The push to virtualize mobile networks is picking up speed at Mobile World Congress this week as carriers and vendors promise new services and faster connections.
Telefonica, the big international carrier based in Spain, plans to roll out a virtualized platform from Hewlett-Packard across its whole network in the coming years, a significant vote of confidence in NFV (network functions virtualization) only about four years after the concept emerged.
NFV changes the back end of a carrier's network from a set of specialized appliances into applications running on virtualized servers. The same way virtualization gives enterprise IT more freedom to deploy new capabilities, NFV should help carriers roll out new services and meet capacity demands.
For example, an operator can more quickly set up a new VPN (virtual private network) for a subscriber if it doesn't have to buy new specialized servers. It can also develop totally new services for wearable devices or connected homes that might have been too high a bar to pass with a fragmented infrastructure.
Telefonica is among the first large carriers to commit to NFV across its infrastructure, which serves more than 340 million connections in 21 countries. The rollout, which it calls Project Unica, will also include cloud and SDN (software-defined networking) technologies. It will form the foundation of Telefonica's internal IT operations and cloud services for customers.
AT&T has also embarked on a restructuring of its infrastructure with SDN and NFV, called Domain 2.0, which it is building with components from several vendors. Telefonica spent a year, starting around the announcement of Project Unica at last year's MWC, and picked HP as its overall partner to provide the backbone of the project. HP claims Telefonica is the first multinational carrier to reach the deployment phase of NFV.
Project Unica is built on HP's OpenNFV architecture, also announced at last year's MWC, which is designed as the backbone of a software infrastructure that will accommodate VNFs (virtualized network functions) from third parties. There are so many independent software vendors pouring money into this area that HP is leaving VNF development to others, said Werner Schaefer, HP's vice president for NFV. More than 100 vendors have already approached HP about participating, he said.