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It’s been a ride, from first customer trials in 2014, to the No. 1 position at the end of 2015, when we went live initially with virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) and launched mobile broadband capacity expansions with Softbank, to today when we reached 100 commercial vEPC customers. I think many of us in the NFV space have been thinking it’s been slow, but getting into 100 commercial customers shows that this has truly moved into the mainstream. It's time for some reflection and also for sharing what our latest customers are doing.

Commercial deployments

To be ready for IoT, 5G, and Industry 4.0, you need to get on board with NFV. Today we have commercially deployed our virtual EPC in live networks supporting a variety of use cases, some of which are brand-new and enabled by the new technology and others that are evolving current use cases with a new level of automation and speed, for example:

Mobile broadband—Modernizing and managing capacity growth, adding sites, and migrating to datacenters. Anything from small-scale to large-scale MBB. This goes from new use cases such as complete vEPC and user management deployed in a single COTS server for thousands of users to more traditional large-scale MBB operations with more than 10 million subscribers in tier 1 carriers across the world. We have done multiple announcements in this area including Softbank, Swisscom, Telkomcel, Telstra, Vodafone, and Zain.

Massive IoT—Introducing network slices for massive IoT with decoupled lifecycle from consumer MBB service. Now live in more than 10 customer networks, including companies such as Softbank and Verizon. Additionally, Ericsson Device Connection Platform is using our vEPC, supporting more than 2,300 enterprises. The value of CI/CD and decoupled slice lifecycle have really been proven with operators introducing a new software version every month to get access to the latest features enabling new IoT devices network connectivity for Cat-M and NB-IoT.

Enterprise—Dedicated instances for critical enterprise deployments. We have now started to see enterprise slices deployed on prem at oil rigs, medical manufacturing sites, and steel plants. We are really taking the first step towards Industry 4.0 including, for example, experiences with Telefonica, Telstra, Tampnet, and LG UPlus.

VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling—One of the first announcements we did was with Vodafone Netherlands for VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling with both EPC and the IMS fully virtualized. Since then, many more have followed including Swisscom, Entel, Telefonica, and Tele-Post Greenland.

Technology evolution

What an evolution we have seen in the NFVi technology! First deployments were on OpenStack Icehouse and we have since then stepped through Juno, Kilo, Liberty, Mitaka, and Newton and we are now moving on to Queen and Pike. Similarly, we have gone from VMware 5.x to VMware 6.x and VMware Telco NFV, adding good functionality for Telco NFV.

In addition, we have seen great progress in networking with first deployments using L2 networking and ML-2 plugins and now SDN being the path forward with solutions from multiple vendors, including our own distribution of OpenDaylight as part of Ericsson NFVi.

What's the experience so far?

From a signaling point of view, we don’t have any signaling KPI degradations compared to our legacy physical products. That works great, and we have customers who trust the software and solutions that are doing live max capacity benchmarking in live networks. Who would have believed that two years ago?

From a user plane, it’s been more of a challenge: We have used all models of Open vSwitch (OVS) with a fast evolution, from 100kpps to multimillion pps capacity in OVS and a similar evolution as well with VMware and vDS. This area is surely moving fast with the next level of hardware accelerations, SmartNICs, and FPGAs available in labs and soon to reach production.

#100 customer

So, who was the number 100 customer? We are happy to announce that Airtel in Gabon , Niger, Seychelles, Chad, Madagascar and DR Congo has selected our virtual EPC solution running on Ericsson NFVi. The vEPC solution will support Airtel with mobile broadband capacity expansions up to 1 Tbps and leading geo-redundancy with session continuity over both virtual and native network functions. The NFV solution optimizes the uptake of MBB, but it will also support enterprise services and form a secure platform for network slicing enabling other advanced services such as 4G Massive IoT and 5G

Thank you for reading about our vEPC journey.

Want to know more?

The paper “Evolution from EPC to 5G Core made easy” outlines details and alternatives, based on our extensive experience with leading operators around the world, about how we believe your journey towards 5G Core can be made easy and how Ericsson can support you in overcoming challenges to achieve an optimized journey towards 5G Core.

Download paper

For additional information, see Prepare your core network.

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Anders Lundström

Anders Lundström

Anders Lundström joined Ericsson in 1999, initially working in 3G packet core system management. He currently works in Product Line Packet Networks as a strategic product manager for Evolved Packet Core. In this role, he is responsible for virtual EPC and product evolution as part of Ericsson’s overall EPC offering, a key enabler for 5G. Previously, he was key lead for Ericsson in the development of a 3GPP2 migration path LTE/EPC, and he has spent several years working in the US in various positions.