Giant Japanese service provider NTT Docomo plans to offer services leveraging network-function virtualization by March 2016 after completing proof-of-concept trials with three top-tier networking vendors.
Docomo officials announced May 27 that the trials—conducted with Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent and NEC—proved the feasibility of network-function virtualization (NFV), an emerging trend that along with software-defined networking (SDN) promises to reshape how networking is done.
"NFV is highly expected to change the ecosystem of network industries," Seizo Onoe, executive vice president and CTO at Docomo, said in a statement. "But without a high degree of collaboration among the players, such hopes could end up like pie in the sky. Therefore, I am delighted that we have been successfully collaborating in PoC trials with the industry's leading vendors."
SDN decouples the network control plane from the underlying physical hardware infrastructure, helping to create networks that are more automated, more easily programmable and more energy efficient. NFV takes network services like firewalls, load balancing and intrusion detection out of specialized networking equipment and puts them into software that can run on lower-cost commodity systems.
For service providers, this could lead to faster service delivery and improved response when network equipment fails.
Such computing trends as mobility, big data, bring-your-own-device (BYOD), the Internet of things and the cloud are driving demand for more dynamic and flexible networking environments. Networking vendors and others in the tech industry are quickly building up their capabilities in this area, with Hewlett-Packard creating an entire NFV business unit headed up by Bethany Mayer, who had led HP's networking efforts.
A specifications group within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) first published a document on the idea of NFV in 2012, and has since released other papers regarding NFV, including definitions and use cases. Docomo is a member of the ETSI.
According to Docomo officials, the PoCs done with Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and NEC involved using the virtualized Evolved Packet Core (EPC) found in LTE systems. The trials verified new network control mechanisms, including scalable user-data processing, which can efficiently manage user traffic and improve service delivery stability via automatic network-recovery techniques.
Docomo has been working with the three networking vendors since November 2013. The service provider's goal is to leverage network virtualization technologies to create advanced mobile networks, officials said.
Alcatel-Lucent began laying out its NFV plans in February.