AT&T’s SDN, NFV focus accelerates third-place global Ethernet ranking over BT, says VSG

Ethernet connection
AT&T recently took over the number-three spot from BT on Vertical Systems’ 2016 Global Ethernet Leaderboard, where it now trails only Orange and Colt.

AT&T’s ongoing movement to migrate to a software-oriented network environment that incorporates NFV and SDN has enabled the telco to advance its global Ethernet standing. The service provider recently took over the number-three spot from BT on Vertical Systems’ 2016 Global Ethernet Leaderboard, where it now trails only Orange and Colt.

Rick Malone, principal of Vertical Systems Group, told FierceTelecom in an interview that AT&T’s dedication to SDN and NFV has enabled the telco to develop a host of new products and services that leverage Ethernet across its global footprint.

RELATED: AT&T dedicates 40% of $40B capex budget to wireline, wireless business services

“During the past three years, AT&T has been aggressively retooling its network with SDN and NFV, which resulted in a number of product initiatives, including Network on Demand, FlexWare (also known as network functions on demand), NetBond (direct connection to major cloud services) and SD WAN,” Malone said. “In 2016, the company rolled out these capabilities to its entire worldwide network and the response from global customers has been positive. Since Ethernet is the underlying connectivity technology for many of these services, AT&T has gained Ethernet share globally.

VSG 2016 leaderboard global

AT&T is not resting on its virtualization laurels, however.

Earlier this year, the service provider set a goal to virtualize 55% of its network to software by the end of the year. In 2016, AT&T exceeded its goal by converting 30% of its network to SDN. AT&T surpassed that goal and converted 34% of its network and is on its way to 75% by 2020.

AT&T also recently revealed plans to allocate a large portion of its 2-year, $40 billion capex budget to invest in integrated wireless and wireline solutions for its business customers, a clear reflection of how strategic services are eclipsing legacy TDM circuits. As part of this effort, AT&T will enhance the reach of its software-driven solutions like SD-WAN and Network on Demand.

While the top tier is well set, rankings could change over time. Rounding out the top six list are Level 3 (U.S.), Verizon (U.S.) and NTT (Japan).

Vertical Systems Group noted that six companies also qualified for the 2016 Challenge Tier: Cogent (U.S.), SingTel (Singapore), T-Systems (Germany), Tata Communications (India), Telefonica Worldwide (Spain) and Vodafone (U.K.).

Orange, Colt capitalize on reach

The Challenge Tier of Global Providers includes companies with share between 2% and 4% of this defined market. While AT&T’s movement is certainly compelling, they still have a lot to do in order to surpass Orange and Colt, two providers that have been winning on the Ethernet front due to their geographic reach.

Orange, for one, has a footprint in 184 countries and over 350,000 customer sites on its IP VPN networks, making it a compelling choice particularly for large multinational corporation customers that have facilities across multiple geographies.

Malone noted that most of Orange’s “Ethernet connections are access upgrades from TDM.”

Colt is being no less aggressive on the global Ethernet front. Besides expanding its presence in the United States and eyeing future builds in Asia, the service provider also introduced its own on-demand Ethernet service earlier this year.  

The on-demand service enables Colt’s enterprise customers to get service out of over 5,000 enterprise buildings and 200 data centers that are currently eligible across 11 countries in Europe. Colt also plans to further expand its reach to additional locations during 2017, including Asia.

“Colt has a focus on its Ethernet business and pan-European footprint, and introduced on-demand bandwidth provisioning in 2016,” Malone said. “This year, in addition to deploying several POPs in the U.S., the company is planning to integrate its Asia subsidiary (acquired via KVH in 2014) in order to provide seamless global coverage.”  

Advancing orchestrated Carrier Ethernet

Global Carrier Ethernet is in the midst of a new evolution, one that was on display during this week’s Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Orange, Colt and AT&T announced an initiative this week with the MEF and TM Forum to develop standard application programming interfaces (APIs) for orchestrated Carrier Ethernet services over SDN architectures. These efforts are the first step toward standardizing dynamic service connectivity between network providers throughout the world.

The new initiative uses MEF's LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) framework and TM Forum's Open API framework.

After a successful proof of concept, these companies in tandem with MEF and TM Forum plan to accelerate efforts to develop a set of standardized APIs for industry-wide use. As a result, service providers will be able to use standardized APIs to work with each other's SDN architectures in near-real time. 

The release of the first set of these LSO APIs is expected by the end of 2017.

AT&T and Orange Business Services have been collaborating on developing standardized APIs that will enable SDN architectures from different network service providers to interoperate with each other. Meanwhile, AT&T and Colt held the first successful SDN interoperability trial proving that SDN architectures from different network service providers can interoperate with each other across continents.

Rosemary Cochran, co-principal of Vertical Systems Group, said that the advent of service orchestration between service provider Ethernet networks is a remaining roadblock to deliver on-demand Ethernet services.

“Service orchestration end-to-end across multiple provider SDN networks is essential for the deployment of emerging dynamic connectivity services that enable users to control their networks on demand,” Cochran said. “91% of the Ethernet service providers and technology vendors surveyed in a recent MEF/Vertical Systems Group study said that orchestration across multiple provider networks is a major challenge that requires broad industry collaboration.”