“Mobile World Congress is pretty much done and dusted for 2015, after the marathon trade show drew in crowds of over 93,000 visitors in Barcelona this week. More than 2,000 companies exhibited at the show, showcasing an incredibly broad array of mobile tech, and illustrating how mobile is pervading into all corners of modern society. The GSMA claims this year’s show grew by nine percent on 2014’s event.” – Telecoms.com
“Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and service innovation are readily enabled by the Alcatel-Lucent Converged Telephony Server (CTS). The virtualized CTS uniquely extends VoLTE’s new user experience to fixed and mobile networks, for both consumer and business customers.”
“CTS is a critical part of VoLTE commercial services that were launched in the US market in mid 2014. Building on this foundation with native, open APIs, service providers and third-party developers can create many specialized applications beyond VoLTE to improve the user experience and address new vertical markets.”
Judges Comments: “This outstanding entrant represents a strong platform for service providers to achieve commercial success by allowing the integration of complex services by both service providers and third parties using the web developers’ portal and sandbox, to deliver not just the technical capabilities, but also the other elements required to speed effective commercial innovation.” – Global Mobile Awards.
Mobile World Congress is now over. Congratulations to VoLTE’s team for the above well deserved award. Our event’s team also deserves recognition for having delivered top notch activities at Alcatel-Lucent’s booth while sailing through an overwhelming schedule. MWC is one of the most intensive and high impact industry events in the telecommunications sector, which involves a large percentage of senior executives and leading experts.
What follows focuses on our Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Portfolio, showcased at a demo station purposely highly visible. By the end of the show we conducted way over 200 demonstrations at this station alone.
Ted East, VP of the Cloud Innovation Center, and I discussed “Service Agility and Lean Ops” with a fully virtualized VoLTE environment. Moreover, this was no Proof of Concept (PoC) but an end-to-end system comprised of solutions either available today or in production this year, all running on CloudBand’s Management System and Cloud Nodes.
Customers, industry analysts, investors, partners and public officials enjoyed what became an amazingly engaging Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) experience. This was the real deal. We presented no slideware or canned videos (and no smoking mirrors for that matter) to make a compelling point centered on readiness.
The conversation started by highlighting two cloud design principles which become this demonstration’s wow factors:
Wow factor: all changes were completely transparent to the end user: our VoLTE video experience remained literally unscratched and with zero downtime throughout MWC.
2.- Abstracting out complexity: this is an end-to-end system involving many sophisticated technologies, there is no denying that self-defeating complexity negates any operational benefits; it is also true talking about siloed operations is not good enough because the whole is what delivers the service.
Wow factor: absolutely everyone (technical or not) was able to follow dynamic operations on our single pane of glass, which presented the system’s topology, controls and key performance indicators (KPI) dashboard.
Visibility is key too.Those interested in zooming in and conducting deep dives were able to drill down using our solutions’ own UIs featured on the four side screens, namely Motive Dynamic Operations, Nuage Networks, CloudBand and Bell Labs Analytics.
From the get go, we let anyone simply deploy virtual network elements from a virtualization catalog. This was as easy as selecting an app on a tablet, then swiping it in the direction of the NFV Ops Center. The app would instantly appear on our largest screen as if had flown in mid air.
The point being: deploying a network function is now as easy as that. Note that under present mode of operations (PMO) deploying a single Virtual Network Function (VNF) means months and even more than a year before turning it up. It takes minutes under lean ops with NFV. Speed also allows network operators to expose more services more often to promptly gauge market demand and innovate in the process.
CloudBand did all of the heavy lifting in the background by managing the VNFs lifecycle requirements and orchestrating the underlying resources. Nuage Networks’ Software Defined Networking (SDN) took care of service chaining and Motive Dynamic Operations addressed service provisioning and assurance.
This is the outcome of a virtualized environment that is programmable and fully automated. Moreover, these are all leading best-of-breed solutions in their own right, and the overall value is even greater when working together.
We proceeded to discuss what happens when a service provider becomes a victim of success. We have seen many examples of promising service launches soon followed by unplanned pent up demand.
Business wise, this is an issue when there is no capacity to handle sudden traffic growth. Either new customers are turned down and/or existing ones become impacted by Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoS) issues.
In some other cases, the network operator would make the service costly enough to downsize demand. Others would not even offer it to prevent issues, becoming overlay conservative and risk averse. This well known situation exasperates many (whether consumers or enterprises, as well as regulators) who might not find enough of the applications and services they need based on lifestyles or to be more productive.
Success also means being in business long enough to have to deal with updates, upgrades, conducting preventive and reactive troubleshooting with increasingly shorter maintenance windows. Understanding all of these challenges, we successfully run a variety of Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) tests in a High Availability (HA) environment, coupled with Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and helped visualize this every time.
Never a dull moment, interactivity and system amazing performance kept everyone on their toes and many even extended their time with us. There were situations where our tour guides would take care of groups queuing by explaining what was going on. I recall occasions where you could hear three of four different languages at the same time.
We also discussed Bell Labs Research on predictive analytics and autonomics (machine learning) for NFV which I will blog about later on.
Long story short, “The Mother of all NFV Demos” made us proud and was a hit among network operators and industry analysts. We checked every time if anyone had seen anything like this, here at MWC or anywhere else. The feedback: the closest example was just slideware.
MWC was intensive and equally rewarding. Greetings from sunny Barcelona : )
“The annual Broadband Infovision Awards have once again taken place at the Broadband World Forum, honoring technology innovations from 12 categories across the broadband sector. Among the winners, announced at a gala ceremony at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel, network specialist Alcatel-Lucent managed to pick up two awards. This year’s judging panel was made up of members of Broadband 100, the industry group including senior leaders from companies such as Telstra, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Volvo Cars.” Alcatel-Lucent is a double winner at Broadband Infovision Awards by Auri Aittokallio.
I’m back in my Chicago office and a couple of weeks have already gone by since Amsterdam’s BroadBand World Forum. First, I’d like to congratulate the teams involved in this year’s Infovision Awards. Alcatel-Lucent is the recipient of the following:
- Most Innovative Solution Provider – VDSL2 Vectoring “turbocharges broadband on copper to 100 Mbps and beyond.”
- Best Broadband Access Innovation in the “Fixed” category – G.fast Vectoring “extends the bit-rate increases provided by VDSL 2 vectoring technology.”
And these were shortlisted:
- Best Innovation Virtualization – CloudBand, “the platform for NFV, Network Functions Virtualization.”
- Best Broadband Partnership – CloudBand Ecosystem, “industry wide collaboration supporting NFV’s business opportunities.”
- Best Customer Experience Innovation – Motive, “addressing critical touch points in the relationship between communication service providers and their customers.”
Left: Alcatel-Lucent’s Hermann Buchegger, Jan van Tetering and Geert Heyninck. Center left: Alcatel-Lucent’s Andreas Lemke, Sue White, Jose de Francisco and Geert Heyninck. Center right: Jose de Francisco and BBC’s Laura-Jane Rich. Right: Geert Heynick on stage.
BroadBand World Forum is an annual ecosystem event focusing on telecoms. BBWF is positioned as a prominent fixture in the fixed broadband industry. Informa, the producers, hosted this year’s at Amsterdam’s RAI Exhibition and Convention Center. BBWF’s Infovision Award Ceremony took place at Keopelkerk Dome where Laura-Jane Rich of BBC’s Click team was the MC.
As shared in “See the Cloud at BBWF 2014” our team deployed two demo stations focusing NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) at Alcatel-Lucent’s booth. Additionally, Andreas Lemke spoke at BBWF’s NFV PoC (Proof of Concept) Live showcase and Phil Tilley was interviewed by Tim Skinner for and article on “Virtualization: A Fundamental Transformation.”
It is worth sharing that Tim’s article provides insights on the so-called new “softwarized” network environment. His writing also features comments by Brett Brock of Cox Communications who I last met just a few weeks before BBWF at IIT’s Real Time Communications where I chaired the conference’s Cloud Track.
Brett emphasizes the need for addressing speed and scale in the midst of trade offs that network operators make when prioritizing either one. His take is that virtualization is a game changer, which involves new workstyles and processes. Long story short, this is not business as usual in the telco space.
Back at Real Time Comms, Brett presented “NFV: Infrastructure as Code,” which examined how modern software development intersects with network engineering. If interested, you can click on the slide titled “Paradigm Shift” to display his presentation.
Following that train of thought, around this time last year, I was discussing how to go about “Demystifying the Carrier Cloud” in Chicago. My talking points covered architectural trade-offs between bundling and unbundling elements, which taken to a higher degree become tensions between:
- bundling in tightly coupled and/or highly integrated design models
- unbundling by decomposing services and decoupling functions to leverage shared resource pools.
No need to get bogged down by semantics, but the fact is that communication networks typically involve a great deal of software development. Most typically, the former prioritize performance while the later optimizes for ease of development and scalability. Them both involve pros and cons that translate into significant economic and operational differences depending on the use case.
So, when either Tim writes about “softwarization” or Brett talks about shifting to “software delivery models” what we all mean is that our industry is looking into decoupling:
- virtualization from custom hardware
- applications from dedicated hardware
- control from data planes
- application logic from application data
- distributed instances from a fixed location
Or, simply put, in NFV’s case this is about network functions working with smarts and data distributed across multiple virtual machines while sharing a common pool of resources and processes. This also talks to going beyond traditional make/buy and supply chain analysis to embrace FOSS (Free Open Source Software) and toolsets spearheaded and developed by communities, such as OpenStack, and new cloud ecosystems in the making.
Just to be clear, everything telco is digital in this day and age. Software is embedded in the industry’s DNA. So, the current focus is on “deconstructing” architectures and figuring out what it takes to make things programmable and dynamic, including the notion of predictive analytics, machine learning and “flexible automation” down the road.
When working on Intelligent Networks, my experience in product management and professional services was that technical prowess alone does not move the needle to a noticeable enough degree until shifts in value, investment, procurement, pricing and accounting considerations are all factored. More on how to cross that chasm in subsequent articles on this blog. It’s now time to circle back to BBWF.
The above shows a snapshot of the NFV Discussion Tool leveraged for conversations on VoLTE (Voice over LTE, Long Term Evolution) with network operators, government officials, analysts and partners at BBWF.
This version of the Discussion Tool runs on an Internet browser, is neatly organized by relevant topics and features supporting infographic style visuals. All just a single “click” away by means of always-on floating menus. When working on information architecture and concept visualization, we strived to make it easier to address, navigate and interact with complex subjects, avoiding self-defeating information overload.
This kind of a conversation experience allows dynamic storylines to be crafted on the fly, instead of relying on a repetitive and mostly linear storyboard. Basically, pertinent insights are delivered on a need to know basis when relevant. We instantly factored knowledge, interest and available time given the conversation each conversation flow. We purposely stayed away from “presentation” monologues and operated more on a “consulting” discussion mode.
Compelling and engaging demos drove our points home and helped provide with relevant experiences and the wow factor to understand and retain key concepts. Last but not least, demos prompted the next level of questions, deeper dives and richer conversations.
As far as the guiding narrative, with most early 4G deployments first focusing on mobile broadband (high speed wireless Internet access), many users are not fully aware of the fact that previous generation and older networks are still handling voice calls.
VoLTE gets both running on the 4G network instead, and it does that with high definition voice. Voice and video calls can then take full advantage of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology.
Moreover, beyond any benefits related to operating under just one and better network environment, VoLTE is about new communication experiences. NCAPI (New Conversation APIs, Application Programmable Interfaces) is an Alcatel-Lucent program exposing network resources to software developers to that end, which Gilles Duboue covers in this video.
Alex joined me at BBWF to illustrate how a Salesforce user receives an incoming call, which he/she picks up on a laptop’s web browser. This automatically displays the caller’s customer data and relationship history, placing the call in context.
When the user needs to move to another location, the phone call continues on his/her mobile phone thanks to a seamless handover that is completely transparent to the person he/she is speaking to.
This live demonstration was very well received and Alex does an excellent job at explaining how NCAPI delivers for Phonedeck’s users. So, thanks again.
Early on I referred to decoupling concepts in the context of network engineering and virtualization practices. Let’s now connect the dots. The same can be said about developing end user services where most of today’s applications consume resources and engage processes available from different domains via API. The bulk of today’s applications are, therefore, examples of distributed systems by design.
APIs are interfaces that link at least two separate components. I know that I am stating the obvious, but the point is that the behavior of the underlying component is of the essence, just being able to interface with it is not good enough. Holding that thought, let’s talk about what success looks like.
In this best case and highly desirable scenario, a fast growing number of developers work with an also growing number of APIs. As a result, innovation flourishes. This means many more new services being deployed, where more of the network resources and processes happen to be requested and consumed. And, by the way, quite a few “on demand” and only as needed. Growing end user demand adds a multiplier factor, a network and, possibly, viral effect.
In this chain reaction, would there be enough capacity to meet demand, will the network operator scale fast and far enough, or can history repeat itself and become a victim of success? Those of you familiar with these issues might have already guessed that the stage is set for the cloud demo.
The above portrays a time lapse version of a live demonstration first deployed at IDF 2014 (Intel Developers Forum) in September, where Alcatel-Lucent was the recipient of a “Best in Show” award in the Software Category as well as being honored with a “First” mention in Cloud.
Our Cloud Innovation Center shows how to automatically deploy a virtual EPC, making mobile broadband available immediately after. It then proceeds to add a virtual IMS to the mix: VoLTE becomes a live service on the spot. It takes less than one hour for this NFV system to deliver the goods, right scaling and chaining other value added services, such as Phonedeck’s application, in the process. Compare that to conventional architectures taking months and even more than a year to deploy.
We now need to insert economics in this picture: I would like to single out the “opportunity cost” which is typically defined as the loss incurred when giving up a valid alternative. This consistently came up in business case conversations with global network operators wherever concerns were raised around timely innovation and sustainable competitiveness. From a risk management standpoint, disruption materializes as the migration of value and disintermediation.
This is about measuring the opportunity cost incurred when typically waiting for more than a year to launch a new service, compare that to [a] faster time to market for [b] multiple services instead and starting with [c] significantly lower budget thresholds. My recollection is that Dimitris Mavrakis’ address at the Infovision Awards Ceremony touched on that topic as well when he shared that out of the five days that it takes Facebook to get a new service up and running, more than four are taken up by a network operator’s lead time (execution latency that is) and figuring out how to work with them.
Leading by example, our company’s investment strategy shows a strong commitment to getting key network functions delivered as VNFs (EPC and IMS being two leading examples) and our portfolio includes CloudBand’s NFV Platform, Cloud Nodes as well as Nuage Network’s SDN solution… all at the time of writing this already and with more announcements to come soon.
Overall, BBWF 2014 was a very productive event for our team. Those of us focusing on NFV were kept busy from beginning to end.
There is a need for thanking and crediting Lisa Horianopoulus and her team for all of the effort put into designing our presence and organizing a number of activities conducted at this event. Additionally, I’d like to express my gratitude to Gilles Duboue for work done in advance and, as usual, kudos to the team at the Cloud Innovation Center.
Click on the above mosaic to access the photo album on Flickr.
“The real benefit to virtualization is that we no longer have to think about networks in the “fixed” sense. Virtualization is more about being able to dynamically change and scale the network based on the ebbs and flows of traffic on the network. So instead of experiencing a lack of capacity during specific times of the day in certain locations, you can ramp up the capacity when and where you need it to meet demand and quickly scale it back when it’s not needed. The building blocks for this architecture are IP and Cloud technology — both of which can be delivered “virtually” in a datacenter.”
If there is anything that everyone can agree about — it is that Cloud is here to stay. [Network operators] want to accelerate investment at both the heart of the network IP to Ultra-Broadband Access, either fixed or mobile […] we just announced at this show a new wireline offering called micro-nodes. These are similar to a mobile ‘small cells’ in that they bring fixed ultra-broadband closer to users to massively add capacity where it is needed. That is the truly surprising aspect of this industry. Innovation is happening everywhere — in the applications, in the cloud and certainly still in the network whether it is virtualized or not.”
We are gearing up for BBWF. Alcatel-Lucent’s booth will feature seven simultaneous demonstrations. I will be there at Area 3 Demo 1 to discuss VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) in the context of NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and the Carrier Cloud.
Long story short, our industry is fulfilling expectations on the so-called “the network is the platform” paradigm. This is now possible by adopting cloud computing technologies and opening what effectively become shared resource pools consumed on demand via API (Application Programmable Interfaces).
This model advances by taking down silos as vendors such as us (Alcatel-Lucent) and our partners can now rapidly deploy applications leveraging the same infrastructure and platforms.
Not amused yet? Compare that to lengthier and far complex conventional deployments where more expensive, tightly integrated software stacks and black boxes have come to depend on dedicated hardware and fragmented management, not to mention issues arising from redundant functions, overhead, mind boggling trouble shooting and poorly utilized systems negating ROA (Return on Assets).
Here is a quick teaser, these are some of the concepts I will address at BBWF:
- SOFTWARE CENTRIC – having decoupled control and data planes, application logic from service data, we are now immersed in a more dynamic an agile software defined service environment.
- OPEN & EXTENSIBLE – the network becomes an abstraction that is transparent to the developer, enabling the application to consume resources and leverage processes via API.
- MULTI-TENANT – the underlying fabric and resulting cloud communications platform allow for application multi-tenancy and achieve so under a multi-vendor’s best of bread model.
- AUTOMATED – a catalog presents applications which can be automatically onboarded via templates / recipes, then provisioned and deployed in no time.
- SCALABLE – applications, whether VNFs (Virtual Network Functions) or end user facing online services benefit from dynamic service chaining, meeting demand curves by growing and degrowing as needed.
- PROGRAMMABLE – programmability and context awareness drive the orchestration of events and resources involved in end to end lifecycle management, which then become subject to automation and iterative improvements.
- PLACEMENT – the efficient placement of loads entails analytics and algorithms understanding when is best to centralize and consolidate or to leverage distributed systems, all based on capacity management rules and SLA (Service Level Agreements).
- ECONOMICS – feature and performance parity are achieved under leaner and cost efficient operations, a smaller physical footprint, and significantly lower opportunity costs and, therefore, risks.
As Michel pointed out in the above interview, the telecommunications industry is no longer at a cross-road pondering what the future might entail. After having been involved in cloud projects for the past five years, it is clear that we are facing a point of no return, which is forcing a path forward. The industry’s cloud journey has already begun.
This is not about “drinking the Kool-Aid” and marketing spin. Most would agree that legacy systems that served the industry well can now lead to network bloatware and a patchwork, unable to gracefully scale as demand shifts. Many would also nod their heads when acknowledging that the above concepts are not really new to the telecommunications industry: them all have been broadly discussed in the past twenty years or so. But, this time around, current attempts benefit from dramatically different economics, a new ecosystem, lessons learned and proven IT models that are leading the way.
Given the fact that we are discussing emerging technologies and disruptive rather than incremental innovation, this is not without the usual challenges involving next generation systems. So, in our discussion we will also look at maturity levels, technology readiness, pivoting in the midst of market changes, talent, organizational behaviors and lessons learned, and I will be happy to discuss NFV economics.
AREA 3 DEMO 1 – VoLTE Innovation and Growth – What Services to Launch.
“Alcatel-Lucent’s market-leading Cloud Communications Platform combines proven, robust VoLTE performance together with open innovation based on the emergence of new technologies such as WebRTC and IMS APIs. Complementing the solution, Alcatel-Lucent also brings a dynamic ecosystem of developers who use our Web Developer Portal and Sandbox to develop and test new compelling applications and services.”
“For this Broadband World Forum edition we have especially selected some of those apps for you. Come see Alcatel-Lucent’s “VoLTE Innovation and Growth” demonstration and embark on a new communications journey of competitive, innovative apps that enrich the subscribers’ broadband experience (fixed & mobile), thereby helping you to deliver new services to the market faster and make the shift to today’s data-dominant revenues. Through this demonstration you will see with our Cloud Communications Platform how you can:
- Use Network APIs to enrich VoLTE service with added features
- Use WebRTC client APIs to extend VoLTE service to the web (second screen such as a tablet, PC, TV, etc.)
- Mix Client and Network-side APIs to integrate Communications into Business Process (Communications as a Feature) and deliver an integrated CRM experience across Fixed and Mobile (Saleforce.com integration).”
AREA 3 DEMO 2 – Dynamic Services with NFV and SDN.
“To gain competitive advantage, service providers are continually looking for creative services and enhanced service options. NFV provides the opportunity to dynamically deploy new functionality without causing service disruption or CPE change. The demo will show how services can be rapidly composed, deployed and modified (service chaining) and how they are automatically scaled up to meet surges in demand. It will demonstrate how the network adapts automatically in tune with the changing service requests highlighting the value of integrated NFV and SDN.”
See you in Amsterdam : )