Alcatel-Lucent Unveils NFV Plans for Mobile Operators

The networking vendor is focusing on NFV and SDN as it shifts its focus from supplying hardware to selling software.

Alcatel-Lucent, which is continuing its transition from a hardware-based networking vendor to one that offers cloud-based software, is offering mobile operators virtualized network functions that can be accessed via the cloud.

The company wants to make it easier for mobile operators to embrace network-function virtualization (NFV) as a way to more quickly spin out services and to lessen their reliance on proprietary hardware in their infrastructures. Alcatel-Lucent officials said the company is working with 20 service providers that are looking to use NFV technologies in their networks, and that the networking vendor's efforts in this area will be a key part of its presence at the Mobile World Congress 2014, which starts Feb. 24 in Barcelona, Spain.

Alcatel-Lucent's portfolio of virtualized products, announced Feb. 19, include Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) for the automated authentication and management of subscribers and services on the network, and IP Multimedia Subsystem ( vIMS), a cloud-based communications platform for delivering rich multimedia over IP networks. In addition, the company will offer a virtualized version of its Radio Access Network (RAN) products, which includes a virtualized 3G radio network controller and a virtualized proof-of-concept for LTE and LTE-advanced radio access networks.

NFV is the close relative of software-defined networking (SDN), both of which offer the promise of creating networks that are more programmable, automated, flexible and cost-efficient by breaking the link between network control and services and the underlying hardware. NFV refers to services in Layers 4-7, such as intrusion detection, load balancing and firewalls. By virtualizing these services and detaching them from physical switches and routers, network administrators can more quickly spin out new service offerings for their customers.

For mobile operators, which are under increasing demand for more services—from voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) to WebRTC for real-time communications to machine-to-machine communications—having a more flexible and programmable network can enable them to innovate more quickly and generate revenues more quickly.

"Each mobile operator will have different priorities and want to take their own specific path to NFV, based on their business priorities and the state of their network and operations readiness," Marcus Weldon, corporate CTO for Alcatel-Lucent and president of Bell Labs, said in a statement. "Building on our strong IP foundation, we have pioneered an open SDN and NFV architecture that combines the best of IP with the best of IT, to create a truly carrier-grade cloud network solution."

Alcatel-Lucent executives, under the direction of CEO Michael Combes, have been aggressively trying to transform the company, which has had financial bright spots since it was created in 2006 via a merger. The company last year announced The Shift Plan, designed to save $1.3 billion in expenses and generate another $1.3 billion by selling off various assets. Part of the transformation is a moving away from being a hardware provider and instead becoming more of a software vendor, similar to moves made by other networking vendors—including leader Cisco Systems—in recent years.

Alcatel-Lucent's CloudBand 2.0 NFV platform, which is housed at the company's Cloud Innovation Center in Illinois, was created to host and manage the virtualized applications. Officials are expanding the CloudBand platform to include greater network control and an adoption of more open industry standard technologies as well as virtualized network functions. The company also is integrating the Virtual Service Platform—which offers SDN solutions from Nuage Networks, a venture backed by Alcatel-Lucent—into CloudBand 2.0.

Alcatel-Lucent is using Red Hat's Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform as the common technology foundation for CloudBand, the companies announced Feb. 19. Alcatel-Lucent already has three customers under contract for CloudBand NFV and another 10 trials under way, the company said. It also has signed four contracts to deliver the Nuage SDN offering.

In addition, company officials announced that Alcatel-Lucent and China Mobile at the Mobile World Congress show will demonstrate the work they've done on developing NFV for mobile operators using Alcatel-Lucent's services.