2017 predictions for the telecom industry: uCPE, vCPE and D-NFV ready to go

In 2017, there will be significant changes made to the network architectures and infrastructures of service providers around the world. This, in turn, will enable service providers to offer new and improved services that leverage their upgraded networks and create new revenue streams. At the same time, these new network deployments will enable services providers to mitigate the exponential growth in data traffic without significantly increasing Capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX) budgets.

#1: uCPE, vCPE and D-NFV ready to go

In 2017, we will start to see large scale deployments of universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE) networking technologies. Service providers in all regions have been evaluating these technologies for the past number of years and are now ready to go live.

Tier 1 service providers in North America will certainly take the lead with uCPE deployments in early 2017 with service providers across EMEA and APAC following later in the year. Managed service providers will also quickly adopt uCPE as it will allow them to improve existing services and introduce more OTT (over-the-top) services.

Global Network Function Virtualization

To support future proof deployments, we see that service providers are looking at best-of-breed solutions with vendor offerings being separated into VNF (virtual network function), NFVi-OS (network functions virtualization infrastructure operating system) and hardware components. This separation will allow the promise of uCPE to be achieved by encouraging both innovation on the software side and competition and lower prices by commoditizing the hardware.

#2: White box vs grey box debate takes shape

Until recently, networking devices used by service providers were sold as black boxes with fixed functionality, such as routers, switches and firewalls. In an effort to optimize capex and OPEX as well as increase service agility and operational flexibility, telcos and managed service providers began exploring open CPEs that allow the separation of the hardware and software components of networking devices. Again, the idea behind this separation is to promote innovative software applications for new services, while reducing costs though the commoditization of hardware.

The concept of a grey box combines a carrier-grade NID with an open standard x86 computer capable of running any VNF. Grey box solutions are considered part of an evolutionary path towards D-NFV (distributed network functions virtualization).

Today, many in the telco industry consider grey box concept as a stepping stone toward pure white box solutions that provide a complete separation between hardware and software. Grey box solutions enjoy the benefits of NFV without risking carrier-grade level service, investing heavily in data center upgrade or making significant changes to operational processes. Having said that, the grey box approach does not fully align with the grow demand from service providers to separate the hardware and the software as the white box approach does.

Will service providers go directly for the white box concept or will they prefer a gradual path to NFV through the grey box approach? This question will be debated throughout the telco industry in the coming year with the white box approach gaining maturity and closing the gap with carrier-grade capabilities.

Market feedback indicates that during 2017 and into 2018 both approaches will coexist. The innovative service providers looking for a future proof solution will go for white box solutions, while service providers preferring a straightforward and simple path to D-NFV will opt for grey box solutions.

#3: SD-WAN moving to VNF

SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) is has a strong market that is gaining traction and its adoption by Tier 1 service providers in North America is accelerating. The SD-WAN application will quickly become one of the main drivers for the deployment of uCPE devices.

Many current deployment plans are based on vertical implementations – meaning black box or grey box approaches – that offer the quickest path for deployment, but these lack the openness of white box solutions.

Most upcoming deployments will shift from a black and grey box approaches to white box implementations by running SD-WAN as a VNF. For service providers, this transition will future proof uCPE deployments and reduce their dependency on the SD-WAN vendor for introducing new services.

#4: NFV security no longer overlooked

Securing NFV deployments against cyber security vulnerabilities will have a higher profile during the upcoming year as projects move from testing environments to live deployments. The cyber security risks of NFV-enabled networks have often been overlooked and underestimated, although as PoC trials have moved to advanced stages, the need to implement security solutions to support NFV deployments has been become clear.

NFV technologies offer service providers numerous benefits and clearly will be widely adopted during the coming years. However, the distributed and dynamic architecture of NFV-enabled networks and the fact the technology is based mostly on open industry standards exposes service providers to full range of new cyberattacks and security vulnerabilities.

To address these new security challenges, we will start see a new generation of cybersecurity approaches that combine cloud security and network security methods in order to address the unique nature of NFV deployments.

#5: Carrier Ethernet network 10GE and 100GE upgrades

In the coming year, more and more network operators will be expanding their access network capacity to 10GE and some will even be adding 100GE upgrades in high density areas. By upgrading its network capacity to 10GE, a network operator will improve the quality of its services and support the ongoing growth in data traffic.

The network operators that succeed with their network upgrades will be deploying fully orchestrated networks, which will simplify both the network upgrade deployment efforts and ongoing service provisioning and network maintenance activities.

#6: Cable operators now competing for business customers

Many cable operators are now in the process of upgrading their existing DOCSIS network infrastructures. These upgrades to DOCSIS 3.x will allow cable operators to offer advanced data services targeted at business customers. Examples of these advanced data services include Dedicated Internet Access (DIA), L2VPN, L3VPN, and inter-sites and data center connectivity.

Cable operators have previously gone through phases of similar network upgrades to add telephony and data services to their main television content services. These previous rounds of network upgrades were targeted at creating additional services for residential customers.

In order to support this trend, a new device category combining cable modems with L3-supported carrier Ethernet capabilities are expected to gain traction during the coming year.

This article was originally published in The Fast Mode.

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