Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes on Sunday announced a network functions virtualisation (NFV) partnership with Intel, predicting adoption of NFV will become mainstream in 2015.

Speaking at a press conference on the eve of Mobile World Congress, he said he expects IMS and evolved packet cores (EPC) will be the two major pieces of network infrastructure that operators will virtualise first. The deployment of virtual radio access networks (RAN), where the control plane is hosted in a separate location to the cell site, will take a bit longer, he said.

"The nature of the game for operators is monetising their network differentiation," Combes said, because NFV enables them to respond more rapidly to changes in network load and provide a consistent quality of service.

From Alcatel-Lucent's point of view, "the [NFV] portfolio we announced is already up and running," he added.

In a bid to put it ahead of its rivals, Alcatel-Lucent has partnered with Intel to ensure its NFV products are optimised for servers running on Intel architecture.

"It gives us an opportunity to stay ahead" of the competition, Combes said.

Intel president Renée James said NFV has reached approximately the mid-point of its development from concept into commercial reality.

"Most technology transitions take about a decade," she said. "We're several years in already…[and] we're hitting the mid-point where people start to spend money."

Combes, in the style of many his former colleagues at the likes of Orange and Vodafone, also took the opportunity to bemoan Europe's regulatory landscape.

The telecoms industry "requires investment", he said. Some places, like the U.S. have recognised this and have created market conditions to encourage investment.

"Unfortunately I see one region which is not yet there which is Europe," he said.

He said the continent is stuck in a vicious circle of regulatory margin pressure leading to under investment and a lacklustre digital ecosystem.

"We need to break this cycle and for that to happen regulation needs to evolve," he said.