As a number of factors converge to herald a new software defined shift, and with SD access becoming mainstream, software defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) are increasingly working their way into the wider communications discussion.
But what does it mean for service providers? Why is now the right time to embrace it?
While the terms SDN and NFV are bandied around, the lack of industry education around them poses a potential barrier when trying to link the potential of this new technology and the way we do business more widely.
What this means for how we do business
As the world becomes increasingly digital, it’s impossible to ignore how SD access might influence a large-scale shift to a much more inclusive, flexible and fair way of doing business.
The open architecture of SD access creates a less complex environment in which information can be utilized to create novel applications much more quickly. Its malleable, open source nature makes it interoperable, giving you the flexibility to bolt anything on, big or small, which in turn creates an inclusive digital landscape that allows the offerings of smaller, nimbler start-ups to rub along with the digital giants of the era.
This network flexibility and capability renders new possibilities for providers, working with cloud-based products to provide value-added offerings - which they can monetize. They can classify traffic types on the network in real-time, and make decisions about how the different traffic types are handled across the network. They can offer providers of cloud-based services to whom latency and packet-loss are very important, for example, an SLA (service level agreement) which guarantees their customers an enhanced online experience and boosts the power of their cloud-based offering.
The role of the network provider is shifting from ‘dumb pipe’ to ‘services provider’, with value-added services, which can optimize the offering a service provider takes to their customers. Instead of the incumbent pipeline model, which looks towards and tries to monetize everything from the consumer, networks such as these lead to a two-sided interaction between network and service providers - which better lends itself to a platform-based economy.
As business becomes increasingly digitized, and dependence on the cloud accelerates daily, the transparent, horizontal transactions in environments such as the software defined network provide a great opportunity to start-up service providers, who can go straight to network providers for enhanced services; and the chance for smaller, nimbler network providers to enhance their offering and ultimately add significant value to their business.
Regulators have noticed the potential benefits of this shift to business, and are either responding by softening their stance, or keeping their ears to the ground.
At the FTTH Conference in February, the EU Commission’s director of electronic communication networks and services, Anthony Whelan, recognized publicly that while net neutrality rules were put in place for good reason, the potential to pose an obstacle to service innovation exists, and clarified that although they want to protect against the negative discrimination of OTT services, not at the expense of service providers’ ability to expedite new and improved services. He added that if providers are in breach (i.e. negatively discriminating against other traffic flows), they’ll have to answer to the Commission, but over and above that, they’ll be allowed to apply a higher QoS as they deem fit for different traffic flows.
Of course, EU Commission rules don’t automatically extend to regional territories, and for the UK there is the added uncertainty of Brexit. OFCOM’s attitude has opened too - they are currently in ‘watching and waiting’ mode; a seismic shift from their previous attitude which heralded neutrality as the only priority, regardless whether it may jeopardize innovation. Although their official stance hasn’t changed, a study they’re due to publish on the revised EU Commission stance could change all of that.
Meanwhile, across the pond, the Trump administration is looking to abolish net neutrality: these days, the world’s global superpowers compete financially and America’s leaders have recognized and acted on that. If a country with the scale and resources such as the USA abolishes net neutrality, it will pave the way to utilize the new capabilities that software defined networking can bring, resulting in new business models and new ways of competing.
An ageing net neutrality policy will realize fears of being put at a competitive disadvantage for a country like the UK, which, if Brexit does go through, will only be exacerbated by having to compete against its European neighbors instead of alongside them. That’s why I expect OFCOM’s autumn statement to either declare or project a softening of its stance on net neutrality.
If both of these things happen, British service providers need to stay ahead of the curve if they want to remain competitive and attractive to suitors at the point of exit; for smaller, nimbler companies for whom SD-access is far easier to implement, the argument to do so is doubly compelling.
Whether Britain flies or fails alone on the world stage, we can be sure of one thing: turbulent, exciting times are ahead as the world of business changes fast, and forever. Businesses had better buckle up and get ready for the ride.
I recently joined a SCTE webinar my colleague, Joerick Santiago, who was presenting on the different methods for mitigating and eliminating Optical Beat Interference (OBI) from your RFoG network. As the number of subscriber being added to FTTH networks utilizing RFoG continue to rise, the risk for a poor customer experience rises with it due to the increase in upstream traffic, often times simultaneously, from multiple subscribers. Ultimately, this traffic occurring at the same time can lead to disruptions in service, which leads to customer service calls and costly troubleshooting. In a worst case scenario, it can lead to loss of subscribers if the problem is not resolved.
It was interesting to me that regardless of your deployment model, pure RFoG or a hybrid RFoG/EPON, OBI is still a threat to your subscriber’s experience. Joerick went on to explain the different solutions available today for OBI mitigation – wavelength randomization, active splitter, selectable upstream - bringing to light the pros and cons associated with each.
I thought he did a nice job of describing the entire storyline with RFoG and OBI:
What’s the future of service providers – telecom and cable companies – in the emerging platform economy? Connectivity and mobility are fundamental, for sure. But right now it feels like our industry is just a spectator as the really big changes unfold. No more a participant in that transformation than, say, Goodyear and Continental are in the tectonic shift to autonomous electric vehicles. Part of the furniture; not part of the conversation.
Why is that? Do you think we should talk about it? Figure out what the platform future could look like? So welcome to the Great Telecom Platform Debate. My goals for this blog are to frame that debate and throw it open to the industry. We’ve attracted the help of some real experts to get us started, including Laura Reillier - Demystifying Platform Strategy: Five key questions answered and Richard Feasey - Do Telco Platforms make Net Neutrality Rules Irrelevant? Share your thoughts with us…
We’ve become accustomed to clicking a button on our phones to summon a ride or book a room on Airbnb or to adjust our home thermostat. Platform companies Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Google and Amazon dominate the top market cap spots on the stock exchange. This was not the case as recently as five years ago when only one tech company was among the valuation giants. Futurist Mike Walsh made the observation that “change appears incremental until it’s too late”. Companies that are not working to migrate from purely linear pipeline business models to the platform economy will wake up one morning and realize that the world has changed.
The FCC is continuing to push for expanded broadband coverage in remote and rural areas as part of its Connect America Fund (CAF) program. CAF provides billions of dollars of funding to carriers to support their delivery of 10 Mbps download with 1 Mbps upload (10/1 Mbps) speeds to bridge the digital divide. But as an executive at a rural carrier that I talked to pointed out, “How do you deliver affordable and reliable broadband to a customer who lives in a canyon, miles from your nearest cabinet, yet you are obligated to serve?” Though not the typical scenario, this is the conundrum that rural carriers have with expanding broadband coverage – ultra-long distances, customers that number in the single digits per square mile and a difficult terrain that makes new network buildouts difficult and economically unviable.
Arlynn Wilson of ADTRAN, participated in USTelecoms’ recent webinar, “Extending Broadband to America’s Underserved,” pointed out that fiber is the ideal option for broadband – but very expensive for low customer count. Wilson recommended looking at a broadband toolkit that includes copper-based ADSL2 and VDSL2 as well as fixed-wireless access (FWA) technologies that can be used to more economically deliver broadband coverage to lower-density, far-flung areas. The point should be made that “broadband” here means the 2015 FCC broadband definition of 25/1Mbps not the minimum CAF-funded rate of 10/1Mbps. Wilson shared several points worth noting:
Nothing has the potential to shake up the telecommunications access world more than the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) initiative, which was launched last year by ON.Lab and is now part of the Linux Foundation’s many open-source initiatives to open up communications networks.
For decades, the access portion of telecommunications networks – as well as many other parts of the network – have been the domain of highly specialized and proprietary technology. The access network is crucial because it’s where important wide area network (WAN) services such as broadband and mobile get extended out to the customer. In the last decade, this has generally meant a mixture of passive optical networking (PON) and digital subscriber line (DSL) services. Now CORD can change the way these services are deployed.
In the CORD vision, all central offices could be standardized around a generic hardware infrastructure defining racks of servers and switches. These generic hardware modules will be controlled by software that can be programmed and run using a standard, Linux-based operating system. This is a radical shift from the past when access equipment was housed in proprietary racks of either optical line terminals (OLTs) or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAMs). The CORD model will transform this, creating standardized generic hardware platforms.
Ryan McCowan, fiber access product manager for ADTRAN, recently participated in an UBB2020 webinar on mobilizing SD-Access with 10G PON. Having some prior knowledge of the subject at hand, I still find different points of view to be very informational as I continue to track these emerging technologies. Items I found particularly interesting were:
There is a lot of talk about software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). But so far, the discussion has largely left out the access networks — mobile, broadband, and voice connections to the customer — which are crucial to building a full SDN and NFV platform. What exactly is required to build software-defined access (SD-Access)?
What good are SDN and NVF if they are incompatible with the technology that connects to the customer? Billions of customers worldwide require a connection to the first hop in the network, known as the last mile, which means that somewhere there is a piece of technology that must connect to the network from the customer premises, a device known as customer premises equipment (CPE).
To rapidly roll out new NFV services that can be controlled on an end-to-end basis, service providers need an open SD-Access platform that integrates with NFV. This platform needs to be open, flexible, and programmable, enabling configuration of the underlying access hardware to be made via software.
There is a huge trend underway in technology: The move from pipelines to platforms. Platforms have displaced pipelines to take the business world by storm – whether it’s a video platform such as YouTube or a housing platform such as Airbnb. The same trend is taking hold in the telecom world, where service providers need to respond by building open platforms for the telco cloud.
Let’s start defining pipelines vs. platforms. The concept has been described by authors Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary in the book, Platform Revolution, as well as in an article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) last year, titled, “Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy.” A pipeline, according to the authors, creates value by controlling linear activities in a value chain. Think of the way you buy a cable service, then get a cable box, then buy movies from the cable company. Platforms, on the other hand, connect producers and consumers with a higher value exchange. An example is the Apple App Store.
The most successful services today, whether it’s the iPhone, Netflix, or Airbnb, are platform models that have created rich ecosystems that deliver a huge amount of value toconsumers. The platform gives the consumer a tool to get access to what they want whenever they want it.
The diversity of today’s client device types has grown far and wide from Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) to Internet of Things (IOT) to Augmented/Virtual Reality with each its own unique connectivity and roaming decision making behaviors. Ensuring an exceptional Wi-Fi end user experience is challenging – especially when client devices, with their limited view of the network, are ultimately in charge of the decision of what access point (AP) to connect to, when to roam and at what speed.
ADTRAN’s Ronan Kelly looks at the European Commission’s objectives for a new telecoms framework, to be met by 2025. Mr Kelly, who is also president of the FTTH Council Europe, discusses what this framework covers and how it might affect UK households.
Political leaders have a fine line to tread when it comes to declaring their policy ambitions for future broadband rollout. Businesses and individuals expect to hear about faster speeds, and more widespread availability. The service providers who will deliver it need to champion realistic expectations, preferably under a regulatory regime that offers complete certainty.
You can’t blame the European Commission for trying to set the bar high. In its latest European commission broadbanddraft proposal published in September, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker has set out a more nuanced set of aspirations than we’ve seen before. Geared to the year 2025, the new strategy supersedes earlier targets for 2020, and should begin its passage through the European Parliament imminently. All being well, it could be adopted by early 2018.