than 10 per cent of service providers said that their company is meeting their deployment schedule for NFV. Despite all this uncertainty, many service providers do see benefits surrounding virtualization – increased network agility, shorter time to market and the creation of new services and revenue streams.

The concerns and uncertainties of NFV

NFV is expected to be most important for reducing operating expenses but high costs of deployment, complexity of NFV operations, skills shortages and lack of investment in/internal commitment to NFV are the main barriers to success for companies with regards to deployment. Similarly, another major challenge for service providers is integration with legacy equipment. They are also finding that NFV is seemingly complex and difficult for many service providers to deploy at scale.

With regards to the architecture, the breadth and the number of distinct components make it challenging to design, build and support. It is essential to integrate NFV into already-existing network architectures. Further hinderance to deployment is caused by a lack of “blueprints” and mature standards for the implementation of NFV.

That said, NFV will be able to deliver high-performance networks with greater scalability, elasticity, and adaptability at reduced costs compared to networks built from traditional networking equipment over time. New network requirements such as Internet of Things, 5G and SD-WAN ensure the drive of NFV, but it also covers a wide range of network applications.

Why service providers should take a carefully measured view to virtualization adoption

With NFV service providers must work towards improving the network performance and reliability and ensure that they have the ability to integrate existing operational and billing systems with legacy network architectures . To successfully deploy this, service providers must adopt a virtualized signaling gateway solution to integrate the old with the new. They need to ensure that they maximize the return of investment in their networks and are keeping TDM equipment in service – particularly the end-node voice switches. A gateway can deliver the scalability, flexibility, throughput, and performance to manage the convergence and growth of networks while maintaining legacy TDM SS7 connections and infrastructure. This reduces the total cost of ownership of legacy equipment and enables the seamless transition to new IP-based networks.

For service providers, NFV demonstrates clear benefits not just to costing, but also bolsters efficiency and adaptability. It is undeniable that the ongoing uncertainty surrounding NFV has impacted the speed of its implementation. If the benefits of NFV are to be realised it is important that service providers see beyond the hype and push forward with their deployment schedule.