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Expect a lot of NFV and RTC out of MWC

February 25, 2015

The countdown to Mobile World Congress 2015 is in high gear as the first day of the show on March 2 approaches.   With LTE providing an all new, all-IP network for carriers, software-based concepts such as Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and real time communications (RTC) are hot topics.  That's where real innovation is occurring, not in the whitewash of VoLTE/HD voice/Wi-Fi calling that some in the industry are shamelessly plugging.

NFV is attracting a lot of big names to the table. Alcatel-Lucent, Cyan, GENBAND, HP, Intel, Kontron and Wind River will be demonstrating and discussing how NFV brings both greater flexibility and lower costs to operating a network by leveraging software and open standards hardware.  Network functions can be consolidated on the cloud, reducing both capital expenditures -- using off the shelf servers instead of locking into proprietary gear -- and operational expenditures, since processes and servers can be reconfigured on an as-needed basis, instead of building a fixed architecture that has to build for peak loads.

Among the demonstrations at MWC 2015 will be NFV SBC applications by GENBAND, showing how service providers can both process media while adhering to all the tenants of NFV, rather than simply virtualizing an SBC and sticking it in the cloud.

But it's not just NFV demonstrations that are taking place. Telekom Austria has built a multi-vendor NFV core at its Serbian subsidiary.  Vip Mobile built a full NFV implementation of a voice over LTE (VoLTE) service and is moving from live network testing into production service.  Since Telekom Austria is already deploying a virtualized evolved packet core (EPC) in all of its subsidiaries, it is laying the ground work to have an agile, flexible network infrastructure to quickly deploy and reconfigure services.

If you can fully deliver VoLTE as an NFV implementation, most anything else is possible.  WebRTC delivers a range of services through standards-based APIs, including presence, instant messaging, voice, video, file sharing and screen sharing.  A number of companies offer WebRTC-as-a-service (WaaS), enabling developers to quickly add RTC features that can be used in almost any browser or mobile platform (Apple, will you hurry up and add WebRTC support to Mac OS Safari already, please...).

WebRTC is going to be an applications-level foundation for delivering RTC services on IP networks, both wireline and wireless based. As such, I expect WaaS needs to ebb and flow on demand, and to be supported within the network, with WebRTC and NFV crossing paths all the time.

For instance, consider the need for a WebRTC gateway between legacy services and the PSTN. A service provider may use NFV to spin-up support for SBCs and other moving parts to support a WebRTC gateway, but with everything held in software within the network.  NFV may/will be needed to add quality of service (QoS) characteristics to WebRTC sessions involving voice and video, especially when WebRTC apps "go large" with multi-person videoconferencing.

Transcoding is likely the big area where NFV and WebRTC will cross paths.  A NFV SBC can handle transcoding for WebRTC applications, especially when it comes to working between software-only based clients using Opus and VP8 and legacy systems with G.722 and H.264. But transcoding support is variable, dependent upon the number of legacy clients involved at any time of the day. It's a perfect application for an NFV-based SBC.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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