The biggest challenge facing telecoms operators today is the need to build new revenues and at the same time cut costs, according to China's Huawei, which on Wednesday highlighted network functions virtualisation (NFV) as a key element in addressing that challenge.
Huawei says it is already working with a number of big operators on NFV and has pledged to make it the focus of its R&D efforts over the next five years. But no vendor will be able to go it alone, and Huawei accepts that it is no exception.
"The market for the carrier in the next 10 years is constantly changing," said Sanqi Li, CTO of Huawei's carrier networks business, at a press and analyst event in London. "You're not looking for stability, you're looking to build agility," he said.
Huawei is heavily pushing SoftCOM, the cloud-based network architecture concept that includes NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) elements that it unveiled a year ago. Its goal is to enable telcos to leverage their existing network infrastructure, or their "hard assets" and their soft assets, or core service capability, Li explained.
"[We want to] transform the telco network to the cloud…[and] minimise the transformation cost," he said.
When it comes to NFV, "we are working with tier one carriers," Li said, although the technology is still being tested in lab and field trials. Huawei named Deutsche Telekom as one such tier one that is trialling NFV.
"[We are] expecting some commercial deployments…maybe in the middle of this year," added Libin Dai, director of integrated solutions at Huawei.
"We are engaging at this moment not just with European tier one carriers," Dai went on, explaining that Huawei is also working with smaller operators outside of Europe and North America, who are "starting to look at the possibility of commercial deployment," in markets like Japan and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region.
Key to the development of NFV will be the ongoing standardisation efforts and the creation of open platforms.
"I don't think anyone will provide end-to-end [solutions]…including Huawei," said Li. Carriers will continue with their multi-vendor policies, so "it has got to be open. Noone can provide end-to-end by themselves," he said.
Carriers will have a choice of suppliers and "whoever we need to work with, we work with."