NFV benefits to telecom operators

This interview with Ulf Bragnell, Director Product Management at Enea discusses NFV trends and particularly vCPE benefits to operators, along an exposé of commercial software solutions.

By Fredrik Ehrenstråle

With the rapid growth of end users' demand for video and other large data services, what challenges do you think operators are facing in the network access layer? What changes have taken place in comparison with the past?

With the data traffic growth, the throughput requirements on the access network has dramatically increased. For NFV this means different things depending on where NFV is applied in the network.

In data aggregation points like a CO or Edge PoP in a mobile network, the total data throughput will be very high per server whereas in a data center this is less of a problem.

For the CO this means that SW switching and packet processing has severe limits. HW acceleration will most likely be needed in a near future. Embedded acceleration in the processors and smartNics is one way forward. Another path is to offload the whole data plane for some applications like vBRAS on HW appliances keeping the control plane in VNFs. This is a change compared to the beginning of NFV when everyone though SW only would be sufficient.

What are the benefits of NFV for telecom operators, and what concerns do telecom operators have about NFV?

The perceived benefits evolves during the NFV journey, and depends on where NFV is applied.

For the core network the benefit of NFV is more on the OPEX side. The CAPEX reduction has proven to be limited. NFV also opens up the market to a much wider range of vendors, thus increasing competition, and vendors can in turn innovate on each layer of the stack.

At the edge, it is slightly different, especially vCPE where CAPEX gains can be made, but the key drivers here is reduced OPEX by remote management and introduction of new revenue generating services. These new services were in the past very expensive and hard to introduce since they in most cases meant introducing a new HW box that had to be bought and installed. With vCPE a new service can be introduced remotely and be automated, in some cases even self-serviced.

Onboarding of VNFs and their VNF managers is one of the key challenges operators face. Service assurance and security are two others that has not been discussed much so far, but will become critical areas very soon. Both of latter can be addressed through DPI based solutions from Enea’s Qosmos products.

Earlier this year, Enea and China Mobile signed an agreement for CMCC to use OPNFV based Enea products in their open NFV testing laboratory. What were the contributing factors to this cooperation?

The “Enea NFV Core” software platform represents the right mix of performance and openness. Being based 100% on open source components we minimize the vendor lock-in and maximize the reuse of innovation in the open source community. 

However, OpenStack and the other open source components needed in a production grade NFV platform are not like, for example, Linux. In fact, they are orders of magnitude more complex and less mature than Linux. It takes a lot of skill and knowledge to know how to take the right versions of the right projects, configure and test them in the right way to build a carrier grade NFV platform. We know because we do both.

Enea’s expertise lies in knowing which knobs to turn to make the open source components reach maximum performance. We have shown that optimized open source solutions equal and even beat the best proprietary solutions on the market. High Availability is one example of this. We base this on an open source blue print from the community and use the right open source components to implement a complete solution. The skill is in identifying the right components and integrating and testing them into a complete solution.

Enea also supports ARM and x86 servers on an equal basis, which was a key part of the win. Another key part is our base in OPNFV, which is the key NFV open source project. Enea is a top ten contributor and so is China Mobile, this was another key enabler. 

5G/LTE is a hot topic. What are your suggestions for 5G/LTE network construction and business development?

We believe that 5G is one of the key use cases for NFV. Our RTOS solution, “Enea OSE”, is an ideal fit for L1 and L2 processing due to its low latency and high performance.

On the L3 and services side, the latency and performance optimized “Enea NFV Access” software platform can be leveraged to run the higher level applications in a 5G system.

With an NFV platform close to the antenna, operators can introduce new services very close to the end customer.  

What is your company's biggest competitive advantage in your industry? 

We have several advantages, but on a high level as a company our differentiation is that we are an independent software vendor, which enables us to work with anyone that the customer have identified as the right partner. x86 or ARM servers, white box or single use appliance - we are not tied to any HW or SW vendor on the market.

Our second advantage is our telecom legacy and networking expertise. Through Qosmos we have world leading networking expertise and through our 30+ years with the largest telecom companies in the industry we have accumulated significant expertise in this space.

Thirdly, we are a key contributor to the ARM ecosystem. ARM is very quickly becoming a key advantage when operators are trying to reduce cost and power.