By Martin Walshaw, senior engineer at F5 Networks.
The pressure to adapt and future-proof has never been higher for service providers.
Cisco’s latest Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) reported that global mobile data traffic will increase nearly tenfold between 2014 and 2019 to hit 24.3 exabytes per month by 2019 - a CAGR of 57%. By 2019, nearly three-fourths of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video, representing a 13-fold increase and accounting for 72% of total mobile data traffic.
Service providers seeking to pull off the delicate balancing act of watertight user experience and customer loyalty have to get ready for change.
Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) is increasingly making its influence felt in this respect as it edges towards the mainstream. Those capable of improving application orchestration, virtualisation, abstraction and programmability are now much in demand; research firm 451 Group predicts that the NFV market will reach approximately $3.1 billion in 2017.
NFV is an architectural concept that virtualises entire classes of network node functions into building blocks. These can include virtualised firewalls, load balancing, DNS and intrusion detection. They are then linked together to create communication services.
But while NFV can be deployed on existing networks, the big story is all about how it can benefit the Software Defined Network (SDN). By 2020, SNS Research estimates that SDN and NFV can enable service providers (both wireline and wireless) to save up to $32 billion in annual capex investments.
In order to prepare the way, canny service providers are starting to look at ways of consolidating and simplifying services within their S/Gi networks, which is the interface between the Packet Data Network Gateway (P-GW) and the Internet.
The virtualisation and abstraction enables the virtualisation of the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). An intelligent orchestration engine can then facilitate dynamic policy management and flexible, real-time traffic management.
Another key step is the virtualisation of the S/Gi network and control plane. Here, the S/Gi services interact with internal elements such as the Policy and Charging Rules Function, HSS and IMS through Diameter and SIP interfaces.
The virtualisation of RAN and other core components, meanwhile, enables NFV technologies to access key analytical data to create dynamic and flexible orchestration policies. This liberates the network to automatically adapt to congestion, specific traffic patterns, and subscriber and application policy management expectations.
The big goal is an end to device sprawl and to achieve the freedom to ditch superfluous services in favour of more elegant, standardised architectures. If done correctly, service providers can reduce operating and capital expenses, as well as form a solid basis from a subscriber- and application-aware platform that can feasibly power SDN/NFV adoption.