Where is the telecom cloud?

NFV - Network Function Virtualisation - the idea that core telecom network functions could be encapsulated in software and then run as virtual instances in the cloud - dominated a certain section of Mobile World Congress.

The attraction of such an approach, if it can be figured out, is that operators could operate much more efficiently. To take one example, they dynamically turn capacity up when certain functions see a spike in traffic, and then turn that instance down when demand lowers. That would avoid the “over-provisioning” we see now where operators have to provision for peak.

But with all this talk of virtualised, cloud-based instances of network functions, one question to as is: where is the cloud?

NSN’s Thorsten Robrecht recently outlined to TMN, really as an illustration, an “extreme case” of an entire telco core network being hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS). NEC and Telefonica were showing a virtual EPC case study at Mobile World Congress, with Intel also demonstrating a virtual core. Meanwhile, Mavenir was showing a virtualised VoLTE and RCS concept using VMware virtualisation tools.

You’d expect carriers to feel more secure operating their own cloud-based networks, of course, but there are already companies that provide hosted services for mobile operators that may then become natural candidates to host virtualised instances of network functions. One such set of companies is formed of the interconnect and exchange providers such as Mach, Syniverse, Sybase 365 and iBasis. (Many carriers also run peering points and exchanges, of course, including the likes of BICS, DTICSS, TATA and Telecom Italia Sparkle.)

Syniverse, currently going through regulatory procedures to get the OK for the proposed acquisition of MACH, provides connectivity between over 1,000 carriers, providing roaming services and interoperability, as well as financial clearing. But the company also provides services for operators, such as roaming value added services and data analytics, built on top of that connectivity. And since the late 1990s the company has operated as cloud host for operator services, such as a fully-hosted HLR for a GM telematics service run on the Verizon network.

John Wick, Senior VP Network Services, Syniverse, said, “We’ve been a hosted service provider for ever, so if the the market direction is that there are other key core assets that carriers are willing to put in the cloud, the likes of the EPC as an example, then we’re certainly going to be part of that and are one of the obvious companies that’s going to support that.”

“It’s not happening right now, it’s kind of an area for study in the industry. We’re happy to host an HSS, for example, for a carrier, and have done that type of service and application many times over the ears. If functionality can be virtualised and put into the cloud then that fits right into our business model. One thing we have to do is design core assets that can support multiple customers, so modules or candidates to put in the cloud will have to be multi tenant. Syniverse will deploy one occurrence of virtual machine in London and support tens of carriers with that same virtual environment.”

Referencing the GM telematics service, Wick said that “operating those types of apps higher above the network layer is something we’ve been doing for 25 years. Moving these apps to the cloud is a perfect fit for us. 1,000 carriers already trust us to host critical information on a common platform with their competitors”.

Wick added that although Syniverse acts as an interconnect hub, it is also moving “closer to the inside” of mobile operators’ networks, as it uses the roaming and interconnect data it has to let carriers build value added services and other use cases. “Over time as we get closer to our data we’ve got closer to that doorway to the inside of the carrier network, closer to their internal systems, marrying our data sets to their internal systems, such as CRM or billing.”

Its role as an independent provider means Syniverse’s carriers can feel “connected but protected”.

That move up the value chain, away from merely providing connectivity, but building services and applications based on that connectivity, is something the Exchange providers have been doing for years. The telecoms cloud could provide them with another opportunity.

Over time as we get closer to our data we’ve got closer to that doorway to the inside of the carrier network, closer to their internal systems.

Building the mobille network: how does Syniverse build its network?

What’s on John Wick’s shopping list?
1. Bandwidth: “We buy a lot of bandwidth from the wholesale market to give us the capacity we need: any wholesale bandwidth provider around the world we have a deal with them.”
2. Routers and switches. “We buy a lot of routers and switches at the perimeter level.”
3. Servers: “We buy a lot of hardware: big servers that are processing billions of units a day through decisioning apps, enabling SMS, roaming…”
4. Storage: “We need another set of memory based servers for storage.”
5. Datacentre space: “We also buy floorspace and power from Equinix. Within the datacentre we operate all our own stuff and if we need to do something to it it’s our people that go in and do it.”