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On the Road to 2020: 5G and Virtualisation-Ready Networks, Beyond the Hype

Paul Gowans, Wireless Strategy Director, Viavi, discusses how we can achieve our 5G and Virtualisation goals by 2020.

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We continue to hear the steady drum beat of predictions regarding how many machine-to-machine and IoT connections will exist by 2020. While the numbers vary from 30 billion to as many as 75 billion, the year stays the same – 2020.

Leading up to 2020 (we will stick with that year just like everyone else), the impact on networks will be profound, and the bur¬den on network service providers and equipment suppliers will be tremendous. The dual effect of surging data growth, combined with flat and declining revenue per-bit means network operators have to do more with less. Required are cost-effective ways to increase network capacity, improve network performance, and create new services to improve average revenue per user.

In the industry, we know that the common route to addressing this is through virtualization. Virtualization has already taken over computing and is encroaching on networks; it has the potential to completely transform the way networks are designed, built and operated. Functions necessary to run mobile and wireline networks, which were traditionally performed in purpose-built hardware and installed in a limited number of physical locations, are now liberated to run on open servers and easily deployed where and when needed.

Virtualization of network equipment allows service providers to improve network resource utilization, and to introduce or repurpose services more easily, without having to deploy technicians to install physical appliances. This dramatically improves new service introduction times.

Innovation at the Foundation

The primary objectives of virtualization are to reduce capex and opex, while also reducing space requirements and power consumption. Instead of relying on equipment built from specialized components and ASICs, Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) can be installed and run on general-purpose processors. Traditionally, performance was always a barrier. However, modern processors have both reduced in size and cost, while improving in performance. Intel, for example, has significantly and continuously increased the density and performance of their processors. This scale allows more functions to be implemented in a pure software environment.

Traditional hardware suppliers are not sitting idly, either. After all, their equipment is the foundation of today’s networks and they uniquely understand what it required to move data. For instance, Cisco offers programmable network processors. By combining this network processing capability with general computing capabilities, along with APIs, equipment suppliers are making a strong case that their platforms should host various virtual network functions.

While standard groups such as ETSI work to define standards, the reality may be that multiple implementation options will occur, while traditional legacy networks will exist indefinitely.

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Continuing on the Road Ahead

The overall manner in which virtualized networks are designed, implemented, and managed could be radically different than today. Network performance, which may have once been predictable in a dedicated, hardware-based network appliance, may now be affected when a new virtual network function is installed. Physical links connecting network equipment today are points of delineation and locations in which data can be accessed for monitoring and troubleshooting. These may be virtual interfaces, connecting functions within software in the same (or different) physical servers. The methods and techniques of identifying why, where and who is impacted used today will change or be adapted.

Service providers may face a new set of complexities, likely requiring new skill sets more closely resembling those found in a data center or enterprise IT department. The conventional definition of a data center has essentially been turned inside out. But once the challenges have been overcome, virtualized networks have the potential to be highly flexible, efficient, and cost effective. Virtualization provides compelling, almost obvious, value propositions and service providers are either in various stages of understanding, defining, and trialing. Wide scale implementation, however, will require adaptation for numerous business processes, including how new services are tested and monitored.

To that end, Viavi provides cost-effective and scalable solution architecture for deploying, testing, and monitoring network resources by increasingly adding virtualized network capabilities, which are today implemented in external instrumentation and discrete probes into VNFs. Find out more; come visit us
5G World during TechXLR8 in booth 5G512. Viavi has everything you need to install, verify, analyze, and troubleshoot advanced networks to deliver the highest-quality customer experience. While in London, we invite you to visit us and learn how Viavi's industry-leading and award-winning solutions are helping to light the path to 5G for our customers.

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About the Author:

Paul Gowans is Wireless Strategy Director for Viavi and has more than 25 years’ experience in the communications and mobile industries. He currently leads the Marketing responsible for Viavi's Mobile Assurance, Analytics and Enterprise Solutions. Paul’s expertise in IP, Mobile, LTE, VoIP, VoLTE & SON comes from developing, supporting, marketing and consulting on major mobile communications projects.

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