LOS ANGELES—Service providers may be motivated to transition their networks to a more agile software-based architecture, but a key challenge they are collectively facing is a vendor community that has not stepped up to provide more open and interoperable systems.
During an afternoon panel at this year’s Open Networking Summit, a group of service providers, including AT&T, Orange and Reliance Jio expressed some frustration at what they perceive as a lack of openness amongst their vendor platforms.
Reliance Jio, an emerging wireless operator in India that has grown rapidly since launching its 4G network last year, is an advocate of open platforms on not only the radio side, but also for optical and IP platforms. The service provider said in 2018 it will face three key challenges: interfaces, perception and systems integration.
Ayush Sharma, SVP of engineering, had a stern warning for its vendor partners: Those who don’t stay ahead of the development curve by providing open interfaces will not be able to keep up with it or other large providers.
“Our message to vendors is loud and clear: innovate or you will be extinct,” Sharma said, adding that there are emerging vendors which are “embracing this idea and they will open the interfaces to the radio network, which is vital for innovation to happen.”
Strengthening value chains, commonality
Orange and AT&T echoed a similar tone as Reliance Jio.
As an operator that currently serves over 28 countries throughout Europe, Latin America and Africa, Orange will need commonality to scale operations across its diverse set of assets.
Jehanne Savi, executive leader of Orange's all-IP and on-demand networks program, said that the current supplier community lacks commonality.
“The value chain is what we’re struggling with today,” Savi said. “It could have some ambiguity because we have to accept that we are disrupting our business model.”
When AT&T initially looked at deploying SDN and NFV, the question was what parts of the network would it address: the packet core, wireless, network access or all of the above? The carrier has set lofty goals to transform 75% of its network functions to software by 2020 and is already well on its way there, having reached 55% last year.
Chris Rice, SVP of architecture and design, Research & Labs at AT&T, said a chief concern is that implementing VNFs is far too time consuming today.
“The time to on-board a VNF needs to change,” Rice said. “What I mean by that is early on everything was unique, but right now we have a much better idea of what Lego block should look like versus a snowflake.”
Rice added that AT&T is going to drive the acceleration of VNFs at AT&T and in the open source community throughout 2018 to accelerate network automation.
“Some people have done a really good job to make it easy to on board VNFs, but I think it’s time for the vendors in those areas to step up because a lot of the service providers here have stepped up with common platforms,” Rice said.
Vendors are listening
But vendor participants Ciena and Nokia expressed a willingness to listen to their service provider customers.
Ciena and Nokia, which are major suppliers to a large portion of Tier 1 and 2 operators, said that they realize that they can’t force-fit solutions for carrier customers.
Having entered the software world via its acquisition of Cyan, Ciena is making strides in assisting its large service provider customers reach their automation goals.
However, Adan Pope, CITO of Ciena knows that it can’t force fit solutions onto its customers either.
“Ciena’s software business exists to help our customers solve a lot of automation problems, but a one-size-fits-all architecture doesn’t fit all circumstances,” Pope said. “Anything we can do as a community to drive further standardization of those Lego blocks, I think we have a better chance to enable a greater level of automation and lower costs.”
Likewise, Nokia, which now has a larger set of solutions ranging from wireless to optical, sees a similar situation.
Ron Haberman, VP of emerging products for Nokia Software, said his customers’ main pain points is helping them make sense of what they have in their network today while bridging a path to new services and platforms.
“One customer asked me can you please stop bringing me a lot of new things and help me more use the stuff that is there,” Haberman said. “We have reached a point where we have a lot of ability, but it is very complex and effort across the chain from building to managing the VNFs once they are on board.”
Any solution, says Haberman, should make the life of the carrier’s operations team easier.
“I would ask the developers to think of the operations folks that make use of the system and make your design based on that user,” Haberman said.