Indian telcos are taking a cautious approach when it comes to the rollout of next-generation network technologies such as SDN and NFV.
As a result, the virtualization of telco networks in India is still at an early stage. “As of now only two Indian telcos, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India, are including virtualization in their network strategies,” says a senior executive at a prominent vendor on condition of anonymity. “These telcos have taken a lead because of guidance from their global partners.”
As part of a new initiative that will see it invest $9 billion in transforming its networks, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) plans to use SDN to improve customer experience. “Airtel will invest in a broad range of tools that includes SON [self-organizing networks], geo-spatial network tools for targeted network planning, capacity enhancements, CEM [customer experience management] as well as software-defined networks that will dramatically improve customer experience,” says the press note issued by the company. (See Bharti’s $9B Network Splurge in India.)
Because the need to maintain legacy networks can make virtualization difficult, some industry observers think Reliance Jio — a new entrant developing 4G services — may have an advantage over the existing operators in this area. In its recent presentation to investors for the three months to September 2015, the company said it was building an all-IP network providing a clear foundation for SDN and NFV evolution.
“It is a multi-factorial issue,” says Amresh Nandan, director of communication services provider research at Gartner India. “It will take a long time for telcos to virtualize and move to software-controlled networking. With NFV, RJio will be able to save some costs in launch of services as compared to competitors, which would mean a better timeframe for return on investment. They might also reach their break-even point sooner. However, the initial benefits for them would be in the cost savings area only.”
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Moreover, any Indian operator planning on virtualizing its networks will encounter challenges to do with staffing and skills. Virtualization is new territory for operators and demands a fundamental shift in their entire approach to building network infrastructure.
Indian players have tended to adopt a wait-and-see policy when it comes to rolling out new technologies, and they are likely to do the same with virtualization. Only when others have been able to realize benefits, and the technology has matured, will many start to make investments.
“Theoretically RJio might have an advantage over incumbents but that might not be the case in practical terms,” says Nandan. “Even the leading telcos in other geographies who have committed to this technology have deployed NFV only in select segments. They are only starting with the use of SDN for select parts of networks, such as packet core, IMS or virtual CPE. The technology is still evolving and a lot has yet to be done to realize the benefits.”