The new telcos: A field guide

Introduction

The traditional industry view is that “telcos” are a well-defined and fairly cohesive group. Industry associations like GSMA, ETNO, CTIA and others have typically been fairly homogeneous collections of fixed or mobile operators, only really varying in size. The third-ranked mobile operator in Bolivia has not really been that different from AT&T or Vodafone in terms of technology, business model or vendor relationships.

Our own company, STL Partners used to have the brand “Telco 2.0”. However, our main baseline assumption then was that the industry was mostly made up the same network operators, but using a new 2.0 set of business models.

This situation is now changing. Telecom service providers – telcos – are starting to emerge in a huge variety of new shapes, sizes and backgrounds. There is fragmentation in technology strategy, target audiences, go-to-market and regional/national/international scope.

This report is not a full explanation of all the different strategies, services and technological architecture. Instead of analysing all of the “metabolic” functions and “evolutionary mechanisms”, this is more of a field-guide to all the new species of telco that the industry is starting to see. More detail on the enablers – such as fibre, 5G and cloud-based infrastructure – and the demand-side (such as vertical industries’ communications needs and applications) can be found in our other output.

The report provides descriptions with broad contours of motivation, service-offerings and implications for incumbents. We are not “taking sides” here. If new telcos push out the older species, that’s just evolution of those “red in tooth and claw”. We’re taking the role of field zoologists, not conservationists.

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Field guides are collections/lists of natural & human phenomena

animal-species-telcos-stl-partners

Source: Amazon, respective publishers’ copyright

The historical landscape

The term “telco” is a little slippery to define, but most observers would likely agree that the “traditional” telecoms industry has mostly been made up of the following groups of CSPs:

  • MNOs: Countries usually have a few major mobile network operators (MNOs) that are typically national, or sometimes regional.
  • Fixed operators: Markets also have infrastructure-based fixed telcos, usually with one (or a small number) that were originally national state-owned monopolies, plus a select number of other licensed providers, often with greenfield FTTX fibre. Some countries have a vibrant array of smaller “AltNets”, or competitive carriers (originally known as CLECs in the US).
  • Converged operators: These combine fixed and mobile operations in the same business or group. Sometimes they are arms-length (or even in different countries), but many try to offer combined or converged service propositions.
  • Wholesale telcos: There is a tier of a few major international operators that provide interconnect services and other capabilities. Often these have been subsidiaries (or joint ventures) of national telcos.

In addition to these, the communications industry in each market has also often had an array of secondary connectivity or telecom service providers as a kind “supporting cast”, which generally have not been viewed as “telecom operators”. This is either because they fall into different regulatory buckets, only target niche markets, or tend to use different technologies. These have included:

  • MVNOs
  • Towercos
  • Internet Exchanges
  • (W)ISPs
  • Satellite operators

Some of these have had a strong overlap with telcos, or have been spun-out or acquired at various times, but they have broadly remained as independent organisations. Importantly, many of these now look much more like “proper telcos” than they did in the past.

Why are “new telcos” emerging now?

To some extent, many of the classes of new telco have been “hiding in plain sight” for some time. MVNOs, towercos and numerous other SPs have been “telcos in all but name”, even if the industry has often ignored them. There has sometimes been a divisive “them and us” categorisation, especially applied when comparing older operators with cloud-based communications companies, or what STL has previously referred to as “under the floor” infrastructure owners. This attitude has been fairly common within governments and regulators, as well as among operator executives and staff.

However, there are now two groups of trends which are leading to the blurring of lines between “proper telcos” and other players:

  • Supply-side trends: The growing availability of the key building blocks of telcos – core networks, spectrum, fibre, equipment, locations and so on – is leading to democratisation. Virtualisation and openness, as well as a push for vendor diversification, is helping make it easier for new entrants, or adjacent players, to build telecom-style networks
  • Demand-side trends: A far richer range of telecom use-cases and customer types is pulling through specialist network builders and operators. These can start with specific geographies, or industry verticals, and then expand from there to other domains. Private 4G/5G networks and remote/underserved locations are good examples which need customisation and specialisation, but there are numerous other demand drivers for new types of service (and service provider), as well as alternative business models.

Taken together, the supply and demand factors are leading to the creation of new types of telcos (sometimes from established SPs, and sometimes greenfield) which are often competing with the incumbents.

While there is a stereotypical lobbying complaint about “level playing fields”, the reality is that there are now a whole range of different telecom “sports” emerging, with competitors arranged on courses, tracks, fields and hills, many of which are inherently not “level”. It’s down to the participants – whether old or new – to train appropriately and use suitable gear for each contest.

Virtualisation & cloudification of networks helps newcomers as well as existing operators

virtualisation-cloudification-networks-STL-Partners

Source: STL Partners

Where are new telcos likeliest to emerge?

Most new telcos tend to focus initially on specific niche markets. Only a handful of recent entrants have raised enough capital to build out entire national networks, either with fixed or mobile networks. Jio, Rakuten Mobile and Dish are all exceptions – and ones which came with a significant industrial heritage and regulatory impetus that enabled them to scale broadly.

Instead, most new service providers have focused on specific domains, with some expanding more broadly at a later point. Examples of the geographic / customer niches for new operators include:

  • Enterprise private 4G/5G networks
  • Rural network services (or other isolated areas like mountains, offshore areas or islands)
  • Municipality / city-level services
  • National backbone fibre networks
  • Critical communications users (e.g. utilities)
  • Wholesale-only / shared infrastructure provision (e.g. neutral host)

This report sets out…

..to through each of the new “species” of telcos in turn. There is a certain level of overlap between the categories, as some organisations are developing networking offers in various domains in parallel (for instance, Cellnex offering towers, private networks, neutral host and RAN outsourcing).

The new telcos have been grouped into categories, based on some broad similarities:

  • “Evolved” traditional telcos: operators, or units of operators, that are recognisable from today’s companies and brands, or are new-entrant “peers” of these.
  • Adjacent wireless providers: these are service provider categories that have been established for many years, but which are now overlapping ever more closely with “traditional” telcos.
  • Enterprise and government telcos: these are other large organisations that are shifting from being “users” of telecoms, or building internal network assets, towards offering public telecom-type services.
  • Others: this is a catch-all category that spans various niche innovation models. One particular group here, decentralised/blockchain-based telcos, is analysed in more detail.

In each case, the category is examined briefly on the basis of:

  • Background and motivation of operators
  • Typical services and infrastructure being deployed
  • Examples (approx. 3-4 of each type)
  • Implications for mainstream telcos

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Overview
    • New telco categories and service areas
    • Recommendations for traditional fixed/mobile operators
    • Recommendations for vendors and suppliers
    • Recommendations for regulators, governments & advisors
  • Introduction
    • The historical landscape
    • Why are “new telcos” emerging now?
    • Where are new telcos likeliest to emerge?
    • Structure of this document
  • “Evolved” traditional telcos
    • Greenfield national networks
    • Telco systems integration units
    • “Crossover” Mobile, Fixed & cable operators
    • Extra-territorial telcos
  • Adjacent wireless providers
    • Neutral host network providers
    • TowerCos
    • FWA Fixed Wireless Access (WISPs)
    • Satellite players
  • Enterprise & government telcos
    • Industrial / vertical MNOs
    • Utility companies offering commercial telecom services
    • Enterprises’ corporate IT network service groups
    • Governments & public sector
  • New categories
    • Decentralised telcos (blockchain / cryptocurrency-based)
    • Other “new telco” categories
  • Conclusions

Related Research

 

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Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker: 5G standalone and RAN

Telco cloud 2.0, fuelled by 5G standalone and RAN, is on the starting grid

This report accompanies the latest release and update of STL Partners ‘Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of VNFs (Virtual Network Functions), CNFs (cloud-native network functions) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past nine years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

Access our Telco Cloud Tracker here

Download the additional file for the full dataset of Telco Cloud deployments

Scope and content of the Tracker

The data in the latest update of our interactive tool and database covers the period up to September 2021, although reference is made in the report to events and deployments after that date. The data is drawn predominantly from public-domain information contained in news releases from operators and vendors, along with reputable industry media.

We apply the term ‘deployment’ to refer to the total set of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, and their associated management software and infrastructure, deployed at an operator – or at one or more of an operator’s opcos or natcos – in order to achieve a defined objective or support particular services (in the spreadsheet, we designate these as the ‘primary purpose’ of the deployment). For example, this could be:

  • to deploy a 5G standalone core
  • to launch a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) service
  • or to construct a ‘telco cloud’ or NFV infrastructure (NFVi): a cloud infrastructure platform on which virtualised network services can be introduced and operated.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive tool containing line-by-line analysis of over 900 individual deployments of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, which can be used to drill down by:

  • Region where deployed
  • Operator
  • Technology vendor
  • Primary purpose
  • Category of NFV/SDN technology deployed
  • …and more filters

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5G standalone (SA) will hit an inflection point in 2022

5G standalone (SA) core is beginning to take off, with 19 deployments so far expected to be completed in 2022. The eventual total will be higher still, as will that of NSA core, as NSA 5G networks continue to be launched. As non-standalone (NSA) cores are replaced by SA, this will result in another massive wave of core deployments – probably from 2023/4 onwards.

Standalone 5G vs non-standalone 5G core deployments

STL-5G-standalone-core-cloud-tracker-2021

Source: STL Partners

 

Previous telco cloud tracker releases

Each new release of the tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in given regions from time to time:

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Delivering on SD-WAN: How to choose the right partners

SD-WAN has been made in North America…

65% of the North American operators featured in our Telco Cloud Tracker had deployed SD-WAN by the end of 2020

By contrast, 49% Asia-Pacific-based telcos had launched SD-WAN in their region by the same time and 44% European telcos were offering SD-WAN within Europe

As this market matures operators that are new to the market, or seeking to expand their services internationally, should choose an SD-WAN platform that will enable them to differentiate in their local markets or play to the telcos strengths.

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Challenges for telcos considering introducing SD-WAN

  1. Lack of relevant skills or experience: telcos worry about risks of ‘outsourcing’ a significant part of their WAN services, operations and infrastructure to SD-WAN vendor; and about integration with BSS / OSS etc.
    • Leading SD-WAN vendors collaborate closely with telcos to facilitate integration of their platforms with telcos’ networks and services
    • SD-WAN platforms provide management interfaces that are easy for non-technical staff to operate, and offer visibility into application workflows and network KPIs
  2. How to differentiate SD-WAN service: how to offer USPs for the local market and differentiate from competitors
    • Ensure you choose an SD-WAN platform that suits the key needs of your customer base (see competitive analysis in next section)
    • Differentiation can also be achieved through the services telcos and vendors offer around SD-WAN products, e.g. good local market and language support
  3. Absence of appropriate infrastructure, facilities and networks: e.g. lack of fixed broadband networks; insufficient SD-WAN platform support for LTE / 5G
    • Many SD-WAN platforms offer LTE and 5G connectivity mainly as a back-up to IP-MPLS and fixed broadband. But many telcos, especially in emerging markets, serve enterprise sites through FWA. How well do platforms support this?
    • Many SD-WAN platforms rely on redundant connectivity to cloud-based hubs: are these always available for telcos serving remote areas?
  4. Risk of cannibalising enterprise revenues and compromising ROI from existing products and assets: e.g. IP-MPLS; IP-VPN; dedicated Internet; etc.
    • Telcos can offer different classes of SD-WAN at different price points, inc. overlay-only services to clients that want them
    • SD-WAN now seen as a value-add to IP-MPLS, for which a premium can be charged: can be integrated with telcos’ managed services offerings

How to assess the different SD-WAN platforms?

How to assess SD-WAN paltforms

Source: STL Partners

The rest of this report includes a competitive analysis of key SD-WAN platform players and how they can enable telcos’ to meet enterprise customer needs and future proof their SD-WAN investments.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • What are the challenges to introducing SD-WAN
  • Assessing different SD-WAN platforms
    • Cisco
    • VMWare
    • Fortinet
    • Versa Networks
    • Palo Alto
    • Silver Peak
    • Juniper
    • Aryaka
  • A framework for selecting and implementing SD-WAN platforms

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The state of the art on work from home propositions

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WFH: From survival to strategy

The imposed shift to homeworking has divided many businesses. Some (including Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Microsoft, Indeed, AMEX, Mastercard) say they will never require office work again, whereas others are eager to bring back the personal element and re-introduce the “office dynamic”. The concept of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ has left some people pining for the office, and many companies find themselves on standby, aiming to reopen the offices to all staff during 2021.

A survey by Ipsos MORI found that the majority of people expect normality to return somewhere between six months to two years. One thing is apparent – the ability and timing to even consider a full return to work is uncertain.

Figure 1: Ipsos MORI survey of homeworkers in the UK

Ipsos Mori WFH survey

Source: Ipsos MORI

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When the lockdowns started, uncertainty caused paralysis to strategic initiatives as budgets diverted towards creating a Work From Home (WFH) culture. Survival became the priority for businesses, delaying planned spend on corporate connectivity and networking. That same survival instinct saw telcos and suppliers react and reposition products and services toward remote work.

As WFH continued throughout the pandemic various advantages came to the fore, such as reduction in pollution from travel and the ability to hire great talent which may not be located near a corporate office. Businesses started or accelerated a journey of massive (and sometimes painful) transformation but, from that, have either accelerated or embarked on a digital transformation journey. The gains in efficiency and business opportunity have the potential to be significant. WFH is no longer an approach to survival but instead, part of a broader strategy to optimise operations across a

increasingly complex physical and digital worlds. This growing need across all enterprises and consumers is one of the key elements within STL’s vision of the Coordination Age.

A hybrid approach is here to stay

Homeworking must continue for some time to come as we wait for the pandemic to subside. As we have adopted a homeworking culture, albeit forced upon us, the investments in people, technologies and processes have already been committed. Although there is much conflicting opinion about the long-term outcomes, there is no looking back. The workplace has transformed, and the connectivity and business enablement products to support it have become commonplace.

There are three considerations which will continue to drive the support and growth of WFH.

  1. Covid-19 does not have a defined end. The uncertainty and unfortunate lengthy road to fully managing the virus means that businesses will need to continue efforts towards supporting a large amount of remote work.
  2. Remaining relevant. Many businesses will embrace a no-office, online-only culture (including typical storefronts) in response to changing customer and employee preferences. To do business in such an environment will require the adoption of the latest online tools and practices.
  3. Investment in digital transformation. Before Covid-19 and independent to any prior appetite for home working, digital transformation has already led many businesses to adopt cloud services, online collaboration tools and uCaaS solutions for voice and video. It is now generally accepted that Covid-19 has accelerated and rapidly matured the integration of these solutions into many businesses. According to BT, the “technology/digital transformation journey” in the UK has been sped up by almost 5.5 years.

The support of WFH, fully or hybrid, is therefore strategic and something likely to feature in business plans for the foreseeable future. Even when offices do eventually begin to fill up again, work from home will transition and merge into the “work from anywhere” culture.

Telcos are in a unique position to provide all the connectivity and services required to assist in these projects, but to do that they need to offer appropriately positioned solutions. As consumer and business connectivity become intertwined, it creates a large area of uncertainty for businesses. As both consumer and business connectivity are core competencies for telcos, bringing the two together is the next natural step.

The telco role: An opportunity or obligation?

The adaptation of businesses towards increased homeworking is, of course, complex and touches nearly every part of the business, from people to processes and technology. Almost every business function will have invested considerable time and effort towards establishing new ways of working. In many cases, this would result in a change to the supporting technologies.

Underpinning all of this is a large assumption that each employee will be able to reliably connect to the new virtual business environment from wherever they want, and the technology will just work. To all but the most technically advanced businesses, the homeworker’s personal connectivity is just that – personal – and not an area that many businesses can currently manage.

The telco is in a unique position when it comes to WFH as it can touch every part of the service delivery chain. With many businesses unable to address the broad spectrum of WFH needs, the opportunity for telcos is to offer the enabling services. Telco solutions must now support businesses by providing the right mix of physical connectivity and enablement services.

Figure 2: The telco touchpoints in WFH service delivery

The touch points in telco WFH service delivery

Source: STL Partners

Telcos have had an obligation to provide continued service to businesses and homes, throughout the pandemic. Universal service obligations needed to be maintained while national charters to keep the country connected were agreed. When the pandemic started, the demand for connectivity within the business segment shifted to the consumer segment and telcos had to respond.

Businesses initially froze all internal connectivity projects and focused on the remote workforce — this impacted Q2 revenues in telcos’ business segments. At the same time telcos did everything they could to make the transition as easy as possible, removing data limits and speed caps and providing free trials of collaboration and communications tools. More detail is provided in STL Partners review of the initial telco responses.

Figure 3: Liberty Global Q3 2020 results illustrate the impact to the business segment

Liberty Global Q320 results

Source: Liberty Global

Eventually IT infrastructure projects re-started. Businesses with significant office-based operations (as opposed to, e.g. manufacturing) applied new focus on creating more flexible and agile networks which can support mass WFH. The dependency on digital collaboration and ensuring that homeworkers can work without disruption has now become a high priority. A Q3 improvement in business spending is partly down to collaboration enabling technologies creating new opportunities for telcos – to address the shifts from legacy business spend on connecting large sites towards a more distributed concept where households connectivity is both personal and business focused.

Consumer connectivity products must now simply articulate the support for all household needs, including WFH. Business products must enable the agility a business needs to adapt to any future changes, while easily embracing their employees’ consumer connectivity.

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • A six point plan for embracing WFH opportunities
    • How telcos responded to ‘work going home’ in 2020
    • Two essential areas in need of development
    • What next: Considerations for different types of telco
  • Introduction
    • WFH: From survival to strategy
    • A hybrid approach is here to stay
    • The telco role: An opportunity or obligation?
    • Embracing the consumer architecture
  • The WFH journey: From initial responses to strategic opportunities
    • Uncoordinated connectivity: The initial stakeholder responses
    • Intelligent networking for WFH
    • Long term WFH: The telco opportunity
  • Telco WFH propositions today
    • How telcos are positioning WFH services
    • Consumer broadband: Overlay services for the household
    • Dedicated WFH: Made-to-measure
    • WFH as part of wider transformation efforts
  • Conclusion and recommendations
    • The innovation opportunity

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Telco Cloud Europe update: Open RAN approaching tipping point

Telco Cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020

Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’

This report accompanies the ninth release of STL Partners’ ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), SDN (Software Defined Networking) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. This analytical report focuses on trends in Europe, set in global context.

For this update and hereafter, we have changed the name of the database from ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ to ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’. The name change reflects STL Partners’ new focus on ‘Telco Cloud’ as both a research stream and consultancy practice. But the change also corresponds to the fact that the telecoms industry has now embarked on the second phase of its journey towards more integrally software-based networks – the first phase of which went under the banner of ‘NFV’. This journey is not just about a migration towards ‘software in general’, but cloud-native software: based on design principles developed by the cloud industry, which have the potential to bring cloud-scale economics, programmability and automation to connectivity and connectivity-dependent services.

The Tracker database is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of more than 760 individual deployments of NFV, SDN and CNFs, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

We will produce further research and reports on different aspects of cloud-native software and its impact over the coming months.

Growth in 5G core offset by declines in other areas

Telco cloud deployments so far

After a slight drop in the overall number of deployments in 2019, 2020 is set to be a year of modest growth, as is illustrated by the figure below:

Total number of deployments worldwide, 2014 to July 2020

Source: STL Partners

The data for 2020 is split up into completed, ‘pending’ and estimated additional deployments. We have recorded 63 completed deployments between January and July 2020. Pending deployments (totalling 72) are those previously announced that we are expecting to be completed during 2020 but which – to our knowledge – had not yet gone live in the commercial network by the end of July. The estimated additional deployments are derived from extrapolating to the full year 2020 from the total of completed implementations in the first seven months. This results in around 45 further deployments. On this basis, the total for the year as a whole would reach around 180 deployments: just above the previous record year of 2018 (178).

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Telco cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020
    • Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’
    • Scope and content of the Tracker
  • 5G core drives new growth in 2020
    • Deployments are on the rise again
    • Growth has been consistent across almost all regions
    • Europe also on track to maintain its record of year-on-year growth
    • Deployments in Europe are still dominated by the major players, but smaller telcos are catching up
    • Vendors: Ericsson in close second place behind Cisco owing to strong presence in mobile core
  • Open RAN at a TIPping point in Europe
    • European telcos are playing a leading role in open RAN
  • Conclusion: Growth being driven by 5G – with open RAN waiting in the wings
    • Worldwide surge in NSA 5G core deployments
    • NSA 5GC is now nearly the leading VNF overall in Europe
    • … with cloud-native, SA 5GC coming down the pipeline
    • … and waiting in the wings: open RAN
    • These overlapping waves of innovation will make telco cloud mainstream

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ngena SD-WAN: scaling innovation through partnership

Introducing ngena

This report focusses on ngena, a multi-operator alliance founded in 2016, which offers multi-national networking services aimed at enterprise customers. ngena is interesting to STL Partners for several reasons:

First, it represents a real, commercialised example of operators working together, across borders and boundaries, to a common goal – a key part of our Coordination Age vision.

Second, ngena’s SDN product is an example of a new service which was designed around a strong, customer-centric proposition, with a strong emphasis on partnership and shared vision – an alternative articulation, if you like, of Elisa’s cultural strategy.

Third, it was born out of Deutsche Telekom, the world’s sixth-largest telecoms group by revenue, which operates in more than fifty countries. This makes it a great case study of an established operator innovating new enterprise services.

And lastly, it is a unique example of a telco and technology company (in this case Cisco) coming together in a mutually beneficial creative partnership, rather than settling into traditional buyer-supplier roles.

Over the coming pages, we will explore ngena’s proposition to customers, how it has achieved what it has to date, and to what extent it has made a measurable impact on the companies that make up the alliance. The report explains STL Partners’ independent view, informed by conversations with Marcus Hacke, Founder and Managing Director, as well as others across the industry.

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Shifting enterprise needs

Enterprises throughout the world are rapidly digitising their operations, and in large part, that involves the move to a ‘multicloud’ environment, where applications and data are hosted in a complex ecosystem of private data centres, campus sites, public clouds, and so on.

Digital enterprises need to ensure that data and applications are accessible from any location, at any time, from any device, and any network, reliably and without headaches. A large enterprise such as a retail bank might have physical branches located all over the place – and the same data needs to be accessible from any branch.

Traditionally, this sort of connectivity was achieved over the wide area network (WAN), with enterprises investing in private networks (often virtual private networks) to ensure that data remained secure and reliably accessible. Traditional WAN architectures work well – but they are not known for flexibility of the sort required to support a multicloud set-up. The network topology is often static, requiring manual intervention to deploy and change, and in our fast-changing world, this becomes a bottleneck. Enterprises are still faced with several challenges:

Key enterprise networking challenges

Source: STL Partners, SD-WAN mini series

The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present

This is where, somewhere around 2014, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) came on the scene. SD-WAN improves on traditional WAN by applying the principles of software-defined networking (SDN). Networking hardware is managed with a software-based controller that can be hosted in the cloud, which opens up a realm of possibilities for automation, smart traffic routing, optimisation, and so on – which makes managing a multicloud set-up a whole lot easier.

As a result, enterprises have adopted SD-WAN at a phenomenal pace, and over the past five years telecoms operators and other service providers worldwide have rushed to add it to their managed services portfolio, to the extent that it has become a mainstream enterprise service:

Live deployments of SD-WAN platforms by telcos, 2014-20 (global)

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker
Includes only production deployments; excludes proof of concepts and pilots
Includes four planned/pending deployments expected to complete in 2020

The explosion of deployments between 2016 and 2019 had many contributing factors. It was around this time that vendor offerings in the space became mature enough for the long tail of service providers to adopt more-or-less off-the shelf. But also, the technology had begun to be seen as a “no-brainer” upgrade on existing enterprise connectivity solutions, and therefore was in heavy demand. Many telcos used it as a natural upsell to their broader suite of enterprise connectivity solutions.

The challenge of building a connectivity platform

While SD-WAN has gained significant traction, it is not a straightforward addition to an operator’s enterprise service portfolio – nor is it a golden ticket in and of itself.

First, it is no longer enough to offer SD-WAN alone. The trend – based on demand – is for it to be offered alongside a portfolio of other SDN-based cloud connectivity services, over an automated platform that enables customers to pick and choose predefined services, and quickly deploy and adapt networks without the effort and time needed for bespoke customer deployments. The need this addresses is obvious, but the barrier to entry in building such a platform is a big challenge for many operators – particularly mid-size and smaller telcos.

Second, there is the economic challenge of scaling a platform while remaining profitable. Platform-based services require continuous updating and innovation, and it is questionable whether many telecoms operators are up to have the financial strength to do so – a situation you find for nearly all IT cloud platforms.

Last – and by no means least – is the challenge of scaling across geographies. In a single-country scenario, where most operators (at least in developed markets) will already have the fixed network infrastructure in place to cover all of a potential customer’s branch locations, SD-WAN works well. It is difficult, from a service provider’s perspective, to manage network domains and services across the whole enterprise (#6 above) if that enterprise has locations outside of the geographic bounds of the service provider’s own network infrastructure. There are ways around this – including routing traffic over the public Internet, and other operators’ networks, but from a customer point-of-view, this is less than ideal, as it adds complexity and limits flexibility in the solution they are paying for.

There is a need, then, for a connectivity platform “with a passport”: that can cross borders between operators, networks and markets without issue. ngena, or the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance, aims to address this need.

Table of Contents

  • Executive summary
    • What is ngena?
    • Why does ngena matter?
    • Has ngena been successful?
    • What does ngena teach us about successful telco innovation?
    • What does this mean for other telcos?
    • What next?
  • Introduction
  • Context: Enterprise needs and SD-WAN
    • Shifting enterprise needs
    • The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present
    • The challenge of building a connectivity platform
  • ngena: Enterprise connectivity with a passport
    • A man with a vision
    • The ngena proposition
  • How successful has ngena been?
    • Growth in alliance membership
    • Growth in ngena itself
    • Making money for the partners
  • What does ngena teach us about successful innovation culture in telecoms?
    • Context: the need to disrupt and adapt in telecoms
    • Lessons from ngena
  • What does this mean for other telcos?
      • Consider how you support innovation
      • Consider how you partner for mutual benefit
      • What next?

NFV goes mainstream: How cloud-native is contributing to growth

This report accompanies the latest update of the NFV Deployment Tracker (June 2020).  It provides an analysis of global tracker findings and covers deployments from 2011 until March 2020.

About the NFV Deployment Tracker

The NFV Deployment Tracker is a regularly-updated database of commercial deployments of Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies by leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past five years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of nearly 700 individual deployments of NFV and SDN, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

The NFV Deployment Tracker

Overview of STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

Source: STL Partners

Previous reports have focussed on trends in specific regions, in addition to global findings. These include:

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NFV/SDN continues to grow at different speeds in different regions

NFV deployments continue to grow…

In total, our database now contains information on 689 NFV and SDN deployments comprising 1,401 individual functional elements, i.e. an average of just over two components per deployment. As has been the case since we began collecting data, the number of deployments (as defined by STL Partners) continues to grow year on year; although the trend as illustrated below requires some explanation:

Deployment growth continues – despite an apparent slowdown

Source: STL Partners

Pending deployments are those regarding which there is uncertainty surrounding completion.  STL Partners expects some of these will be allocated to 2019 as it discovers that they were completed in that year. 2019 could yet emerge as a growth year, and if not, 2020 looks set to exceed the totals for 2018 and 2019.

…but the rate and drivers of growth vary by region

If we make a more meaningful comparison – between 2019 and the first three months of 2020 (including pending deployments), on the one hand, and 2018, on the other – we see that the number of deployments has continued to grow in each region, apart from North America, where the market is maturing and the pace of new deployment has subsided.

Regional deployment growth, with the exception of North America

Source: STL Partners

Overall, the Asia-Pacific region has accounted for the largest number of deployments across all years: 232 (33.7%) of the total – just ahead of Europe on 226 (32.8%). North America has generated 135 deployments (19.6%), followed by the Middle East with 57, Latin America on 30, and Africa with 15.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • About the NFV Deployment Tracker
    • Scope
    • Definitions
  • Introduction: NFV/SDN continues to grow – but at different speeds in different regions
    • NFV deployments continue to grow…
    • …but the rate and drivers of growth vary by region
  • In detail: understanding the growth
    • 5G ushers in Phase 2 NFV in developed markets…
    • …while Phase 1 core virtualisation spreads to other markets
    • SD-WAN also goes global
    • SDN was a critical component in longhaul network upgrades
    • vRAN and open RAN enter the stage
    • A second wave of telco cloud deployments is also underway
    • NFV MANO deployments were geared to supporting multi-vendor VNFs over telco clouds
  • In detail: deployments by operator
    • Vodafone, & Telefónica: telco cloud builders innovate at the core and edge
    • China, Japan (& Finland): leading cloud-native deployment
    • AT&T & Verizon: virtualisation programmes near completion
  • In detail: deployments by vendor
    • Cisco & Nokia: generalists leading overall and in 2019/20 respectively, boosted by 5G cores
    • VMware: thriving on telco cloud and SD-WAN
    • Ericsson: leading on 5G cores
    • Huawei: real position is unclear
  • Conclusion: NFV’s first phase has delivered, but tougher challenges lie ahead
    • NFV has become a more and more integral part of telcos’ service portfolios and infrastructure
    • NFV has proven its worth in addressing the challenges of today…
    • … while cloud-native NFV is also getting underway, and may help address the challenges of tomorrow
    • Phase 2 NFV: innovating our way out of the crisis
    • What next?
  • Appendix: Glossary of terms

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NFV Deployment Tracker: Asia-Pacific points to the future of NFV

About the NFV Deployment Tracker

The NFV Deployment Tracker is a quarterly-updated database of commercial deployments of Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies by leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past four years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of nearly 600 individual deployments of NFV and SDN, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

Figure 1: The NFV Deployment Tracker

Overview of STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

Source: STL Partners

Each new release of the Tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in a given region. Previous analysis includes:

This report accompanies the seventh update of the NFV Deployment Tracker, providing an overview of global trends, and a deep-dive on what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific region.

Scope and definitions

The NFV Deployment Tracker covers verified, live deployments of NFV and SDN in commercial telco networks. We do not include proofs of concept, commercial trials or mere agreements to deploy, unless these eventually result in a full commercial deployment.

The data derives mainly from public-domain sources, such as press releases by operators and vendors, or reputable industry media. We also include undisclosed deployments that the operators concerned have informed us about on a confidential basis. These are subsumed within the aggregate data sets analysed in this report but are not itemised in the detailed information contained in the Excel spreadsheet.

We include only telecoms operators, and not other types of company that rely on communications infrastructure and services to deliver their own services (such as cloud providers, internet exchange and hub operators, vendors, systems integrators, etc.).

The telcos included are mainly Tier One providers: those that rely on their own national and international, end-to-end facilities to deliver B2C or B2B services. However, we also include information on incumbent or dominant operators for smaller countries – which are not big enough to be defined as Tier One – as well as particularly innovative deployments by smaller or start-up players in significant markets.

Data in this report covers deployments from 2011 until August 2019.

Global context: NFV is definitely not dead

Global NFV deployments still growing; Asia-Pacific in the lead

We have gathered data on 572 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN technology worldwide between January and August 2019. These deployments include 1,161 VNFs, software sub-components and infrastructure elements for which information is available. Overall, the volume of new deployments worldwide has increased every year since 2011.

Figure 2: NFV deployments are picking up speed

NFV deployments by region and year 2011-2019

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

The total of 132 deployments for 2019 in the above chart includes both completed and pending implementations (we define pending as ongoing deployments that have not yet been verified as completed, but which we expect to be concluded in 2019). In addition, the 2019 total shown here runs only up to the end of August 2019; so we are confident that the full-year total for 2019 will exceed the 147 deployments recorded in 2018.

In fact, the number of deployments in Europe and the Middle East in 2019 to date has already exceeded the total for each of these regions for 2018 as a whole. In Asia-Pacific, the volume for the first eight months of 2019 (38) is already around 80% of the 2018 total (49) – meaning that the region is likely to show growth overall by the end of 2019. It must be noted that, by contrast, deployments in North America have declined significantly.

When measured purely in terms of deployments, Europe led the world for the first time in the first eight months of this year. However, in the previous three years – and overall – the Asia-Pacific region has deployed more than any other. We have gathered data on 203 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN technology in the Asia-Pacific region between January 2012 and August 2019 – 35.5% of the global total. This means that Asia-Pacific is the largest market for NFV and SDN.

Figure 3: Asia-Pacific leads in total NFV deployments worldwide

Asia-Pacific leads in global NFV deploymentsSource: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • About the NFV Deployment Tracker
  • Scope and definitions
  • Global context
    • Global NFV deployments still growing; Asia-Pacific in the lead
    • Growth in 2019 driven by virtualised 5G mobile cores
    • Mobile core virtualisation is the dominant driver of NFV overall
    • SDN retains its dominant role in Asia-Pacific
    • Vendors of mobile network cores performing strongly
  • Asia-Pacific in focus: leading on innovatio
  • More Asia-Pacific operators are embracing NFV and SDN
  • Pushing the boundaries of mobile core architecture
  • Winning the race to operationalise the 5G standalone core
  • Innovating on SDN-based, on-demand networking services
  • Ambition to innovate for economic and social development
  • Conclusion: Asia-Pacific both leads on past deployments and points the way ahead
    • Asia-Pacific leads the NFV/SDN market in two main ways
    • The region also points the way ahead for the industry
  • Appendix: Glossary of terms

Predicting the future: Where next for SD-WAN?

Introduction

This document is the third in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing types of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The first two reports in the series are:

Future evolution of SD-WAN

Any decision made about SD-WAN aspects or management must be taken not just in context of enterprises’ current networking challenges, but also in context of how those challenges, as well as networking technology, are likely to evolve. This report assesses where we expect the industry to go next.

At STL Partners, we believe that SD-WAN under its current definition is not an end in itself. All indications are that enterprises are becoming increasingly cloud-centric, and we see no sign of this trend reversing. SD-WAN will no doubt be a key component of the multicloud ecosystem – but it will require an evolution beyond the confines of what is currently being packaged and sold.

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In short, existing SD-WAN services are just the first step on a longer journey towards integrated, software-driven WAN operations and networking on a broader scale. Enterprises and vendors planning SD-WAN rollout would do well to consider how that evolution could unfold.

As with any new technology, there are multiple pathways that this evolution could follow – none of which are yet well-understood. STL Partners has identified three emerging evolution pathways, which we explain in detail below. The options are:

  1. SD-WAN used as the first step towards SD-Branch: SD-WAN is deployed as a stepping stone technology towards more advanced, integrated management of enterprises’ LANs and branches alongside the WAN.
  2. SD-WAN sold “as a Service”: SD-WAN starts to be offered as a more fully cloud-based software service, free from vendor or hardware-based constraints.
  3. SD-WAN used as an enabling component of edge/IoT platforms: SD-WAN features and infrastructure are integrated with service providers’ edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, with sales focus on enterprise automation and process optimisation, rather than the SD-WAN component itself.

These options are of course not mutually exclusive and are likely in practice to be adopted in some combination of the different elements. It is quite feasible, for example, that some service providers will start to “upsell” their existing SD-WAN customers onto a more integrated “SD-Branch” offering (#1) – and to sell a flavour of this same offering as a cloud-based software option (#2). Indeed, we have already seen this happening in the marketplace.

In addition, all three options share two things in common:

  • A move towards cloud-centricity: Their focus is on the LAN and branch, WAN (delivered in an even more flexible, cloud-native way), the edge (and edge computing and IoT), respectively.
  • Increasing use of AI technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are pouring into all areas of technology and network infrastructure is no exception. The dynamic nature of traffic patterns over SD-WAN make it a prime candidate for this kind of tech to enable, say, security threat detection or traffic routing optimisation. Whichever direction SD-WAN takes, it is sure to make use of AI/ML.

In this report, we detail each of the three options, with particular reference to how they might benefit both enterprise customers, and those who will provide such SD-WAN services.

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Flavours of SD-WAN: What’s on offer and which work?

Introduction

This is the second in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing flavours of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The first and third reports in the series are:

This report examines the role that different types of SD-WAN solutions can play in helping digital enterprises address their growing networking challenges.

SD-WAN as a solution to the networking challenges of digital enterprises

In the first report, we discussed some of these challenges. These revolve around the need to carry a growing range and volume of mission-critical, application-specific data flows – reliably and securely – across a hybrid multi-cloud, multi-domain and distributed WAN environment. This includes different types and sizes of enterprise sites, branches, campuses and remote workers served by diverse access networks on a 24/7 basis.

We highlighted seven main networking challenges that SD-WAN products and services are designed to address, as follows:

  1. Managing the costs of WAN links
  2. Improving control of hybrid WAN and multi-cloud environments
  3. Assuring service and prioritising business-critical traffic
  4. Introducing new sites and capabilities
  5. Preventing attacks and mitigating security risks
  6. Managing different network domains and services across the whole enterprise
  7. Future-proofing enterprises’ advancing requirements while reducing complexity.

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In the present report, we look at SD-WAN in the context of the different flavours currently available on the market, and explore how current offers differ across several aspects:

  • Use of Customer Premises Equipment (dedicated appliance, uCPE or cloud?)
  • Networks used to deliver SD-WAN (overlay, hybrid or dedicated?)
  • Network topologies employed (hub and spoke, partial or full mesh?)
  • Security functions integrated
  • Extension across multiple geographies and domains

Throughout the report, we differentiate between these aspects of SD-WAN and the management requirements and features associated with them.

We also identify some of the leading vendor and service provider products and services that correspond to each of the types we discuss. This is intended for illustration and guidance only and does not constitute a recommendation.

What are the aspects of different SD-WAN deployments?

As set out in the introduction, we are differentiating in this report between aspects of SD-WAN and the management requirements and features associated with each aspect and with SD-WAN as a whole. These are:

Aspects of different SD-WAN deployments

aspects of SD-WAN deployments: CPE, networks, topology, security and extensions across geographies and domains

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report we highlight which management elements we regard as more specific to each individual aspect.

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Enterprise networking challenges: How can SD-WAN help?

Introduction

This document is the first in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing types of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The next two reports in the series are:

What networking challenges are faced by today’s digital enterprises?

Enterprises throughout the world are rapidly digitising their operations. Increasingly, the digital strategies they are adopting include the transition of business tools, applications and processes to a ‘multicloud’ environment: involving a hybrid combination of applications and data hosted in one or more public clouds alongside the company’s own private data centres.

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Digital enterprises require secure access to their applications and data from any location, at any time, via any device and over any network. At the same time, they need to ensure that their end users – both employees and customers – have the same application quality of experience as they did when the tools, applications and processes were hosted in the company’s own private data centre.

Unfortunately, existing WAN architecture models often do not provide the scale, flexibility or agility required to support this transition. These legacy WAN architectures typically leverage a hub and spoke network topology, where the hub is in the corporate data centre and static, point-to-point circuits that often require manual provisioning for deployment, moves, adds and changes connect the hub site to the branch offices. As these organisations transition to multicloud, the corporate data centre, hub site, becomes a bottle neck. Additionally, their static, manually provisioned circuits can’t keep pace with the dynamic nature of multicloud traffic flows.

Consequently, these businesses need to look for a new, simplified and automated approach to managing and transforming their WAN. Additionally, as enterprises look to leverage broadband internet to simplify and manage the cost of the WAN, they need to maintain the same SLA levels, ensure application quality of experience (QoE), and to be mindful of the security implications and risks in doing so.

SD-WAN platforms and services represent a response to these networking challenges that is being adopted more and more by enterprises of all sizes – from SMBs through to the largest multi-nationals – across all regions worldwide.

In this report, we highlight the main networking challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, and outline in brief some of the ways it does so.

In a subsequent report, we will discuss the main types of SD-WAN platforms and services available on the market today, along with the leading vendors and communications service providers that provide them. And in a third report, we discuss some of the ways in which we expect SD-WAN technology and services to develop over the next few years as it expands to encompass more and more aspects of enterprise information and communications technology, and to meet the needs of new applications and automated processes

Which networking challenges does SD-WAN address?

In this section, we discuss the main problems faced by network engineers and operations personnel managing the WAN, and evolving its architecture and functionality, in response to the rapidly changing, digital requirements of their enterprise. At the same time, network operations are under increasing pressure to reduce costs while maintaining, and indeed improving, quality of service and experience.

With these pressures in mind, we have identified seven key networking challenges faced by enterprises:

7 key enterprise networking challenges

7 enterprise networking challenges

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report, we explore each of these challenges in detail, and how SD-WAN helps to address them.

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NFV Deployment Tracker: North American data and trends

Introduction

NFV in North America – how is virtualisation moving forward in telcos against global benchmarks?

Welcome to the sixth edition of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This report is the sixth analytical report in the NFV Deployment Tracker series and is intended as an accompaniment to the updated Tracker Excel spreadsheet.

This extended update covers seven months of deployments worldwide, from October 2018 to April 2019. The update also includes an improved spreadsheet format: a more user-friendly, clearer lay-out and a regional toggle in the ‘Aggregate data by region’ worksheet, which provides much quicker access to the data on each region separately.

The present analytical report provides an update on deployments and trends in the North American market (US, Canada and the Caribbean) since the last report focusing on that region (December 2017).

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

We include in the Tracker only verified, live deployments of NFV or SDN technology powering commercial services. The information is taken mainly from public-domain sources, such as press releases by operators or vendors, or reports in reputable trade media. However, a small portion of the data also derives from confidential conversations we have had with telcos. In these instances, the deployments are included in the aggregate, anonymised worksheets in the spreadsheet, but not in the detailed dataset listing deployments by operator and geography, and by vendor where known.

Our definition of a ‘deployment’, including how we break deployments down into their component parts, is provided in the ‘Explanatory notes’ worksheet, in the accompanying Excel document.

NFV in North America in global context

We have gathered data on 120 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in North America between 2011 and April 2019. These were completed by 33 mainly Tier-One telcos and telco group subsidiaries: 24 based in the US, four in Canada, one Caribbean, three European (Colt, T-Mobile and Vodafone), and one Latin American (América Móvil). The data includes information on 217 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments.

This makes North America the third-largest NFV/SDN market worldwide, as is illustrated by the comparison with other regions in the chart below.

Total NFV/SDN deployments by region, 2011 to April 2019

total NFV deployments by region North America Africa Asia-Pacific Europe Middle East

Source: STL Partners

Deployments of NFV in North America account for around 24% of the global total of 486 live deployments (or 492 deployments counting deployments spanning multiple regions as one deployment for each region). Europe is very marginally ahead on 163 deployments versus 161 for Asia-Pacific: both equating to around 33% of the total.

The NFV North America Deployment Tracker contains the following data, to May 2019:

  • Global aggregate data
  • Deployments by primary purpose
  • Leading VNFs and functional components
  • Leading operators
  • Leading vendors
  • Leading vendors by primary purpose
  • Above data points broken down by region
  • North America
  • Asia-Pacific
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Africa
  • Detailed dataset on individual deployments

 

Contents of the accompanying analytical report:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the sixth edition of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of NFV in North America
  • The North American market in global context
  • SD-WAN and core network functions are the leading categories
  • 5G is driving core network virtualisation
  • Vendor trends: Open source and operator self-builds outpace vendors
  • Operator trends: Verizon and AT&T are the clear leaders
  • Conclusion: Slow-down in enterprise platform deployments while 5G provides new impetus

NFV Deployment Tracker: Global review and update

Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!

This report is the fourth analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the third update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (to the end of June 2018).

The update extends the coverage of the Tracker worldwide: adding a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the African, Latin American and Middle East markets to the existing data set on Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. In addition, the spreadsheet contains updated and expanded data on deployments in the latter regions.

The expansion of the Tracker’s coverage worldwide presents an opportunity to gain an overview of global SDN and NFV development and deployment trends, and to assess the prospects for the technologies, and the services based on them, going forward.

Previous editions and other NFV / SDN research

Scope of information provided by the Tracker

The data in the NFV Deployment Tracker is sourced primarily from public-domain information such as telco and vendor press releases and reliable press reports regarding successfully completed deployments and the launch of live, commercial services based on virtualised network functions (VNFs) or SDN. We have also obtained some confidential information direct from operators, which we are unable to present in the detailed break-down of deployments by operator. However, this information has been added to an aggregated data set, which is also provided in the spreadsheet.

The data is therefore limited to verified deployments: production implementations of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate and – as far as possible – up to date. We also include some information on deployments planned to be completed by the end of 2017 or by a date as yet unknown, where the information is in the public domain, and where the size and scope of the deployments merit their inclusion.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • The volume and pace of SDN / NFV deployments continues to grow…
  • …but some fundamental challenges remain
  • The focus of deployments varies region by region
  • Operator trends
  • Vendor trends
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the third update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the global data set
  • Constant growth – but SDN / NFV deployment is far from universal
  • Asia-Pacific ahead on number of deployments despite a slowdown in 2018
  • SD-WAN, SDN, core network functions and orchestration have driven the growth in 2018
  • Operator trends: Leading players rack up the deployments, leaving others lagging far behind
  • Vendor trends: a few major players dominate the scene – but telcos continue to look for alternatives
  • Conclusion 

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Growth in the number of SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 2: Breakdown of total deployments by region, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 3: Deployments by region, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: Global deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Deployments in Europe by leading category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 6: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 7: Deployments in North America by leading categories, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 8: Global deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 9: Total deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, Middle East
  • Figure 10: Leading VNFs and functional components, Latin America
  • 1Figure 11: Leading operators by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 12:  Leading vendors by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 13: Leading vendors by deployment category 25

NFV Deployment Tracker: Asia takes the lead

Introduction

Welcome to the second update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This report is the third analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the second update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (dated March 2018).

The update provides a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the Asia-Pacific market. Under ‘Asia-Pacific’, we include all of the countries of Central, Southern and South-East Asia, along with Oceania. In addition to the new set of data for Asia-Pacific, the spreadsheet contains updated and revised data on deployments in the European and North American regions.

In June 2018, the data set and analysis will be extended to all other regions worldwide, with the aim of providing the industry’s most comprehensive, authoritative source of information on live deployments of NFV and SDN.

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

Detailed explanation of the scope of the information provided in the Tracker, definitions of terms (including how we define a live ‘deployment’ and definitions of frequently used NFV / SDN acronyms) and an account of why we think it is important to track the progress of NFV / SDN are provided in the first analytical report of the series – so we will not repeat them here.

Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set

Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV

We have gathered data on 102 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in Asia-Pacific between 2012 and 2018. These were completed by 33 telcos, including all of the major operators in China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Deployments have been more limited in India: seven in total, including two global implementations by Tata Communications. Altogether, the data includes information on 203 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments.

This means that Asia-Pacific is the largest market for NFV and SDN, measured purely in terms of number of deployments. The Asia-Pacific totals outstrip the updated numbers for both Europe (89 deployments and 182 VNFs / functional components) and North America (62 deployments and 126 VNFs / functional components). The number of operators that have completed deployments is also higher than that in Europe or North America.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Asia-Pacific is the leading global SDN / NFV market
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the second update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set
  • Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV
  • SDN, SD-WAN and core network functions have driven the growth
  • Operator trends: Innovators lead the way, closely followed by the Chinese giants
  • Vendor trends: SD-WAN and vCPE vendors lead the way
  • Conclusion

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total NFV and SDN deployments in Asia-Pacific, 2012 to 2018
  • Figure 2: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 3: European deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: North American deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Leading VNFs and functional components deployed in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 6: Leading Asia-Pacific operators by number of NFV / SDN deployments
  • Figure 7: Leading vendors by number of deployments

NFV Deployment Tracker – North America: SD-WAN tail wags NFV dog

Introduction

Welcome to the first update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This report is the second analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the first update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (to December 2017).

The update provides a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the North American market (including the US, Canada and the Caribbean). In addition, the spreadsheet contains updated and revised data on deployments in the European region.

In March 2018, the data set and analysis will be extended to all other regions worldwide, with the aim of providing the industry’s most comprehensive, authoritative source of information on live deployments of NFV and SDN.

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

Detailed explanation of the scope of the information provided in the Tracker, definitions of terms (including how we define a live ‘deployment’ and definitions of frequently used NFV / SDN acronyms) and an account of why we think it is important to track the progress of NFV / SDN are provided in the first analytical report of the series – NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017).

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Conclusion: strong growth in 2018 will be delivered by the continuing rise of SD-WAN and new consumer use cases
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the first update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the North American data set
  • Overall data and trends
  • ‘Service-led Innovation’ has driven the deployments
  • ‘Technology Evolution’ deployments are less in evidence
  • Operator trends: AT&T and Verizon dispute first place, while other players focus on differentiated offers
  • Vendor trends: SD-WAN and vCPE vendors lead the way
  • Conclusion: A dynamic enterprise market – but consumer use cases still outstanding

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total NFV and SDN deployments in North America, 2011 to 2017
  • Figure 2: North American deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 3: European deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 4: Leading North American operators by number of NFV / SDN deployments
  • Figure 5: Leading vendors by number of deployments (North America)

NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017)

This report is discussed in our free webinar recording: Keeping NFV on track – Assessing operator strategies and progress

Introduction

Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!

This report is the first of a new series of statistical and analytical reports tracking the progress of NFV and SDN: ‘The NFV Deployment Tracker’. The ‘Tracker’ builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past two years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

This service will be updated on a quarterly basis and will provide a steadily growing database on live deployments of NFV and SDN by telcos worldwide. The data is presented in an Excel spreadsheet, accompanied by an analytical report presenting the key statistics and trends observed during the quarter.

At launch, the Tracker provides data on the European market; December’s update will also include comprehensive data from the North American market; and in March 2018, we will extend the coverage to Asia and the Rest of the World – while up-to-date information on the markets already included will be added on a continuous basis.

Scope of information provided by the Tracker

The data in the NFV Deployment Tracker is sourced primarily from public-domain information such as telco and vendor press releases and reliable press reports regarding successfully completed deployments and the launch of live, commercial services based on virtualised network functions (VNFs) or SDN. We have also obtained some confidential information direct from operators, which we are unable to present in the detailed break-down of deployments by operator. However, this information has been added to an aggregated data set, which is also provided in the spreadsheet.

The data is therefore limited to verified deployments: production implementations of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate and – as far as possible – up to date. We also include some information on deployments planned to be completed by the end of 2017 or by a date as yet unknown, where the information is in the public domain, and where the size and scope of the deployments merit their inclusion.

In terms of size, the research has focused on Tier-One carriers, including the incumbent or former incumbent operators of every European state, along with leading competitive operators in major markets, Pan-European players and the leading cablecos. We have not included smaller local and regional players, Tier-Three providers and all but the largest Tier-Two carriers. We include all deployments within Europe, even if the parent company involved is headquartered outside of Europe (e.g. US-based Liberty Global, which owns cable assets across Europe). But we do not include deployments at non-European subsidiaries of Europe-based operator groups.

We have also not included activity around proofs of concept (PoCs), live tests or demonstrations of NFV and SDN. This is partly because a lot of this work never comes to fruition in terms of commercial deployments – at least not in quite the same combination of elements as the pre-commercial tests – and partly because the aim of the Tracker is to provide a reliable, comprehensive source of information on actual, commercial implementations of NFV and SDN, from which vendor and telco hype about the technologies has been eliminated.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: NFV still on the roadmap, but horizons of deployment stretch out
  • Welcome to the NFV Deployment Tracker
  • Scope and importance of the Tracker
  • European data: Steady but unspectacular growth in deployments
  • Conclusion: NFV still squarely on the roadmap, but navigating the landscape is taking longer than scheduled
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!
  • Scope of information provided by the Tracker
  • Definitions
  • What counts as a deployment?
  • Why is this information important?
  • Analysis of the initial European data set
  • Overall data and trends
  • Winners, losers and low-hanging fruit
  • Vendor trends
  • Operator trends
  • Conclusion
  • NFV is still very much on the roadmap, but the horizon of deployment is stretching out further than anticipated

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Definition of main abbreviations used in this report
  • Figure 2: Total NFV and SDN deployments in Europe, 2009 to 2017
  • Figure 3: Deployments from 2009 to 2017 broken down by higher-level categories
  • Figure 4: Deployments by leading network function and infrastructure category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 5: Number of deployments by lead vendor
  • Figure 6: Leading operators in terms of number of deployments

Vendors vs. telcos? New plays in enterprise managed services

Digital transformation is reshaping vendors’ and telcos’ offer to enterprises

What does ‘digital transformation’ mean?

The enterprise market for telecoms vendors and operators is being radically reshaped by digital transformation. This transformation is taking place across all industry verticals, not just the telecoms sector, whose digital transformation – desirable or actual – STL Partners has forensically mapped out for several years now.

The term ‘digital transformation’ is so familiar that it breeds contempt in some quarters. Consequently, it is worth taking a while to refresh our thinking on what ‘digital transformation’ actually means. This will in turn help explain how the digital needs and practices of enterprises are impacting on vendors and telcos alike.

The digitisation of enterprises across all sectors can be described as part of a more general social, economic and technological evolution toward ever more far-reaching use of software-, computing- and IP-based modes of: interacting with customers and suppliers; communicating; networking; collaborating; distributing and accessing media content; producing, marketing and selling goods and services; consuming and purchasing those goods and services; and managing money flows across the economy. Indeed, one definition of the term ‘digital’ in this more general sense could simply be ‘software-, computing- and IP-driven or -enabled’.

For the telecoms industry, the digitisation of society and technology in this sense has meant, among other things, the decline of voice (fixed and mobile) as the primary communications service, although it is still the single largest contributor to turnover for many telcos. Voice mediates an ‘analogue’ economy and way of working in the sense that the voice is a form of ‘physical’ communication between two or more persons. In addition, the activity and means of communication (i.e. the actual telephone conversation to discuss project issues) is a separate process and work task from other work tasks, in different physical locations, that it helps to co-ordinate. By contrast, in an online collaboration session, the communications activity and the work activity are combined in a shared virtual space: the digital service allows for greater integration and synchronisation of tasks previously carried out by physical means, in separate locations, and in a less inherently co-ordinated manner.

Similarly, data in the ATM and Frame Relay era was mainly a means to transport a certain volume of information or files from one work place to another, without joining those work places together as one: the work places remained separate, both physically and in terms of the processes and work activities associated with them. The traditional telecoms network itself reflected the physical economy and processes that it enabled: comprising massive hardware and equipment stacks responsible for shifting huge volumes of voice signals and data packets (so called on the analogy of postal packets) from one physical location to another.

By contrast, with the advent of the digital (software-, computing- and IP-enabled) society and economy, the value carried by communications infrastructure has increasingly shifted from voice and data (as ‘physical’ signals and packets) to that of new modes of always-on, virtual interconnectedness and interactivity that tend towards the goal of eliminating or transcending the physical separation and discontinuity of people, work processes and things.

Examples of this digital transformation of communications, and associated experiences of work and life, could include:

  • As stated above, simple voice communications, in both business and personal life, have been increasingly superseded by ‘real-time’ or near-real-time, one-to-one or one-to-many exchange and sharing of text and audio-visual content across modes of communication such as instant messaging, unified communications (UC), social media (including increasingly in the work place) or collaborative applications enabling simultaneous, multi-party reviewing and editing of documents and files
  • Similarly, location-to-location file transfers in support of discrete, geographically separated business processes are being replaced by centralised storage and processing of, and access to, enterprise data and applications in the cloud
  • These trends mean that, in theory, people can collaborate and ‘meet’ with each other from any location in the world, and the digital service constitutes the virtual activity and medium through which that collaboration takes place
  • Similarly, with the Internet of Things (IoT), physical objects, devices, processes and phenomena generate data that can be transmitted and analysed in ‘real time’, triggering rapid responses and actions directed towards those physical objects and processes based on application logic and machine learning – resulting in more efficient, integrated processes and physical events meeting the needs of businesses and people. In other words, the IoT effectively involves digitising the physical world: disparate physical processes, and the action of diverse physical things and devices, are brought together by software logic and computing around human goals and needs.

‘Virtualisation’ effectively means ‘digital optimisation’

In addition to the cloud and IoT, one of the main effects of enterprise digital transformation on the communications infrastructure has of course been Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and SoftwareDefined Networking (SDN). NFV – the replacement of network functionality previously associated with dedicated hardware appliances by software running on standard compute devices – could also simply be described as the digitisation of telecoms infrastructure: the transformation of networks into software-, computing- and IP-driven (digital) systems that are capable of supporting the functionality underpinning the virtual / digital economy.

This functionality includes things like ultrafast, reliable, scalable and secure routing, processing, analysis and storage of massive but also highly variable data flows across network domains and on a global scale – supporting business processes ranging from ‘mere’ communications and collaboration to co-ordination and management of large-scale critical services, multi-national enterprises, government functions, and complex industrial processes. And meanwhile, the physical, Layer-1 elements of the network have also to become lightning-fast to deliver the massive, ‘real-time’ data flows on which the digital systems and services depend.

Virtualisation creates opportunities for vendors to act like Internet players, OTT service providers and telcos

Virtualisation frees vendors from ‘operator lock-in’

Virtualisation has generally been touted as a necessary means for telcos to adapt their networks to support the digital service demands of their customers and, in the enterprise market, to support those customers’ own digital transformations. It has also been advocated as a means for telcos to free themselves from so-called ‘vendor lock-in’: dependency on their network hardware suppliers for maintenance and upgrades to equipment capacity or functionality to support service growth or new product development.

From the other side of the coin, virtualisation could also be seen as a means for vendors to free themselves from ‘operator lock-in’: a dependency on telcos as the primary market for their networking equipment and technology. That is to say, the same dynamic of social and enterprise digitisation, discussed above, has driven vendors to virtualise their own product and service offerings, and to move away from the old business model, which could be described as follows:

▪ telcos and their implementation partners purchase hardware from the vendor
▪ deploy it at the enterprise customer
▪ and then own the business relationship with the enterprise and hold the responsibility for managing the services

By contrast, once the service-enabling technology is based on software and standard compute hardware, this creates opportunities for vendors to market their technology direct to enterprise customers, with which they can in theory take over the supplier-customer relationship.

Of course, many enterprises have continued to own and operate their own private networks and networking equipment, generally supplied to them by vendors. Therefore, vendors marketing their products and services direct to enterprises is not a radical innovation in itself. However, the digitisation / virtualisation of networking technology and of enterprise networks is creating a new competitive dynamic placing vendors in a position to ‘win back’ direct relationships to enterprise customers that they have been serving through the mediation of telcos.

Virtualisation changes the competitive dynamic

Virtualisation changes the competitive dynamic

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: Digital transformation is changing the rules of the game
  • Digital transformation is reshaping vendors’ and telcos’ offer to enterprises
  • What does ‘digital transformation’ mean?
  • ‘Virtualisation’ effectively means ‘digital optimisation’
  • Virtualisation creates opportunities for vendors to act like Internet players, OTT service providers and telcos
  • Vendors and telcos: the business models are changing
  • New vendor plays in enterprise networking: four vendor business models
  • Vendor plays: Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco and IBM
  • Ericsson: changing the bet from telcos to enterprises – and back again?
  • Cisco: Betting on enterprises – while operators need to speed up
  • IBM: Transformation involves not just doing different things but doing things differently
  • Conclusion: Vendors as ‘co-Operators’, ‘co-opetors’ or ‘co-opters’ – but can telcos still set the agenda?
  • How should telcos play it? Four recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Virtualisation changes the competitive dynamic
  • Figure 2: The telco as primary channel for vendors
  • Figure 3: New direct-to-enterprise opportunities for vendors
  • Figure 4: Vendors as both technology supplier and OTT / operator-type managed services provider
  • Figure 5: Vendors as digital service creators, with telcos as connectivity providers and digital service enablers
  • Figure 6: Vendors as digital service enablers, with telcos as digital service creators / providers
  • Figure 7: Vendor manages communications / networking as part of overall digital transformation focus
  • Figure 8: Nokia as technology supplier and ‘operator-type’ managed services provider
  • Figure 9: Nokia’s cloud-native core network blueprint
  • Figure 10: Nokia WING value chain
  • Figure 11: Ericsson’s model for telcos’ roles in the IoT ecosystem
  • Figure 12: Ericsson generates the value whether operators provide connectivity only or also market the service
  • Figure 13: IBM’s model for telcos as digital service enablers or providers – or both