Network Function Virtualization (NFV) Is Moving at a Mind-Boggling Pace

I’ve always been told that change in the telecom industry takes a long time. Look backing, it took three to ten years for some major transitions, like circuit-switched calls to VoIP, proprietary form factors to ATCA, and home-grown OSes to carrier-grade Linux*.

On the contrary, network functions virtualization (NFV) is on a speedy trajectory all its own. In less than a year and a half, TEMs starting from the ground up already have NFV-based systems in field trials around the world.

Why so fast?

Market forces are playing a critical role in the rapid rollout of NFV-based solutions. The explosion of network traffic coming from video and other types of data has severely disrupted the revenue model for service providers. The status quo of networks architected with proprietary hardware appliances has proven to be too costly and inflexible. To reverse these trends, the industry is embracing NFV using standard IT server and virtualization technologies that will accelerate service innovation and lower CapEx and OpEx. Fueling this effort, seven of the world’s leading telecoms network operators initiated an ETSI Industry Specification Group for NFV that was quickly joined by over 150 other network operators, telecoms equipment vendors, IT vendors, and technology providers.1,2

It’s all about virtualized network functions

The exhibition hall at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014 was filled with NFV-based proof of concepts (PoCs), most of which showcased virtualized network functions from multiple vendors – all running on the same system. Please read further in the newsletter for specific examples.

Disruption creates opportunities

With every disruption, there’s a chance for companies to reset themselves, and NFV is no exception. NFV enables Tier 2 and 3 companies to gain market share because software-based functions are perhaps 10 times faster to deploy than their incumbent hardware counterparts. The time to market advantage is real, especially since there’s no specialty silicon (e.g., ASICs) or purpose-built boxes to design, test, and install in the network.

Monumental pace of adopted innovation

It’s mindboggling that network architecture has been turned upside down in such a short span of time. There’s no doubt that enterprises and data centers set the stage for this network transformation by optimizing standard IT technologies to the point where the cost and flexibility advantages are abundantly evident. What’s less obvious is the magnitude of innovation that NFV will unleash. Buckle your seat belts!

Jim St. Ledger is Software Product Line Manager in the Intel Communications & Storage Infrastructure Group.

1"Network Functions Virtualisation: An Introduction, Benefits, Enablers, Challenges & Call for Action," published October 22-24, 2012 at the "SDN and OpenFlow World Congress", Darmstadt-Germany. This white paper is available at the following link:


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