Alcatel-Lucent is betting big on operators wanting to virtualize their mobile networks using NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) technology, in order to become more nimble and less reliant on proprietary hardware.
Virtualization has already changed how enterprises build and manage their IT infrastructure, and now mobile operators are looking at doing the same thing, and vendors are re-architecting their products. Purported advantages include lower costs and faster deployment of new services.
Just as enterprises today can roll out new applications and services faster using hosted services, so too will operators, and that should be a boon for users, according to Alcatel-Lucent.
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The company's NFV portfolio includes three main ingredients: a vEPC (virtualized Evolved Packet Core), a vIMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) platform and virtualized RAN (Radio Access Network) products, it announced on Wednesday.
The vEPC automates the authentication and management of subscribers and the services they access, while vIMS is used to run IP-based services, including next generation LTE telephony and messaging. The virtualized RAN portfolio includes a 3G RNC (Radio Network Controller) -- which manages base stations as well as radio connections -- and proof of concepts for LTE and LTE-Advanced networks, Alcatel-Lucent said.
NFV will be the one of the biggest infrastructure trends at this year's Mobile World Congress, which starts Monday in Barcelona. At the event, China Mobile and Alcatel-Lucent plan to demonstrate VoLTE (Voice over LTE) using the vendor's NFV portfolio.
Alcatel-Lucent is using Red Hat's Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform to power the underlying CloudBand platform, which also has integrated SDN (Software Defined Networking) functionality from Nuage Networks, a company in which Alcatel-Lucent owns a majority stake. SDN adds the flexibility needed to manage the virtual machines more effectively, according to Phil Tilley, director of marketing for cloud strategy and solutions at Alcatel-Lucent.
There seems to be great interest in NFV among operators. Part of the reason the vendors are pushing the technology so hard is because representatives of 13 operators -- including Verizon, China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom -- came together to write a white paper on the subject in 2012.
Operators' networks use "a large and increasing variety of proprietary hardware appliances. To launch a new network service often requires yet another variety and finding the space and power to accommodate these boxes is becoming increasingly difficult," the operators wrote.
Also, the operators see NFV as highly complementary to SDN (Software Defined Networking). They are mutually beneficial technologies but are not dependent on each other; network functions can be virtualized and deployed without SDN being required and vice versa, according to the white paper.
The operators saw the need for something to happen quickly, and drove the vendors a little harder, according to Tilley.
"It was a wake-up call. But then we rapidly joined with them and embraced their ideas," Tilley said.
This is a big change for the operators, and it will take time before they start taking the leap to NFV-based networks.
"We see live networks happening in 2015," Tilley said.
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