Mobile carriers will be among the leading adopters of software-defined networking technology as they look to make their networks more flexible and scalable to deal with the growing demand for data-intensive applications, according to a recent survey.
Ninety-three percent of mobile carriers expect to implement SDN initiatives in their businesses within the next five years, and half of them say it will happen within the next year or two, according to the survey by market research firm Informa Telecoms and Media.
The study results, sponsored by Juniper Networks and released July 4, were based on an online survey conducted by Informa in the first quarter.
SDN and its close relative, network function virtualization (NFV), have become the hot topics in the networking industry over the past couple of years. The goal of SDN is to make networks more responsive, scalable and programmable by separating the network intelligence from the underlying physical infrastructure and putting it into software.
Currently, having network functions housed in switches and routers makes networks more complex and expensive, and requires a lot of manual intervention. By leveraging virtualization to separate those network applications from the hardware, organizations can create networks that can be programmed automatically and on the fly, and that can scale quickly and easily.
This is attractive to mobile operators, who are under siege by the rapid growth of mobile devices connecting to their networks and demanding more data-intensive applications, such as video streaming. According to Informa’s survey, mobile carriers are most likely to deploy SDN technologies initially to make their networks more scalable and flexible, to help address those demands.
Longer term, SDN will enable mobile carriers to more quickly and cost effectively create new mobile applications and services that they can sell to customers, according to the report.
“Mobile SDN is set to be one of the most transformative technologies implemented in the next few years,” Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa, said in a statement. “Cost savings and network flexibility are arguably the first benefits to be considered, but providing a platform for new service-revenue opportunities and network exposure can help operators combat competition both within and outside the mobile value chain.”
Mavrakis said he expects the first deployments of SDN in mobile networks to occur later this year and early 2014.
SDN Adoption to Grow Rapidly Among Carriers: Informa
SDN has grabbed the attention of established networking vendors, including Cisco Systems, Juniper, Hewlett-Packard and Brocade, as well as startups such as Big Switch Networks and Plexxi. Other vendors with little networking expertise, including VMware and Oracle, also are looking to add SDN to their growing portfolios of data center solutions.
Standards organizations, such as the Open Networking Foundation and the vendor-driven OpenDaylight Project, also are looking to create common SDN platforms and tools. The Facebook-led Open Compute Project also is working on creating an open network switch.
However, while SDN has generated a lot of attention, there hasn’t been much in the way of deployments. In a recent Cisco survey, 71 percent of respondents said they plan to deploy SDN technology this year, but 34 percent said that to date, they’ve seen such deployments as often as they’d seen Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
However, Informa’s survey indicates that mobile carriers may be more ready than enterprises to embrace SDN. The report points to three areas in the architectures of mobile operators where SDN is beginning to appear: in the separation of the control and data planes, in the virtualization of network components and in the exposure of services through APIs.
“The mobile network has become the mobile Internet and an integral part of our daily lives,” Brad Brooks, vice president of business strategy and marketing for Juniper’s Software Solutions Division, said in a statement. “SDN is a major shift in the networking industry that can remove the challenges of scalability and agility and provide mobile operators an opportunity to deliver anytime-anywhere data services to customers. The emergence of SDN provides a tangible solution to practically and cost effectively enable innovative new business models that deliver the mobile services users want and need.”
According to the survey, the biggest drivers of SDN adoption among mobile carriers will include 4G Long-Term Evolution and LTE-Advanced deployments, with the leading markets being North America—particularly the United States—and the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and South Korea. Sixty-five percent of the respondents in Informa’s survey said infrastructure vendors will have the most influence over the adoption of mobile SDN.