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This year’s MWC was not home to many high-flying NFV announcements, but a few show that operators are trying hard to find the right balance between vendor dependence and risk/cost. While some will choose to integrate NFV themselves, most operators are now faced with a range of options from large NEPs, small vendors, open source, and everything in between.

Cautious NFV

Another Mobile World Congress has concluded, bigger and busier compared to last year’s.

Although there were no major announcements regarding software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) at the event, a few releases signal that these emergent technologies are moving beyond the initial hype and beginning to mature.

The most important announcement was made by Telefonica, which has now awarded a contract to Ericsson for UNICA, its NFV infrastructure. Telefonica aims to deploy UNICA in Germany as a starting point, after Ericsson is certified according to the operator’s requirements. At last year’s MWC, HP announced similar news, but it has now been replaced by Ericsson.

Nokia illustrated initial examples of integration of Alcatel-Lucent and old-Nokia technologies, including CloudBand NFV management and orchestration (MANO) now working with Nokia’s AirFrame data center system. Nokia was also vocal about its participation in Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP), where a telco group has been formed to adapt OCP for NFV (and other telco applications).

Other large vendors announced deployments and new contracts – for example, Oracle announced a new version of its orchestrator and a contract with Bell Canada, and Amdocs announced a deployment with Vodafone for software VPN.

Open source was also a major point of discussion at MWC, especially in the orchestration space. China Mobile and Huawei announced Open-O (hosted by the Linux Foundation), while Telefonica (and a raft of other operators) announced Open Source MANO (hosted by ETSI). and Cloudify are also active in the orchestration space. Why open source is really necessary in the orchestration layer is not clear, and many see these initiatives as (desperate?) attempts to appear “open.”

In the network domain, we counted six vendors whose business is largely based in VNFs (excluding vRAN): Affirmed Networks, Athonet, Core Network Dynamics, Polaris, and Quortus for vEPC and Metaswitch for vIMS. Whether these are deployed in production remains to be seen, but the value chain is now open for new entrants that specialize in a previously forbidden domain.

There was also a myriad of trial, proof-of-concept, partnership, and “NFV ready” announcements, but we believe these illustrate that NFV is moving past its infancy and now growing up to face “real-world” issues that may take a long time to resolve.



Dimitris Mavrakis, Principal Analyst, Intelligent Networks

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