Earlier this year Tellabs released a report compiled on its behalf by Strategy Analytics that suggested that operators were facing a $9 billion shortfall in mobile backhaul investment. If operators were to
Today, Strategy Analytics has come back to the table and said that if SDN technologies were applied to backhaul, operators could effectively save themselves $5 billion of those capex investments.
The outline of the report is that by allocating resources dynamically, adopting a centrally controlled architecture, operators could save themselves about half the capex required if they were to achieve the same results by investing in dedicated resources. The paper outlines five use cases in the mobile backhaul where SDN could bring those capex advantages: Metro Aggregation/Load Redistribution, Local Breakout/Internet IXP, Wi-Fi Offload/Video Redirect, Cloud RAN, Small Cells.
What we are seeing then, is a vendor arguing the case for lower capital investment, whilst hoping to position itself as well-equipped to help the operator make those savings. TMN asked Tellabs’ Stuart Bennington, Director of Global Portfolio Strategy, if what we are seeing with SDN is a smaller pie, but a chance for vendors to change how the pie is served.
“That,” he said, “is an astute observation. The question is whether you view that as a risk to the business or embrace it. The realistic thing to do is to map your portfolio to meet the requirements that operators have as they transition their networks to ones that are very optimised to content and applications.”
So what will vendors compete with, in this SDN world?
“With SDN is that this market becomes about software, so companies with a background in innovating in software in specific areas will have an advantage,” Bennington said. “It’s a great equaliser when you are competing in the arena of ideas rather than economies of scale on hardware.”
For Tellabs, that means it can leverage its specific knowledge of management techniques for backhaul, and also its multi-layer management capability (from optical up to Layer 3).
“Tellabs has a 20 year background in mobile backhaul, we’ve learnt that the glamourous technologies are not the most attractive to operators. For example, with specific management techniques for mobile backhaul like automatic cell site reparenting, you only appreciate that if you have the heritage in mobile backhaul,” Bennington said.
Finally, SDN will give companies an opportunity to work with operators on demonstrating that it can enable a creative business model, Bennington said. An example of that is the five use cases highlighted above.
That background has given Tellabs the opportunity to undertake to major proof of concept SDN trials, due to start with Tier 1 operators later this year. The trials will use Tellabs’ edge and metro routers, and its network management solution to trial aspects such as assigning dynamic priority on an application basis, defragmentation of the network to consolidate connections that are not being optimally used, and multi layer network slicing to create virtual pieces of the network across different layers based on the end user. Tellabs equipment compatible with the OpenFlow control protocol will be used to trial all these SDN capabilities, Bennignton said.
But the approach will be phased. For example, Tellabs sees its network manager product evolving into a controller that configures and orchestrates the network, rather than merely acting as an element management tool. And its important too to recognise that Bennington and Tellabs see SDN as being about much more than capex savings – in times there will be greater opex savings from application aware networks, and even the golden goal of enhanced service and revenue opportunities.
For now, the desire of operators to achieve cost reduction and operational flexibility through the application of SDN is challenging vendors to assess how they will play, and how much of the new pie they will be sitting down to eat come dinner time.