Q&A: Equinix's Poole says NFV is the golden ticket for entering the 5G era

NFV solutions will greatly accelerate 5G deployment and the implementation of the functionality needed to deliver on the promise of 5G. (Getty Images)

While the telecom industry has held its collective breath for the rollout of 5G services and apps, this year's deployments are on a slow roll. To speed up the 5G deployments, as well as deepen the technology's impact across various industry verticals, service providers need to look toward NFV, according to Equinix's Jim Poole, vice president of global ecosystem development.

Jim Poole, Equinix

In this Q&A—the material was submitted via email and edited for length and clarity—Pool outlines the impact of 5G, and the roles that both NFV and SDN will play in enabling 5G to reach its full potential.

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FierceTelecom: To start with, can you explain how 5G will redefine several industries?

Jim Poole: The speed and capacity of 5G networks will spawn new applications and use case for IoT technologies. Manufacturing will wirelessly connect machinery on the factory floor to improve productivity, quality, and safety. Vehicles with 5G modems will more efficiently and safely navigate streets and highways.

Wearable devices and telemedicine will bring advanced warnings of illness and more accurate diagnoses. Surveillance devices have the potential to improve municipal, commercial, and domestic security, as well as raise a new set of concerns regarding privacy.

We’ll be surrounded by smart connected devices as a result of greater network density and access to network services. More information processing will take place “at the edge” to minimize latency.

FierceTelecom: What do you see as some of the challenges for rolling out 5G?

Poole: A major challenge to a successful 5G rollout is delivery of the expected quality of service for the wide variety of 5G use cases—voice, data, commerce, healthcare, IoT, machine-to-machine (M2M) and surveillance. Each has an expected service level agreement. The success of 5G requires providers to deliver these capabilities as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

Communications and network service providers have to meet these needs with a flexible infrastructure. In many instances, providers will need to look well beyond their own data centers to deliver 5G services. Geographically distributed colocation and interconnection providers with proximate access to a multitude of partner and customer ecosystems will be essential in meeting these needs.

FierceTelecom: What roles will SDN and NFV play in regards to 5G?

Poole: SDN and NFV critical features that enable providers to meet the functional needs of the various services supporting 5G networks. Software-defined networks treat network device management separately from the data plane controlling network traffic. Network functions virtualization provides actual services managed in a software-defined network.

SDN focuses on the control plane. NFV focuses on the network services that manage data flows. SDN and NFV flexibility and adaptability allow independent scaling and deployment of services to meet throughput (and) processing requirements of the different 5G services. In many ways, NFV solutions will greatly accelerate 5G deployment and the implementation of the functionality needed to deliver the 5G promise.

FierceTelecom: Do you have any examples of how NFV impacts 5G?

Poole: A 5G network functions as a unified, intelligent entity, yet supports the independent services from different providers to meet the data communications and processing needs of customer segments—video, images, commerce, M2M, transportation, healthcare—while maintaining the expected quality of service for each. Network functions virtualization plays a critical role in the fast and flexible deployment of services such as security and network access, and deployment on third-party hosting infrastructures.

NFV solutions enable the physical network to be sliced into multiple virtual networks supporting the radio access networks (RANs) that handle different customer segments and environments. Network slicing is essential in supporting the availability and throughput requirements of the different services in a multi-tenant environment. With NFV solutions, software running on commodity servers replaces functionality traditionally provided by dedicated hardware devices.

Other benefits include:

• High-speed gigabyte connectivity to support the increasing data demands and adoption of the latest smartphone applications worldwide.

• Virtual switches to optimize M2M traffic, latency, and processing on the factory floor in manufacturing environments.

• Firewall and verification services deployed “at the network edge” to detect and prevent intrusion by malevolent entities.

• Routers deployed to minimize latency and create more intelligent networks to support critical municipal monitoring activities involving traffic, environment, utilities, and safety.

In the context of an SDN, NFV solutions are deployed quickly—in the data center, on third-party hosting infrastructure, and remotely. They scale easily to support 5G expansion and are programmatically configured to allow different services inside the core network to interact and continually enhance performance.

FierceTelecom: Any final thoughts on NVF and 5G?

Poole: 5G networks hold great promise and the potential to transform several industries, as well as the way we work, live, and travel, but the full realization of 5G capabilities and benefits requires major investments from communication service providers. To deliver the broad reach and deployment of 5G services globally and at the digital edge, CSPs will need to work with global colocation and interconnection providers offering carrier-grade infrastructure and a wide range of easily-deployed NFV solutions.

SDN capabilities enable ever-more efficient performance and monitoring of 5G networks. The growing number of NFV solutions allow providers to quickly deploy and scale needed services across the network, allowing the physical network to be sliced into multiple virtual networks supporting different radio access networks, varieties of services, and SLAs. NFV solutions play a vital role in bringing the benefits of 5G to the world.