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SDN/NFV (software-defined networking/network functions virtualization) have become common terms in the data center and optical networking realms, but are rarely mentioned in the context of wireline broadband access networks. AT&T is changing this. At the Open Networking Summit in mid-June 2015, AT&T announced adoption of a vOLT (virtual GPON optical line terminal) for its GigaPower initiative.

AT&T's approach will save capex and opex as it rolls out FTTP

As discussed by John Donovan, senior vice president of Technology and Operations for AT&T, the OLT would become open hardware. Through the Open Compute Project, AT&T is releasing the specifications for the commodity hardware that will run the different components of an OLT. The movement to a vOLT enables both lower capex and opex.

SDN/NFV have taken the headlines in the data center world, while wireline access has been missing from the discussion until now. Yet, wireline access has much to gain from SDN and NFV. FTTP networks are based on proprietary OLT equipment. Furthermore, CSPs are likely to use the same vendor for related FTTP central office equipment since the software managing traffic and aggregation functions are proprietary to each vendor.

The adoption of SDN/NFV would enable cost-effective optimization of FTTP-related equipment including OLTs. SDN supports efficient, flexible, and cost-effective traffic management, while NFV focuses on virtualization of network components to enable software implementation on standard IT platforms.

Another major advantage to SDN/NFV for FTTP focuses on the future, namely upgrades. The reliance on proprietary OLT hardware has slowed down upgrades to next-gen PON, although next-gen PON supports high-ARPU nonresidential services. CSPs have faced limited choices since they are tied into their current OLT vendor for seamless upgrades. Or, they use equipment from another vendor but can't easily merge traffic switching and aggregation functions. The vOLT approach would enable CSPs to upgrade easily regardless of initial and future vendor choices.

AT&T's announcement is a major step forward for reduced capex and opex in FTTP deployments for all CSPs.


Further reading

Facebook: Network and Technology Profile, TE0006-001059 (May 2015)

Open Source for Telecom Networks, TE0006-000957 (November 2014)

"What are SDN and NFV, and what do they mean for telecoms?," TE0006-000852 (March 2014)


Julie Kunstler, Principal Analyst, Components and Intelligent Networks

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