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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

6 Ways Operators Can Succeed With Virtualized Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE)

Market forces compel service providers to adapt their delivery models, causing them to move away from away from single-function, proprietary hardware appliances and toward virtualized platforms with a strong cloud focus to minimize the costs and limitations of on-premises equipment. There is heavy focus especially on virtualized customer premises (vCPE) deployment as a key, “easy” application for network functions virtualization (NFV).

Easy it’s anything but.

While the end goals of vCPE are to simplify service delivery, make it more efficient to maintain high quality of experience (QoE), and enable faster time-to-market for new revenue-generating services, the reality is there’s a lot of complexity in setting up virtualized software stacks, and a lot of decisions to make about moving from one type of infrastructure to another.

Here are six ways operators can guide their decision-making around vCPE and ultimately succeed at reaching their goals with the technology.

1. Build a vCPE Strategy that Maximizes Value
It turns out that, at least in the short-term, reducing cost is not usually a viable goal with vCPE. (Hopefully, it doesn’t cost more, but the software complexities involved mean it almost certainly won’t cost less, all things considered.) So, don’t make that your justification for deploying vCPE. Instead, think of value, in terms of increasing revenue rather than cutting costs. How will vCPE enable faster time-to-market for new services? Reduce management complexity? Eliminate site visits? Speed up problem resolution? Give customers more control over their service configuration options? Result in more reliable service and better QoE?

vCPE has great potential to improve an operator’s market position, if the focus is on value rather than cost. Differentiation is rapidly becoming all about network flexibility and innovation.

2. Consider the State of the vCPE Market Today
Network virtualization broadly, and vCPE in particular, is new, shiny, attractive, and may seem like a magic bullet to solve many of the market challenges operators are experiencing. But, and this is a bit but, virtualization is still in its infancy (or maybe childhood). Standards and technologies involved are still in development. While many vendors are ready with vCPE products, and early trials are gleaning useful insights, there is still very much a Wild West feel to virtualization.

That means operators who choose to invest in vCPE deployments are early adopters, and take risks in doing so.

It’s a risk worth taking, though, and some of the risk can be mitigated by learning from others’ mistakes.

3. Learn From Others’ Mistakes
True, there’s not much of a playbook yet for vCPE. But, from early trials, there is at least an outline of that playbook, and operators can and should learn from each other. Here are a few lessons learned so far.

You can’t eliminate physical customer premises equipment entirely. Some physical service functionality will always remain at the customer premises, even after vCPE is deployed. The form it takes is dependent customer or application-specific requirements.

Service demarcation and network demarcation are not the same thing. These are separate aspects of vCPE. A reliable connection to the customer site is essential. Network layer functions must be virtualized with care to avoid impacting QoE.

vCPE isn’t just ‘software on COTS.’ It comprises of three main elements: a set of virtual network functions (VNFs), a customer premises platform, and a management and orchestration (MANO) software stack. Each has inter-related factors to consider.

Manual VNF provisioning is not a sustainable model long-term. It might be necessary to get started with vCPE, but keep automation in mind for the longer term. NFV orchestrators will mature to meet deployment needs, and operators should plan accordingly.

Avoid injecting new operational complexity. This is challenging—although necessary—
given the many hardware and software options available, and the management changes involved in moving toward a model where service layer and hardware are abstracted from each other.

4. Choose the Right Deployment Option for Your Network

Every network is different, so there’s no clear-cut answer to the question, “What is the best vCPE deployment model?” These options can, however, be boiled down to three main models. 

<click image to enlarge>

Here’s a quick summary of what each option means and its pros and cons.

Localized/uCPE: Appliances at the customer premises are virtualized, replace by NVFI and VNFs to implement network services. The NID function can be a smart module installed in the compute platform, or an integrated VNF. Localized vCPE is attractive for early NFV-based vCPE deployments, because it replaces single-function, legacy appliances with a single NFVI instance. But, this option comes with complexity risks, and is inelastic compared with using centralized data centers to host functions.

Centralized: Functions that were previously hosted on CPE are pulled back into the provider network as VNFs running on NVFI in a data center or edge PoP. This deployment option enables highly effective sharing/pooling of network resources, and simplifies adding compute capacity on an as-needed basis. It also minimizes on-premises hardware to a COTS NID or smart SFP module to demarcate service. But, it requires upfront investment in full NFV infrastructure, and with currently available technology may not be able to meet latency and security requirements for all services.

Distributed/Hybrid: VNFs are placed on an NFVI located either at the customer premises or within the service provider cloud. This is the most flexible option, allowing providers to extend managed services outside their geographic footprint using an overlay network between end locations and cloud. It’s an obvious migration path for operators starting their vCPE migration using the localized model. But, it’s the most complex deployment option and requires sophisticated policy and orchestration for best placement of each workflow’s VNFs.

5. Keep QoE in Mind When Deciding Where Network Functions Should Reside

At some point, decisions about vCPE deployment boil down to answering the question, “Where should VNFs be located”? As outlined above, the answer could be at the customer premises, or centralized in a the data center, or a hybrid of those two. Each provider has to answer this question for themselves, based on use case requirements and (perhaps) customer input. Factors to consider include performance, security and policy, cost, and operations.

A good starting point is identifying which network functions can be effectively virtualized, and which would be better left at the customer premises. How will the VNF placement impact performance?

Operators should take a continuous improvement approach, integrating customer feedback, and both short- and long-term goals into decisions about this business model transformation.

6. Think Short-Term and Long-Term
From a purely conceptual standpoint, centralized vCPE is best in the long-term. But, in the short-term, it may not be realistic to jump straight to that model, since technology and standards are still evolving. Many operators will choose a hybrid approach to VNF placement and vCPE deployment, with an eye toward an eventual centralized architecture. To make that possible,it’s critical that NIDs or their virtualized demarcation and monitoring function equivalents, are put in place now to smooth the transition.

As with any new way of doing things, especially when the change is driven by immediate market forces, it can be hard to pull back and take a big-picture, long-term view. But, with vCPE, this is critical; it’s not just an approach for delivering individual services; instead, it’s a platform for all service delivery. Operators who miss this point risk eventual (and almost certain) peril.

The good news is that, as an early use case for SDN and NFV, vCPE supports the long-term transformation from connectivity provider to value-added services delivery. For many operators, the most straightforward application at the moment is to roll out vCPE-supported services for SMB customers, because they tend to have less sophisticated service requirements than enterprises.

As technology and standards mature, and operational best practices are worked out, rolling out virtualized services to enterprises will become feasible, too.
No matter how you cut it, network virtualization deployment will have a big impact on service provider infrastructure and operations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Report: 5G Success Depends on Regulatory Collaboration and Spectrum Sharing

Regulatory requirements are an important aspect of ushering in the 5G era, significantly affecting the design and deployment of next-generation mobile networks, stressed 5G Americas in its August 2017 white paper, “5G Regulatory Policy Considerations and Spectrum Sharing.”

Such requirements “primarily concern the need for 5G networks to support existing emergency and government services,” 5G Americas elaborated. Services such as:
  • Emergency voice calls
  • SMS for emergency situations
  • Multimedia emergency communications like next-gen 911
  • Small device integration (think IoT) into emergency scenarios
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts
  • Earthquake Early Warning Systems
  • Public safety and first responders
  • Services that support people with disabilities (such as real-time text service)
  • Lawful surveillance
Each of these is given a detailed discussion in the paper.

Beyond these more obvious regulatory considerations, “it is expected that 5G systems will provide the ability to offer new public services,” such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications, 5G Americas predicted.

5G System Attributes
Elaborating further, 5G Americas identified three major expected attributes of 5G systems, which will “be leveraged and combined in a variety of ways to provide the transport that is required by the systems that provide these emergency and government services.”

Those attributes are:
  • Speed increases, enabling faster gathering and distribution of emergency information
  • Capacity increases, expanding the use of multimedia as a basis rather than add-on for services
  • Reliability enhancements, ensuring data delivery and reducing need for follow-up queries by people making critical decisions
Underpinning all three of these attributes is the need for shared spectrum, enabling 5G systems to operate optimally through access to large amounts of spectrum.

“While sole access to spectrum will continue to be a mainstay of major public networks, the ability to take advantage of additional spectrum that is shared with others will provide expansion capacities that may be extremely important to providing subscribers with the speeds and capacities they expect of 5G,” 5G Americas predicted.

The onus is now on the telecom industry to “provide the necessary resources to identify standards gaps and develop standards solutions,” to comply with regulatory body 5G requirements as they emerge, 5G Americas stressed.

Spectrum Sharing
While “licensed exclusive use of spectrum remains critical to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) because it provides, among other things, greater certainty in long-term access and performance, as well as protection from interference,” shared and unlicensed spectrum hold represent a significant opportunity for MNOs, enterprises, and entrepreneurs using 5G New Radio, 5G Americas predicted.

How might that spectrum sharing work? And what benefits, specifically, could it deliver for MNOs?

5G Americas identified two main sharing models:
  1. Vertical or tiered - where incumbent users already exist in a given band and remain protected with highest priority
  2. Horizontal - where there is no difference in priority among users sharing the spectrum, and no guaranteed protection from interference
A combination of both models will be needed for 5G.

For MNOs, access to shared 5G spectrum could mean the ability to:
  • Augment licensed services with additional capabilities to customers
  • Create larger bandwidth channels to support higher user throughput and data-intensive applications
“While certain mobility and ultra-reliability services may require exclusively licensed spectrum, limited sharing with the primary incumbent, with well-defined spectrum rights, can incentivize the MNO to use the shared band as a primary band for 5G services,” 5G Americas said. “It is for this reason that spectrum licensing terms that are attractive to MNOs will go a long way in supporting the development of 5G networks in shared spectrum.”

Of course, the telecom industry (with good reason) tends to hates uncertainty related to anything it might invest in, so “From a regulatory perspective, clear and distinct spectrum sharing rules should be the goal of any spectrum sharing policy,” 5G Americas stressed. “Two- tiered sharing models—with demarcated protection rights for the incumbent and spectrum rights for the new entrant licensee—provide the predictability necessary for marketplace investment.”

What’s Next?
5G Americas concluded its paper by characterizing 5G solutions as being built on those provided by 4G, rather than a complete break into a new technology. In other words, 5G will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Further, the organization advised that major operators are responsible for supporting the regulatory requirements of their region, and stressed the need for ongoing collaboration between operators, vendors, and regulatory agencies to ensure successful development of 5G.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

5G, Edge, Gigabit LTE Dominate Telecom Market Evolution | Trending Network News | August 26, 2017

Quite a bit has been going on in the telecom market lately, ranging from announcements about 5G trials and network expansions to investments in edge computing to the drive toward wireless gigabit connectivity. Here's a roundup of recent news items. 

First up, U.S. mobile operator AT&T. The carrier:
  • committed $200 million to a venture capital fund backing tech startups, with the expectation that whatever solutions are developed will run on top of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) it helped launch earlier this year.
  • announced plans to start testing a new cloud-based platform for its consumer video services (starting with DirecTV Now), and expects to launch it commercially by year's end.
  • is leveraging its extensive central office and cell tower assets to follow the edge computing trend, part of a larger plan to virtualize its network to meet expected bandwidth demands from 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality.
  • added 2.8 million subscribers during second quarter 2017 (in the U.S. and Mexico).
  • is re-skilling its workforce to prepare for a software-defined network (SDN) future.
  • asked the FCC for permission to keep testing 5G equipment using the 28 GHz band, hoping to gain a better understanding of RF transmission in high-band frequencies.
  • is working to expand the reach of its fiber network, both inside and outside its footprint. That includes rolling out an all-fiber network to two metro areas in the southeast, and expanding its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) coverage in 20 existing fiber markets.
  • continues to test a variety of technologies (LAA, LTE-A Pro, fixed wireless access, etc.) that might support its move toward gigabit LTE and 5G.
Last fall, CenturyLink launched its SD-WAN product, using what it called a 'minimum viable product' (MVP) network strategy "enabling its customers to co-develop the service, and use their feedback to improve it in later iterations," said Light Reading Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson, in a recent article. That strategy, brought over to the network from CenturyLink's cloud operation, is proving successful for SD-WAN, part of the operator's overall goal to transform its network into a software-defined platform, "from which the company can provide its own services as well as working with partners," Wilson elaborated.

On a somewhat related note, CenturyLink is incorporating big data into its network functions virtualization (NFV) efforts, noted Light Reading Editor-in-Chief Craig Matsumoto. That's not too surprising, given that next-generation networking projects bring the hope of using analytics to drive an automated feedback loop that optimizes performance and the user experience. 

Meanwhile, in Asia, China is determined to lead the global deployment of next-gen mobile, said Light Reading news editor Iain Morris. China Telecom has plans to conduct commercial 5G "network field trials" in six Chinese cities during 2019. 

On the cable MSO front, Light Reading senior editor Mari Silbey noted that, when Cox rolled out its gigabit-speed internet service in 2014, it was one of the first to do so. Now, several years later, the operator says its Gigablast offering is available in some capacity in each of its major markets. Cox is also investing in DOCSIS 3.1 to deliver gigabit broadband over traditional hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) infrastructure, with employee trials now underway and plans in place to launch the technology commercially later this year. 

In Europe, Deutsche Telekom (DT) is lab testing the latest evolution of Adtran's G.fast standard, specifically evaluating "the use of 212MHz transmission and coordinated dynamic time allocation (cDTA) using Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) deployment models that permit the use of existing cable infrastructure within the home," reported Telecom TV editorial director Guy Daniels. End goal: rapidly deploy ultra-fast and gigabit broadband services.

During a Telecom TV interview, Eric Bebeau, Head of NFV Solutions at Orange, said that the real driver for telco adoption of NFV is not technical, but rather about human collaboration between service providers, vendors, and teams. For Orange, automation is high on its agenda, Bebeau said, and it's now possible to deploy NFV infrastructure in an automatic way. 

Not resting on its laurels, Reliance Jio in India recently launched its 4G JioPhone, a handset consumers can get for a deposit of only 1,500 rupees ($23.30), refundable three years later when the device is returned, reported Light Reading contributing editor Gagandeep Kaur. That makes the device potentially transformative for about 500 million feature phone users in India. 

In South Korea, SK Telecom has been busy on a number of fronts. For example, the operator recently:
In the U.S., T-Mobile also has a lot of (inter-related) irons in the fire. For example, the operator:

Spanish operator Telefonica recently commissioned a white paper from Analysys Mason to investigate its Telco Cloud program, and mostly got positive results, reported Telecom TV's Guy Daniels. The paper called the program's vision for an NFV/SDN-based network "ambitious" and "forward-looking," but did caution that the operator faces several challenges with implementing it: market immaturity for technology involved, cultural and process transformations needed, and more support from the commercial side of the company. 

Also in the U.S., operator Verizon has had quite a few announcements lately. For example, it:

  • noted that its millimeter wave 5G tests are now underway, part of the carrier's wireless network densification efforts.
  • emphasized the importance of low latency and network slicing to its 5G evolution strategy. That strategy depends on being able to segment the network to re-dimension capacity, with automation creating 'data pipes' tailored for specific services.
  • highlighted how it is tightening security for its Virtual Network Services platform for enterprises, by adding capabilities from Check Point.
Finally, on a regional U.S. note, WideOpenWest (WOW) is aggressively pursuing growth by pushing its HFC network deeper into existing networks, noted Light Reading's Cable/Video Practice Leader, Alan Breznick. The operator is using nearly $600 million in cash proceeds from its recent IPO and sale of a Chicago fiber network (to Verizon) to accelerate its "Edge-Out" strategy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

News Roundup: How 5G Might Come About

Consider 5G. Likely, this next generation of mobile networks will be built in stages, with fiber and fixed wireless access being among the components that make it possible. Here are six recent news articles that illustrate this probability, imagining how an operator might succeed with 5G and what exactly designates a 5G technology. Plus: network slicing need not wait for 5G. 

5G is not just a radio: Welcome to the fibre-tastic new mobile worldThe full benefits of 5G are only achievable with a full architecture change, not just a radio upgrade. Many changes, like virtualization, can be phased in gradually. | The Register article.

5G realities
5G isn't going to appear by magic; it will be built in stages, and when done will be an enormous, complex structure—like a massive office building with elaborate interconnected systems. |
Telecom Ramblings article.

Why wait for 5G to benefit from network slicing?
Network slicing, widely associated with 5G, enables operators to enhance operational efficiency and reduce time-to-market for new services. Why wait for 5G to realize these benefits, though? | RCR Wireless article

The business case for 5G fixed wireless access
Fixed wireless access is real, and has a real business case, for operators big and small. Example: Alphabet subsidiary Google Fiber acquired service provider WebPass, which extensively uses Siklu E and V band radios to deliver multi-gigabit throughput over 60/70/80GHz millimeter wave. | RCR Wireless article

How 5G broke and also saved the telco
Imagine it's 2030. How might a mobile network operator have leveraged 5G to succeed, despite that deployment nearly spelling ruin for the company? | The Mobile Network article

5G or not 5G?
What makes a technology 5G, or not? It's not always at clear-cut as you might think. | The Mobile Network article.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Juniper: 5G ROI for Operators Depends on Use Cases, Government Investment

For mobile operators, implementing and managing 5G networks and services requires a different approach than did 4G, resulting in a business model and strategic shift, said Juniper Research in its report, “5G: How Operators Can Maximise ROI.” In a nutshell, market forces are compelling operators to look at how they might align 5G with their business models, but they can’t and won’t do it alone.

The trick with 5G ROI, Juniper said, is that as of yet “there is no discernable use case that will encourage operators to roll out 5G networks.” Therefore, “increased investment from governmental bodies will be needed to encourage the development of these networks.”

A big reason for government involvement, Juniper said, is that deploying 5G requires operators to purchase additional spectrum, a substantial investment with a long ROI timeframe, even if payments are spread out over several years. Plus, spectrum auctions are an ongoing activity, rather than a once-and-done proposition.

Such investments will “depend on the spectrum to be utilised, the legacy equipment that the operators have available to them and national regulation relating to the use of spectrum.”

ROI from IoT

From a business sustainability standpoint, the Internet of Things—in which many traditionally dumb devices (appliances, vehicles, etc.) will become connected via 5G networks—may be the most compelling broad use case that could incentivize operators to make major investments in 5G, Juniper posited.

“The data-centric mobile world will become increasingly interconnected, leading to a range of opportunities at the infrastructure, device and component levels,” Juniper predicted. “The impact of the IoT will be far-reaching, built through the widespread deployment of sensors in everyday items.”

That impact depends on 5G networks being scalable and intelligently efficient, so they are capable of supporting billions of connected devices.

Under the IoT umbrella, several use cases for lucrative services seem likely, Juniper said, including:

  • Smart home applications for consumer safety, comfort, and energy savings
  • Connected passenger vehicle applications for infotainment and, eventually, driverless cars
  • Industrial applications for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business
  • Public transport and payment systems
  • Smart city applications designed to improve efficiency through information sharing
The Question is How

Implicitly, Juniper acknowledged in its report that 5G will get off the ground; it just isn’t quite clear yet where operators will find the best ROI. The research firm predicted that by 2025, global billed revenue from 5G will reach $269 billion.

“The majority of acquired 5G connections will be users upgrading from 4G connections,” Juniper predicted, with ROI being achieved from the fact that “5G connections will initially carry a premium over ARPC (Average Revenue Per Connection).”

Not too surprisingly, Juniper concluded that early 5G adopters “will be ‘top end’ users who are currently in the higher echelons of monthly spend. In the early years, the actual numbers of connected subscribers will be very low, rendering early trends less representative.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Securing 5G

The fundamental promise of 5G—transforming telecommunications by bringing wireline reliability and truly everywhere/anywhere service accessibility to mobile—introduces some new security challenges that must be solved to make next-generation services dependable and safe. As operators, vendors, and standards-developing organizations work together on 5G, they need to address not only security provisions for new products, but also security as a built-in feature of communication between devices or components along the network path.

Broadly, the reason for this new approach to security is that 5G networks will involve many more devices, inevitably resulting in more potential vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit.

NFV and 5G Security

More specifically, it is looking briefly at the role of network functions virtualization (NFV) in 5G and how that relates to network security.

To achieve the fast responses and low latency envisioned for 5G, it’s necessary to locate some applications on the IP network edge. This will significantly change network design, requiring NFV servers and virtual machines in the core network, allowing applications to be split and decentralized—so that apps can technically be “everywhere and nowhere.”

But, the use of NFV creates some significant challenges around network security. For example:

  • Many NFV solutions are built on open source software and whitebox hardware, a setup that tends to be less secure than proprietary software and hardware.
  • Obtaining access to any VNF software component can result in attackers gaining control of hosts (via an external controller) and therefore potentially the entire network.
  • Virtual networks built on NFV are not protected by firewalls. 
  • Segmenting VLANs introduces security vulnerabilities. 
Relatedly, network slicing makes it possible to perform dynamic service chaining, but this does mean more components in the network and more security needed for each component. If not detected immediately, attacks can reach all the way to the eNodeB—resulting in wasted bandwidth or much worse.

Key 5G Security Challenges

Digging a little deeper, there are two main security challenges involved in securing 5G networks:

1. IP layer visibility
In a nutshell, all layers and components involved have to be secured. To stop attacks, behavior detection can be highly effective. This might involve, for example, using different parameters to characterize the IP flow. With predictive measurements, it is possible to detect an attack and perform live filtering to stop it.

2. NFV integration
In NFV environments, the control agent is the in the core network and the user plane is distributed. This creates another link to secure with proper encryption. Attacks must be detected at the edge to achieve successful security; it’s too late by the time the attack reaches the core. Operators, vendors, and development communities must work together to secure virtualized networks and release associated standards.

Achieving 5G Security

Fundamental actions that need to be taken to ensure 5G security include:
  • Adapt network equipment for virtualization functions
  • Diversify security to address the mobile core 
  • Do away with “one size fits all” security methodologies
5G is a complex environment that integrates open source elements with proprietary solutions. Complexity is the enemy of security. Security must therefore be part of the network design from the start.

Report: Mobile Operators Adopt C-RAN to Prepare for 5G and Reduce Deployment Costs

Increasingly, mobile operators are adopting centralized radio access network (C-RAN) as their preferred method of deploying new networks, with global spending on this technology expected to reach almost $9 billion by end of 2017 and CAGR estimated at about 24% between 2017 and 2020, SNS Telecom said in its recently published report, “The C-RAN Ecosystem: 2017-2030.” These investments will include spending on remote radio heads, baseband units, and fronthaul transport network equipment.

C-RAN—which was initially popularized by Japanese and South Korean operators—represents an architectural shift for RAN design, centralizing and aggregating baseband processing for a large number of distributed radio nodes, explained SNS Telecom in the report. Other Tier 1 operators in markets around the globe—including AT&T, China Mobile, Orange, Sprint, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), Telefonica, Verizon, and Vodafone—are now adopting it.

“In comparison to standalone clusters of base stations, C-RAN provides significant performance and economic benefits such as baseband pooling, enhanced coordination between cells, virtualization, network extensibility, smaller deployment footprint and reduced power consumption,” SNS Telecom elaborated.

Related to the general drive toward C-RAN adoption, SNS Telecom two sub-trends:
  1. Small cells deployment within a C-RAN architecture to leverage resource pooling and multi-cell coordination. This is especially popular for enterprise and indoor market segments. 
  2. Use of multiple baseband functional split options for C-RAN implementation, as a means of easing the transition to 5G and reduce fronthaul costs. 
SNS Telecom also noted that the vendor arena for C-RAN continues to consolidate, illustrated by merger and acquisition deals like the Mavenir Systems merger with Ranzure Networks, positioning the new combined organization as an end-to-end provider of 5G-ready solutions.

If implemented thoughtfully, C-RAN can help operators better manage interference and LTE-Advanced features like Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP), and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) for RAN deployments, SNS Telecom concluded.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cable MSOs Charge Ahead With SD-WAN, Address Need for Hybrid Deployments

For cable MSOs, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) represents a potentially transformative technology in the quest to better serve enterprise customers, with virtualized functions as a foundation. This technology "is a golden opportunity to add a cutting-edge product to their business services and support strategies to move up market by serving larger companies and multi-site enterprises," said Heavy Reading contributing analyst Craig Leddy, in a Light Reading article

Operators like Comcast and Cox Communications see SD-WAN—in combination with DOCSIS 3.1as more affordable and flexible than MPLS, and a means to expand services using their existing coaxial connections for gigabit internet speeds, rather than relying on fiber, Leddy noted. 

He added: "The market is expected to be flooded with SD-WAN products and related VNFs that cable can support with its high-speed business Internet services. All service providers and SD-WAN suppliers face a market where competition is becoming fierce and the pace of SD-WAN adoption is unclear. Cable providers must prove they can deliver a high quality of service and customer support -- areas where they currently are not perceived as leaders in rankings by business customers."

But, most businesses still aren't using SD-WAN services to replace private MPLS-based links, noted Light Reading editor-at-large Carol Wilson in a recent article. Instead, they need solutions for a hybrid approach that allows them to add SD-WAN options to existing links, and run services across both. 

"Managing traffic and implementing policy in such a hybrid approach introduces complexity that many businesses don't want," Wilson elaborated. 

Addressing this need, CenturyLink recently rolled out a set of managed service bundles designed to eliminate the complexity of such hybrid deployments, Wilson said in the article. 

CenturyLink's SD-WAN offerings come in three bundle packages: bronze (add-on to existing MPLS connection), silver (MPLS and broadband connection provided by CenturyLink), and gold (same as silver, with two SD-WAN devices at the remote site), explained RCR Wireless News technology writer Nathan Cranford, in a recent article

Comcast is another operator that's putting a lot of thought into the best uses for and methods of deploying SD-WAN for enterprises. In a recent SDxCentral webinar, Comcast Business' VP of Connectivity Jeff Lewis elaborated on its reasons for treating SD-WAN as an over-the-top (OTT) cloud-based service, embracing such a strategy for its robustness and extensibility. 

Successful SD-WAN, Lewis explained in the webinar, is all about execution and customer satisfaction, which requires monitoring as a key component to avoid network-wide visibility drawbacks that MPLS tends to suffer from. And, as already discussed earlier, he noted that SD-WAN is likely to deployed as part of a hybrid migration alongside MPLS. 

How do you see SD-WAN being adopted by enterprises? Drop a comment below. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

U.S. Cable MSOs Keep Things Moving With Fiber, IoT, Gigabit Internet, and Open Source

What's new in the U.S. cable MSO market? Quite a bit! Here's a roundup of recent industry news, including Altice's fiber-to-the-home built-out, VoIP for small business from CenturyLink, the fizzled Sprint/Charter merger and what might happen next, Comcast's IoT ambitions, Cox's gigabit internet strategy, and open source community involvement on the part of Comcast and Telefonica.

As part of a five-year plan involving its entire Optimum footprint and part of its Suddenlink service area, Altice USA is now rolling out fiber-to-the-home, Light Reading reported. The operator's strategy is different than most of its peers in the U.S., which are heavily focused on DOCSIS 3.1 for high-speed broadband. Using what it considers pioneering GPON technology, Altice thinks it can cost-effectively deploy fiber instead, as a means to expand its existing plant, much of is built around aerial connections rather than underground cabling.   

It might seem old-school, but VoIP for small business is the focus of two new service packages from CenturyLink, Light Reading reported. The operator is providing two cloud-based, pre-packaged services: basic for roughly $20/line per month, and a unified communications upgrade for about $5 more per month. CenturyLink said this type of service is still something small businesses need to reduce their voice costs and gain access to more features like email & calendar integration and making softphones available on laptop computers. 

An initial bid on the part of Sprint to merge with Charter Communications has fizzled (for the moment), but there's still speculation that SoftBankwhich has a stake in Sprintmight buy Charter outright, Light Reading said. And it is entirely possible that Charter will consider a reseller deal with Sprint, as a way to expand beyond its existing MVNO arrangement with Verizon. 

The growing importance of Internet of Things (IoT) to the telecommunications and cable industries is nicely illustrated by service expansion on the part of Comcast, which is expanding its low-power, wide-area (LoRa) network to twelve new markets, through its machineIQ business unit, SDxCentral reported

The markets Comcast chose for machineIQMiami, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Washington, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore, and Minneapolismade the cut because of demand, in particular related to smart city initiatives. Focus for these services is on applications like utility metering, environmental monitoring, and asset tracking, SDxCentral said.  

Comcast also recently became the first U.S. cable MSO to join Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), bringing that organization's total number of members to 50, Light Reading reported. This is a significant step in the operator's strategy to prove its growing influence in the open source community, a logical step given its focus on embracing virtualization for internal IT operations and cable modem termination system. 

A pioneer in offering gigabit-speed connectivity, Cox has found the process of rolling this service out to be slower than expected, noted Light Reading. The operator originally intended to begin deploying gigabit across its entire footprint by end of 2016, but as of now it has entered parts of 13 states out of the 18 it covers. It continues on, however, and now expects to reach virtually all the rest of its customers by end of 2019. 

As it works on automating and virtualizing its networks and IT systems, Telefonica is now considering joining the ONAP initiative, potentially merging into that organization its Open Source MANO (OSM) project as a means of expand its scope, Light Reading reported. That would represent the integration of two rival efforts focused on the complex issue of management and network orchestration.