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Two three-letter acronyms that will change the telecoms world

Machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things are putting pressure on network operators - SDN and NFV may be the answer.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor on

While at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week most of the focus will be on shiny new smartphones and wearable devices, some of the most important changes occuring in the telecoms industry will be much harder to spot.

All these new gadgets -- and the rise of the Internet of Things devices which also need to communicate -- is putting the traditional telecoms network under pressure.

"A network architecture that was designed for millions of humans making voice calls is simply not suitable to reliably allow billions of devices (or "things") to communicate in near real time," warns analyst Gartner, which says this is likely to trigger significant investments in cloud-centric, software-driven infrastructures.

This puts two particular three letter acronyms in the spotlight: software defined networking (SDN) and/or network function virtualisation (NFV).

NFV virtualises network functions into swappable building blocks, while SDN separates the control and data planes: the combination of the two means applications don't have tied to specific hardware and can share network resources.

Communications companies will have to fundamentally change the way they run their network operations and IT because SDN and NFV represent a significant shift away from traditional physical networks toward software-driven operations that run on commodity data centre hardware, said Martine Kurth, research director at Gartner.

As such SDN and NFV will change the way operators create, manage and deliver services to their customers which will also require transformation of internal organisational structures, networks and IT processes as well as new skillsets.

The point is that now, network functions are enabled simply by switching on a piece of code that runs on any commodity server in a data centre which in turn means a communications company can switch services on and off automatically in real time.

This means that when you take today's world of M2M communications with the IoT then virtualised and software-driven infrastructures, all of this will enable composite services which in future will become a vast range, said Kurth.

"SDN and NFV provide the underlying cloud-centric operational infrastructure necessary to drive new revenue streams and exploit new market opportunities," she said.

This all means big changes for IT managers for IT. "This is not going to happen overnight," said Kurth. "This all means big changes and the network operators have big investments in the infrastructure which they are not just going to drop just like that."

But they are already learning how to come to terms with it. "AT&T has a big program underway to teach network engineers about the software infrastructure they are going to need to understand," she told ZDNet.

Further Reading:

Pros and cons of Windows 10 IoT for Raspberry Pi and Arduino builds

ACMA outgoing chairman emphasises need for IoT, M2M spectrum

UNSW, Data61, Cisco team up for agriculture IoT centre

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