Mobile World Congress: Blurring the Lines of the Data Center and the Network

The world of mobile has descended on Barcelona with an expected 90K+ executives assembled at MWC 2015.  Many conversations here focus on the latest mobile gadgets and the advent of 5G, the 5th generation mobile network expected to reach final specifications in 2019 in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  What 5G will bring to our devices is still not fully understood, but what is known today is that users’ insatiable demand for data-rich experiences continues its ascent.  Today, the average mobile user is consuming 2GB of data monthly, a doubling of usage within the last 12 months alone, and this data usage is pushing back-end networks from the network core to edge to innovate at an unprecedented pace. With Netflix already representing over a third of downstream internet traffic in the US, 2015 will represent the first year where we’ll stream more content from the Internet than consume from broadcast television.  Telco providers are facing this scaling user demand as well as new network traffic driven by the Internet of Things and new competition as the arenas of telecom and cloud services become further blurred. The pressure to innovate the core network to keep pace with demand has never been more acute.

Networking equipment vendors used to gather at the edges of MWC vs. their mobile device and provider customers, but since the industry began buzzing with the concepts of Software Defined Network (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) a few years ago, the innovation in core networking equipment has taken its rightful place at center stage.  At focus is virtualization of the telecommunications network enabling telco providers to deliver new service capabilities far more nimbly than they can with traditional telecom solutions.  Where 2014’s MWC event was focused on the first proof of concept tests of NFV solutions, 2015 is focused on delivery of initial products for implementation across the network.  Today, I spoke to Steve Shaw, Director of Service Provider Marketing at Juniper Networks, about their vMX 3D Universal Edge Routers, and he pointed out that NFV enables telcos to deploy routing technology in places that the sophistication of routing would historically not reach.  This embeds greater intelligence across the network and provides more insight to the provider on real time network traffic data helping to improve service capability.  In talking to Steve, I also heard what would become a continual refrain from all of my conversations today – a demonstrated commitment for broad industry collaboration to bring these solutions to market.  Steve noted the critical importance for both east west and north south interoperability and the strategic role that orchestration software plays in connecting solutions from across the industry.

NFV is also driving broad industry innovation within virtual base stations (vBS), the devices that connect mobile users to the network edge.  By virtualizing a base station, providers are better able to address frequency issues and improve network performance and coverage capabilities to users while providing infrastructure on efficient, Intel architecture based platforms.  While vBS solutions were initially targeted for Cloud Radio Access Network (C-RAN) environments, many vendors are looking at in-building and distributed antenna system (DAS) solutions as initial beach head markets.  Imagine the rich media experience of the 21st century stadium environment, today often limited by access overload of too many mobile users in a confined physical space.  vBS promises to address this issue ensuring that coverage can more efficiently scale based on real time usage demand.  Here, broad industry innovation is also present.  I spoke to Eran Bello, VP of Products and Marketing for Israeli startup Asocs, today about their vBS solutions and he highlighted the acute interest in urban deployments for Asocs products and the importance of broad industry collaboration embracing of open standards to ensure delivery in the market.

And talking about blurred lines, Ericsson shook up the tech industry today with the announcement of new NFV fueled platforms to help telcos take their infrastructure hyperscale.  Based on Intel’s RackScale Architecture and integrated open orchestration capabilities, Ericsson’s offering will help telco operators utilize software defined infrastructure to help them compete with their cloud provider counterparts.  I spoke with Howard Wu, Head of Product Line for Cloud Hardware and Infrastructure at Ericsson, and he stated it was the company’s 139 year history in building relationships with customers that will make this venture a success given that technology innovation takes partnership and trust to result in deployment.

May sure to checkout  all my interviews from MWC Day 1 and check back tomorrow for more insights from Barcelona.