CenturyLink CTO bemoans network complexity, trumpets ‘minimum viable product’

CenturyLink's Aamir Hussain

AUSTIN—CenturyLink’s Aamir Hussain said that there is too much complexity in the telecom industry. And he said his company’s work on introducing software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) into its network is a major step toward simplifying its operations.

“We need to take all the complexity out of the business,” Hussain, CenturyLink’s CTO, said here during the Big Communications Event. He explained that CenturyLink has found too much complexity in both its network and its services, and is working to simplify both its network operations and its offerings to its customers.

And Hussain argued that CenturyLink needs to make progress on that goal quickly; specifically, he explained that CenturyLink currently transmits 53 TB of capacity across its network backbone, a figure he said continues to grow. He said the company continues to struggle to monetize all that traffic.

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“We need to make sure the network is smart enough to handle all that capacity,” he said.

As part of that effort, Hussain said CenturyLink is working to virtualize its network operations and services through the use of software. This move, he said, will allow CenturyLink to replace expensive, proprietary hardware with software operations running over commodity hardware. The result could be services designed solely through software, a situation he said would allow CenturyLink to develop services much more quickly.

However, he said the company as a result of this effort has had to modify its approach to the market: Instead of developing products for customers over the course of years, he said CenturyLink has worked to speed up its product development cycle and release offerings that only meet the “minimum viable product” threshold. He said this is a much different development process for a telco operator that has traditionally only released products that meet the highest levels of reliability.

But this process has reduced costs, too, Hussain added. For example, he said the deployment of virtualized customer premises equipment (CPE) costs only $200, far less than the $10,000 it cost the company to deploy and manage hardware-based CPE products.

Indeed, during its fourth quarter 2016 earnings call in February, CenturyLink told investors that it had implemented SDN and NFV technology into 60% of its major points of presence (POPs) as of the end of 2016.

More recently, CenturyLink said it is applying the Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter (CORD) design to improve its traditional copper-based DSL services, an effort it says can reduce operational costs and enhance broadband service activation times. CORD combines NFV and SDN-based software to improve elasticity and bring data center economics and cloud agility to the telco’s central office.

“It’s all about agility,” Hussain explained here.

Hussain joined CenturyLink in 2014. He leads a team that oversees the design and delivery of next-generation products, services, technologies and IT functions critical to achieving CenturyLink’s priorities.

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CenturyLink’s first-quarter revenues slid to $4.21 billion, reflecting another round of weaker broadband additions and ongoing legacy TDM service losses. Besides its lower first-quarter numbers, the other issue concerning investors is an expected downturn in second-quarter broadband additions.

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