At AT&T, HP Enterprise and Orange, SDN and NFV move beyond the proof of concept stage

BARCELONA, Spain -- When it comes to deploying software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) it's no longer a matter of if, but when. According to a panel of top network virtualization experts speaking at the FierceWireless and TelecomAsia executive luncheon, "When Will Deploying SDN and NFV Pay Off for Operators," wireless operators know they have to virtualize their networks, the big question is how and when.

Rupesh Chokshi, director, AT&T (NYSE: T) Mobile and Business Solutions, said that his company, which is widely considered a leader in network virtualization with its Domain 2.0 program, realized that it had to move to SDN and NFV if it wanted to remain competitive. As of the end of 2015 the company said it has virtualized 5.7 percent of its network and by the end of 2016 it expects to virtualize 30 percent of the network. Company leaders have said that AT&T will have 75 percent of its network virtualized by 2020.

Chokshi, who oversees the company's Network on Demand program that lets customers provision their broadband services on the fly using a dedicated portal, said that carriers need to realize that their revenues won't necessarily grow exponentially at the beginning so it's also important to show that virtualization helps drive down unit costs. "You are also demonstrating the whole business ability aspect of it. It's a value we are providing to bring agility to what we are doing. We are leveraging virtualization."

But changing corporate culture is also a key element for operators. Prodip Sen, CTO, NFV business at HP Enterprise, said that virtualization is about more than replacing a box or mechanism in the network."It's about changing how you think about networks.  It's a change in operations and people.  And the people leading have to take the plunge," Sen said, adding that next year he expects to see more and more deployments. "It's more about how you can transform your business … and survive."

Vyes Bellego, director of network strategy at Orange, agreed that corporate culture is a big factor in making this switch. "We should not minimize the culture.  It will take some time," he said, noting that Orange's network spans 30 different countries.

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