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What Can Collision Theory Teach Us About the Journey to 5G and Virtual Networks?


What Can Collision Theory Teach Us About the Journey to 5G and Virtual Networks?


k-GettyImages-139956802_RF.jpgAt Mobile World Congress, TelecomTV’s Guy Daniels posed a thought experiment: What can we learn about 5G and virtualization by looking through the lens of the groundbreaking work happening at the Large Hadron Collider? Just as the collision of fundamental particles can reveal new insights into the universe, the collision of concepts that previously were opposites in the telco world—open versus closed, public cloud versus private, collaboration versus competition—can potentially open new frontiers in mobile networks and experiences. Martin Taylor, chief technology officer for Metaswitch, and Radhesh Balakrishnan, RedHat’s general manager for OpenStack & NFV, offered their thoughts.

Both clarified that, while network functions virtualization (NFV) may have felt like a science experiment in the past, it has become much more mature, and some of the concerns about its complexity may be overblown.

“Sometimes people exaggerate the difficulties that NFV is going through,” said Taylor. “For sure, some virtualization applications are harder to deal with than others, and some of the longer-term gains around automation may be a bit out of reach because the software isn’t quite there. But the fact is, we have more than 70 customers now deploying VNFs in production networks, all working very happily.”


Uncovering New Dimensions in Carrier Capabilities

Continuing the comparison to emerging physics and mathematics, Balakrishnan argued that the service agility afforded by virtualization will upend the status quo for operators.

“Without vritualizing the infrastructure, the network functions themselves, you can’t get to the level of service agility needed to react to the pressures in the market,” he said. “That’s the unexplored dimension in this analogy. We’re just at the beginning of realizing the benefit of that. We recently had one tier-1 service provider do a five -year TCO/ROI study, and the results were stunning. You’re talking about a 50% reduction in capex and opex. Probably the biggest impact is the pace at which you can roll out new services and capabilities to your customers. To me, that’s new dimension of ROI.”

Martin continued the analogy, noting the new possibilities that virtualization opens up.

“In our world, which is voice and IMS, the possibility of standing up a specialized IMS for a specialized purpose, you can’t conceive of doing that with a physical IMS; it’s way too expensive and difficult and time consuming,” he said. “If you want to bring voice to a connected car, or stand up a special IMS for an enterprise customer, these are things you can do in a matter of hours in a virtualized environment that would take you years if you were trying to build them physically.”


Starting the Journey

The panel agreed that the evolution of 5G and virtualization really does represent a sea-change for operators. But they also argued that the best way to start capitalizing on these new innovations is to start small and evolve pragmatically.

“From an NFV journey perspective, you want flexibility across all layers—from hardware to the NFVI layer, to the VNF to MANO layer,” said Balakrishnan. “It’s sort of the holy grail. But trying to have ‘n x n’ right at the word go is a tall order. It’s the equivalent of a black hole in that you could end up spending too much energy chasing what could eventually become a reality.”

“If you overthink this evolution, get too multidimensional, you can talk yourself out of it,” added Martin. “Take it as an evolution. Start with an easy use case, and be prepared to learn from it. Don’t attempt to plan your way all the way to the end game, because you’ll get it wrong. And that’s a classic telco mistake, because that’s how they’ve always built services. With virtualization, that’s a recipe for standing still and getting nothing done.”


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