Infonetics Survey: Network Operators reveal where they plan to first deploy SDN and NFV


Top 5 network locations operators expect to deploy SDN and NFV by 2014
Image courtesy of Infonetics

There’s been a lot of hype and even more uncertainty related to “Carrier SDN” and in particular the use of Open Flow protocol in carrier networks – between a centralized control plane entity and data plane entities residing  in “packet forwarding” engines built from commodity silicon with minimal software intelligence.  Many carriers are interested in the ETSI NFV work, which will NOT produce any standard or specifications.  This author has been contacted by several network operators to assess their NFV plans (please note that such consulting is not free of charge).  As ETSI NFV will make contributions to ITU-T SG13 work on future networks, it may be several years before any implementable standard (ITU Recommendation) is produced.

For its just released SDN and NFV Strategies survey, Infonetics Research  interviewed network operators around the globe, which together represent ~53% of the world’s telecom capex and operating  revenue.  The objective of the survey was to determine the timing and priority of the many use cases for their software-defined network (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) projects.

SDN And NFV Strategies Survey Highlights:

  • Virtually all major operators are either evaluating SDNs now or plan to do so within the next 3 years
  • SDN and NFV evaluation and deployments are being driven by carriers’ desire for service agility resulting in quicker time to revenue and operational efficiency
  • The top 5 network domains named by operators when asked where they plan to deploy SDNs and NFV by 2014: Within data centers, between data centers, operations and management, content delivery networks (CDNs), and cloud services
  • 86% of operators are confident they will deploy SDN and NFV technology in their optical transport networks as well at some point, once standards are finalized
  • Study participants rated Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), IP multimedia subsystems (IMS), and virtual routers/security gateways as the top applications for NFV

“For the most part, carriers are starting small with their SDN and NFV deployments, focusing on only parts of their network, what we call ‘contained domains,’ to ensure they can get the technology to work as intended,” explains Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research.

“But momentum for more widespread use of SDN and NFV is strong, as evidenced by the vast majority of operators participating in our study who plan to deploy the technologies in key parts of their networks, from the core to aggregation to customer access,” Howard adds. “Even so, we believe it’ll be many years before we see bigger parts or a whole network controlled by SDNs.”

About The Survey:

Infonetics’ July 2013 27-page SDN and NFV survey is based on interviews with purchase-decision makers at 21 incumbent, competitive and independent wireless operators from EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), Asia Pacific and North America that have evaluated SDN projects or plan to do so. Infonetics asked operators about their strategies and timing for SDN and NFV, including deployment drivers and barriers, target domains and use cases, and suppliers. The carriers participating in the study represent more than half of the world’s telecom revenue and capex.

To learn more about the report, contact Infonetics:


  1. Video interview with Infonetics’ co-founder Michael Howard on What’s really driving demand for SDN/NFV
  2. SDN and NFV: Survey of Articles Comparing and Contrasting
  3. Move Over SDN – NFV Taking the Spotlight – Cisco Blog
  4. Subtle SDN/NFV Data Points
  5. “Service Provider SDN” Network Virtualization and the ETSI NFV ISG
  6. The Impact on Your IT Department of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)
  7.  SDNs and NFV: Why Operators Are Investing Now (archived webinar):  

0 thoughts on “Infonetics Survey: Network Operators reveal where they plan to first deploy SDN and NFV

  1. Surprised that “Within Data Centers” is the #1 Carrier choice for deploying SDN/NFV. That would require tossing out all the legacy data center switch/routers which have integrated control & data plane. Most think that SDN is ONLY for new configurations- like interconnection of Data Centers. In other words, greenfield deployments. There’s not enough known about NFV to realistically determine where it should be first deployed. Thanks for the summary.

    1. At ONS in May 2012, Google announced it had used it’s own version of SDN to interconnect it’s backend Data Centers. At this Spring’s ONS, Vint Cerf of Google hinted they were now using that same version of SDN within their Data Centers. But the big difference is that Google has built their own Data Center switches rather than using those from commercial vendors, e.g. Cisco, Juniper, Brocade, Dell, etc.! Huge difference from telcos who have DC switches from legacy vendors already installed.
      Another use of NFV is said to be to define a service in DOCSIS.
      “In the cable world, this would mean that a cable operator could choose specific flows of data that are flowing down to the residential cable modem and steer them through the NFV service chain or set. This steering mechanism would be software running on the CMTS, the CCAP device, or the edge router of a non-routing CCAP.”

    2. “within DCs” does not imply a total replacement, as most operators and DC owners plan gradual shifts as with any new technology–just as you point out. There are investments being made in NFV by service providers around the globe. Many believe that NFV applications will be deployed before SDNs. There are a lot of network functions already available as “virtualized”, that is, as software, particularly office and residential appliances such as firewalls, IDS/IPS, etc. Some mobile packet core products are almost available in software versions. Operators told us they are testing now the deployment of CDNs on servers. In this survey report, we are the messengers of what the service providers told us.

      1. Michael, Thanks very much for your explanation!
        Readers, Michael is co-founder of Infonetics, author of the referenced survey, and a good friend of IEEE ComSoc. His last talk on mobile backhaul was very well received by IEEE members!

  2. Scott Thompson of FBR Research wrote (July 11th email):
    “We’ve been able to confirm that senior executives at a major Tier 1 carrier have laid-out plans with major hardware vendors at meetings in recent weeks to a move to a software-defined network. The plan includes a migration from current proprietary hardware systems to “bare metal” standardized hardware and software-based network. The carrier advised the vendors that the new “bare metal” network is to be introduced in 2013 and expects this to fully replace existing network by 2020.
    The carrier advised Ericsson (ERIC-NR) and Alcatel-Lucent (ALU-NR) to anticipate a 20% to 30% reduction in top line revenue over time, but suggested that a portion of the EPS impact could be offset by higher margin software revenue. Checks suggest ERIC and ALU have indicated that software based NFV and SDN networks will form a large portion of their respective R&D budgets going forward. This new architecture is much more likely to reflect a “true” SDN infrastructure that is run on a centralized controller with commoditized IT components replacing traditional branded switches and routers. Software and virtualized hardware will play a much larger role in this environment.
    Unlike other carriers (which may follow suit), this carrier seems to be making standardized hardware provision a key requirement under its primary vendor agreements. While this is the first, we do not expect it will be the last carrier to signal intent to transition to “bare metal” platforms. In fact, our checks suggest three of the four largest carriers in the US have significant plans to begin the transition to these platforms over the next 12-18 months. we believe carriers will spend much less on pure network investment when transitioning to architectures with centralized controllers.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.