Look ahead 2015

2015: The year SDN and NFV go mainstream

In 2015, we expect to see organizations begin to take steps to truly embrace software defined networking (SDN) and its sibling – network functions virtualization (NFV). What other technologies and trends might we see in 2015?

Much of 2014 was spent discussing software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and other “new” networking technologies. We also heard debates about the merits of the Internet of Things and what it will do for the world; we wondered whether the Apple Watch would drive an uptick in smart wearables. 2014 was, to an extent, the year of chatter.

We spent a lot of time defining SDN at forums and forming new standards bodies, but it was not uncommon to hear customers, media, and service providers ask for something tangible amid the discussion of its benefits. After all, where were the mass deployments?

In short, 2014 was the year we strategically moved pieces around the board, but never reached the point of calling “checkmate.”

So will 2015 offer more of the same, or will we see winners emerge and the new networking ecosystem take shape?

SDN and NFV to crack ground in the telecommunications market

It’s safe to say the SDN and NFV era is still in its infancy. That will soon change, according to Infonetics Research’s “2014 SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise” survey, which estimates that 87% of U.S. businesses intend to have SDN live in their data centers by 2016. From that perspective, SDN is well on its way.

These deployments have kept the hype somewhat subdued, but this is the most transformative technology we have developed in decades, and 10 years down the line – maybe even sooner – SDN will simply be known as “networking.” In 2015, the technology will begin the journey down that path with the first deployments of SDN in telco networks across the globe. This will be a huge step and could push SDN toward achieving critical mass; we expect to even see SDN deployed on global submarine networks to enable more dynamic services than anything available in the past.

We will also begin to see NFV become a technology du jour. There were NFV whispers in 2014, but 2015 promises to put the discussion on the map in the same way SDN was during the past 12 months. Once people see the tangible results of what software can do for a network, it’s only a matter of time before people begin to see the benefits of replacing hardware functions with virtualized equivalents. Infonetics research backs up these predictions in its “Carrier SDN and NFV Hardware and Software Market Size and Forecast” report, which predicts that the NFV and SDN markets will reach $11 billion globally in 2018. Along with the major telcos announcing SDN deployments, we’ll also see initial NFV deployments in high-touch enterprises.

4K to get the OK

The 4K broadcasting standard has been around for some time now, and the TV sets to enable them have been available for a little over a year, but 2015 will see the standard become, well, standard.

Over the next year, you will see much more widely available 4K content, led in large part by the likes of Netflix, which already has in place platinum plans for those with Ultra HD-capable sets.

In fact, a recent ACG Research report found that the use of 4K streaming video services—which consume three to four times more bandwidth than HDTV—will grow from 2% in 2014 to 12% in 2018. As demand increases, you will see content become available to those willing to pay the premium for it, and with that will come the need to get the network up to par to enable the seamless viewing experience required. The minimum speed required for 4K/Ultra HD is around 16 megabits-per-second, resulting in a greater strain on networks.

High Hopes for Small Cells

As existing mobile networks are increasingly congested and real estate for deploying new macro towers is harder to come by, mobile operators will look to lighten the macro tower traffic load through the rollout of an increased number of small cells—which will also significantly improve overall network coverage, especially indoors where the majority of people actually use their smartphones. Small cells will offload some of the congestion from existing macro towers significantly improving customer experience.

We have seen this market grow in many respects already, and a recent survey by Infonetics Research found that mobile operators are planning to shift more than 20% of their mobile traffic from the macro network into small cells by 2018. We predict that 2015 will be the year when small cell deployments are widely adopted by mobile operators, as they will have selected the backhaul products, technologies, and interconnect architectures to deploy this innovative solution on a much broader scale.

Improved coverage and download speeds will result in a significant increase in traffic across metro networks, which interconnect wireless access points. Therefore, 2015 will also be the year for broader 10GbE mobile backhaul connectivity between macro towers and metro networks.

 Agile, On-Demand Networks Are Key

These are only a handful of the technology trends we expect to see in 2015, but some things are clear: more capacity is needed in more locations than ever before, and maximizing the capabilities of networks while figuring out ways to monetize them will continue to dominate discussions. With advances in SDN and NFV, network builds are being driven by the behavior of end users and by applications. 2015 represents another step forward in what has already been a monumental shift in networking.

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