How SDN and NFV can benefit end users and telecoms?

How SDN and NFV can benefit end users and telecoms? Deepthi Krishna, a Bangalore based telecom professional specializing in architecting solutions for telecom network management, says SDN and NFV can be win-win for both users and telecoms.
Deepthi Krishna
Over the past decade, the mobile network has changed significantly as there is unprecedented increase in data usage due to increased availability of high quality applications and content on the internet.

This along with availability of affordable smartphones has ensured a surge in data traffic. Availability of “bandwidth on Demand” is fast becoming a key criteria for end users.

In order to stay relevant and meet the end users’ demand, the operators have to adapt to newer technologies such as 3G, 4G, 5G, coupled with innovative business models.

Essentially the telecom operators need to think of improving efficiencies, provide better Quality of service and still be profitable.
Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are the technology that is touted to transform the sector.

A recent report by Infonetics Research, a part of IHS, states that 97 percent of the communications service providers (CSPs) will deploy SDN, while 93 percent are of the operators plan to deploy NFV at some point in the future.

Another report forecasts that the market for SDN will be over $11 billion in the APAC region ( excluding Japan), while NFV will be about $1.2 billion by 2018.

Leading CSPs like AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone have already started pilot projects. The time to market, cost saving advantages will influence them to expand the deployments.
BSNL phone users
So, how will the operators/end users benefit? Before we look at the opportunities and challenges, let us understand the SDN and NFV a bit.

Control and Data plane are standard terminologies used in the telecom networking world. Control plane decides the route to be taken by data/packets through the network, while data plane forwards the actual packets.

In the traditional network infrastructure, the control and data plane reside in the same hardware and this is expensive to maintain. SDN offers a solution by separating the control and data plane.

With the above architectural change, control plane has become a software, which can be programmed and easily maintained.
A centralized controller (Control plane) has view of devices in the network. The administrator can change any rule of a switch, prioritization, deprioritization of the switch and even block some traffic programmatically.

New services can be introduced in the network very easily. A network administrator can shape traffic from a centralized control console without having to touch individual switches.

“Bandwidth on Demand” can be delivered with the flexibility the SDN network can provide.SDN also impacts the way CSPs build and operate their data center/cloud networks, giving them the ability to deploy low-cost white box switches that use independent network operating systems from Cumulus, Big Switch etc.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) is an initiative driven by leading communications service providers to virtualize the telecom applications/services that are now being carried out by proprietary dedicated hardware.

NFV aims at decreasing the amount of proprietary hardware that’s needed to launch and operate network services there by reducing the Opex.

The goal of NFV is to decouple network functions from dedicated hardware devices and allow network services that are now being carried out by routers, firewalls, load balancers and other dedicated hardware devices to be hosted on virtual machines (VMs).

The services that once require dedicated hardware can be performed on standard x86 servers. This means the hardware can be used in an optimized way. Based on the load/request, more VMs can be instantiated.

As the server capacity can be maintained through software, there will be no need for network administrators to overprovision their data centers which will reduce both capital expenses (Capex) and operating expenses (Opex).

Other benefit to the CSP will be faster time to market, quick service enablement, which results in higher customer satisfaction. Network as a Service or NaaS lets customers dynamically use bandwidth and this can potentially be a huge opportunity.


While CSPs would want to migrate their network to SDN/NFV, there are many challenges in realizing this. The current legacy networks, have extremely complex Operation Support Systems and Business Support Systems (OSS/BSS) which takes care of performance of the network, QOS, service provisioning and billing. These are very important systems as they directly affect service and revenue. Thus the CSPs cannot do away with existing systems and thus a hybrid network that includes the traditional switches, routers etc and SDN/NFV to coexist.

The initial investment will be higher to migrate the networks. Difficulty in integrating with the current legacy networks, security concerns and lack of right skill availability are the other challenges. The interface standards are also still evolving. The CSPs will have to come up with their own business models to make this successful.

In the Indian context, with all the service providers having stretched balance sheets, their ability to invest further in network mordernization will be a challenge. Hence, it might take a while for the Indian subscribers to see the benefit of the new technologies.

Clearly, the benefits out-weigh the challenges as the CSPs will strive to win over the end users in a highly competitive environment. Over the next 5 years, more and more functions will be implemented using the SDN/NFV technology and this will transform the networking world.

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Deepthi Krishna

Deepthi Krishna is a Bangalore based Telecom professional specializing in architecting solutions for Telecom network management. Views are personal