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An urgency to get NFV working as a platform for 5G was on top as 1,700 delegates discussed how to overcome some of the remaining barriers to get ready, and we see an NFV trend towards commercial-scale implementation.

It's been six years since the first SDN World Congress in 2012, and now we are starting to come out of the tunnel in realizing the promises of NFV.

The first three to four years consisted of a lot of academic debate, PoCs, and partly unrealistic ideas about a fast paradigm shift in networking.

This year saw a crowd of some 1,700 delegates discussing how to overcome some of the remaining barriers to get NFV platforms really ready for commercial operation and the start of 5G in 2019.

Many mentioned the inability to achieve the promises of NFV and the slow adoption in the industry—not the least of which was Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg, one the founders of SDN/NFV, who stated that there's now a trend towards implementing bigger portions of the stack from one vendor in order to move faster to solutions that actually work.

Technical focus

This event has always had a technical profile and several ETSI groups meet here and present. Areas under discussion are how to model VNFs and services coming up in ETSI-NFV release 2. This also ties in to orchestration discussions, where almost all vendors now talk about some sort of overarching services orchestrator talking to some underlying domain orchestrator, for example, for cloud, transport, and RAN. Ericsson has deployed this for the last two years and currently supplies Verizon with complete orchestration solutions for SD-WAN and vCPE for their enterprise services.

Tied to orchestration are also the operational aspects, which were discussed by many—not the least of which was Swisscom, which talked about how it had implemented a new agile way of working with different operational teams for applications and NFVi and how it aligned to facilitate quarterly update sprints. These are key to implementing change, but they are also very hard to do in practice. The required operational changes are some of the biggest blocks to overcome for NFV adoption.

Business perspective

From a business perspective, the big talk this time was around Universal CPE (uCPE). The concept is to replace vendor-specific CPEs with a white box. The benefits—besides a potentially lower hardware price—is the ability to tap into a larger set of business applications to be ordered by the enterprise admin. In many cases, an enterprise needs more than one e.g. SD-WAN solution to fulfill all business needs. Verizon enterprise is already providing these types of services to enterprises on a global scale.

5G is driving NFV

5G is coming rapidly. Verizon made the world’s first official 5G launch on October 1. For most others, this will happen over the course of the next two to five years. Besides the initial steps, the operators now need to have working NFV platforms, including a working NFVi with cloud orchestration, to be able to onboard IoT services based on network slices.

This will be a challenge for many who have not come so far in their NFV implementation. We have seen that leading players such as Swisscom, AT&T, Telefonica, and others have been working hard for three years to come to where they are now with about 10%–15%, at best, of the subscribers running live traffic on a limited set of VNFs.

Edge computing

Edge computing was discussed in several seminars, because it is seen as key for many 5G use cases. It was interesting that ETSI-MEC is now proposing to change its blueprint to align with ETSI-NFV and treat functions like VNFs and use the NFVO for the orchestration. The Ericsson position remains that ETSI-NFV combined with network slice orchestration will be sufficient when the same NFVi can be used to run workloads both centrally as well as at the edge.

Cloud native

Cloud native continues to be hot topic even if it's in its early days, and few operators are ready to onboard containerized VNFs. The new 5G core, which will be needed for 5G standalone, will be cloud native from the start. Ericsson will deliver 5G core starting in 2019. This will be needed by most all eventually for several of the more advanced functions in 5G. Ericsson presented how this will be managed by the introduction of a new CaaS layer in the NFVi, such that the current NFVi can be upgraded to carry both VM and containerized VNFs.

To summarize this conference, there is now a clear sense of urgency for everyone that NFV is here. The days of hype are over, and NFV now needs to get ready for live deployment—especially for all who have ambitions to be early with 5G. In addition to a few big announcements, there were many positive signs of operators now starting to work towards real commercialization, although the speed of adoption clearly needs to increase.

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Mats Johansson

Mats Johansson

Mats is focusing on networks marketing within SDN, NFV, 5G core, Cloud and NFV MANO at Ericsson Headquarters in Stockholm. He has previously been working in various positions such as R&D for Mobile Radio Networks, Product Management for Core networks and Mobile Packet Core, Marketing for 3G Mobile, Fixed Telecom networks for Broadband Access, Metro, IP and IPTV infrastructure. Mats has a Master’s degree in Telecommunication and Computer science at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.