Operators are no strangers to change. From 2G to 3G and on to LTE, each significant milestone in the mobile lifecycle has increased the complexity of managing the network. The shift to LTE has had the biggest impact to date, putting additional pressure on operators to deliver a consistent quality of experience to a user base now heavily reliant on data services. At a time when OTT applications are capturing subscriber attention and having a direct impact on traditional operator revenue streams, this has become a highly complicated issue, even if it’s not a new one.
Operators have long faced the challenge of reducing operating costs while increasing the speed of service delivery, especially in the modern IP-based mobile environment. They are currently experiencing the two-pronged attack of price pressures along with managing demand for network capacity to support next-generation services amid the rigidity of the telecoms landscape. Progress is slow. This had led operators to take an alternative approach – revolutionising the mobile network through Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV).
Form and function
The biggest benefit of NFV is also its Achilles’ heel in terms of maintaining a consistent Quality of Service. Through NFV, mobile operators are finding themselves in an environment that’s increasingly software-defined. Just as enterprise IT has gone through a process of virtualisation, where functions such as storage are controlled via software rather than hardware, mobile operators are now looking to virtualise network node functions such as session border control, firewalls, and encryption.
The increased agility of a virtualised environment means mobile operators can adapt their networks quickly, and new operator-branded services can be added in minutes rather than days. There still exists the complexity of running and troubleshooting a network. But this new agility adds another set of variables to the equation. The criticality of having best-in-class service assurance is paramount. Furthermore, there is an increased potential for service disruption to occur, which has made the shift to NFV a double-edge sword. Although operators can improve user experience by being able to deploy new applications and functionality closer to the network edge, subscriber churn or reputation damage is bound to happen if said operator delivers anything less than stellar and consistent performance.