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June 30, 2017

Are network operators going to embrace open source in time for 5G?

By GlobalData Technology

Network operators like AT&T are making their networks virtual to support increasing demand and new services and open source and virtualisation go hand-in-hand, but operator resistance could impact their move toward 5G-ready networks.

Telecom networks are under tremendous pressure to perform.

Demand for new services like 5G and Internet of Things mean that network traffic will not only continue to increase almost exponentially, but also must be managed far differently from today’s conventional voice and messaging services.

At the same time, in the wake of flat or declining revenue, operators are under increasing pressure from customers and investors to move much faster and smarter than ever before in rolling out new and attractive services to customers if they are to regain the ground lost to streaming service providers.

Making networks virtual is the way in which operators hope to deal with all this – and the use of open source software is a major piece of the equation.

So far this looks to be working, at least at the data centre layer of the network, where operators and their vendors feel increasing comfortable with using open source rather than proprietary products in delivering highly reliable and often mission-critical telecom services.

But when it comes to the real-time management of this new virtual network, the use of open source software is dividing opinion — it even threatens to derail the whole network virtualisation process, for without real-time network management, the virtualisation network cannot deliver all the benefits that operators desperately need.

The new battleground between open source and proprietary products is in what’s known as management and network orchestration, and it’s not at all certain that open source will win out as it has done elsewhere.

A March survey by SDxCentral reported that 26 percent of users will not consider open source management and network orchestration.

In the same report, 49 percent also said that they will consider open source management and network orchestration once it is more mature.

In a separate poll earlier this month, GlobalData reported a 50 percent split in opinion, spread across both carrier and vendors.

While no survey or poll is ever an accurate portrayal of the real world, these results show that, at least for now, open source management and network orchestration has certainly not gained majority industry acceptance.

But will it ever gain that acceptance?

That’s still an open question. Operator resistance to open source management and network orchestration appears to have introduced an unhelpful pause by carriers which, given the pressures they are under, they can ill afford to indulge.

Others see open source management and network orchestration as something that will eventually make like easier for the whole industry, both operators and vendors.

The wisest operators are likely those pursuing a dual track approach – using a proprietary vendor solution to get their virtualisation network at least off the ground today, while seriously evaluating open source management and network orchestration offerings as alternatives for the future.

Time is certainly not on the operator’s side, failure to launch a management and network orchestration-enabled virtualisation network before 5G goes mainstream would likely condemn an operator to a path of terminal decline.

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