Interview: Telco Software Defined Network (SDN) for Operators

As some friends during MWC13 mentioned, Athens is becoming an EMEA hub for Analysts that are looking from different views and sides into upcoming hot concepts, such as 5G, LTE for Public Safety Networks, SDN etc. I took the opportunity to chat with my “neighbor”, Dimitris Mavrakis, Principal Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, among others, also on SDN, turning an easygoing discussion into some notes and an interview for ExelixisNet portal worth to publish.

Interview: Telco Software Defined Network for operators

1. How would you define Telco SDN today? Is it still a concept?

Telco SDN is a concept which is a part of a broader transformation in the Telecoms environment. The industry is seeking ways to take advantage of IT concepts and use these to make Telecom networks more efficient and easier to monetize.

Telco SDN today refers to 3 things:

  1. Separation of the control and data plane (What the IT industry refers as open flow)
  2. Virtualization of network components
  3. Exposure of network functionality

Each vendor may have a different strategy but the discussions in the industry currently focus on these 3 topics.

2. How is the IT world connected to Telcos at this point?

For the moment IT vendors provide a variety of technology to Telcos including OSS/BSS systems, data centers, networking equipment and carrier cloud infrastructure. The experience they have in this area is very well positioned to expand their reach in Telco networks through SDN. Most vendors are still fine-tuning their Telco SDN strategy and equipment while some Tier-1 vendors have already re-aligned their whole business towards SDN.

3. What are the key features and advantages of SDN? And what is the added value to a Telco infrastructure?

Telco SDN promises a flexible, scalable and centrally driven architecture which is able to provide different tiers of service to a variety of clients. It also promises less reliance on proprietary hardware and over-dimensioning, while interfacing with third parties through Web-based protocols is expected to become a de facto standard.

4. To your opinion, at what stage are the Telcos today, are they considering SDN and how? What is their current perception?

Telco infrastructure is proprietary fragmented and provided by dozens of different vendors.  Telco SDN is aiming to break this practice and replace specialized hardware with commoditized IT equipment where network elements are implemented in software. Telcos need new ways to operate their networks and more efficient planning, deployment and management. That’s why they are interested in Telco SDN but the evolution of todays’ networks’ to completely virtualize architectures will take a long time.

5. What are the challenges of Telco SDN?

There is still confusion in the market regarding the value proposition of Telco SDN and how much existing networks need to be upgraded. Given the current economic environment, Telco SDN needs to be gradually deployed in the market with a clear value proposition to mobile operators. Perhaps cost savings are not the only argument vendors need to use when marketing Telco SDN, but also new services and making networks more profitable and more efficient. At the moment it is not clear what new services Telco SDN can enable, but it is still early stages.

6. During your recent webinar you compared IMS to SDN, what are the differences?

The main differences are that IMS was developed from scratch to replace existing service architecture but Telco SDN was developed entirely in the IT world and borrows from the experience of IT vendors. Telco SDN will also partly be standardized by the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) forum, which includes operators, telecoms and IT vendors.

7. Closing, what should we expect in the near future, what will turn Mobile SDN into a protagonist?

The landscape can change in the long run from the general alignment of IT and telecoms and the need for more efficient, scalable and manageable network infrastructure. Also the urge to move away from the over-dimensioning when planning current and future networks are all good arguments for the deployment of SDN.

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