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Getting Virtual at Mobile World Congress 2016

It’s that time of year again, time for the mobile industry to head to Barcelona to celebrate Mobile World Congress. It’s by far the largest mobile event in the world, and this year’s theme is ‘Mobile Is Everything.’

And for good reason: so much of everyday life, whether it’s work or personal, happens on mobile devices. And as the networking industry transitions to newer technologies such as 5G, mobile usage will grow exponentially.

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) report has some startling statistics about data growth: Total IP traffic is predicted to reach 168 exabytes per month by 2019, up from 59.9 exabytes per month in 2014. And in the mobile space Cisco predicts that global mobile data traffic will increase tenfold by 2019, to reach 24.3 exabytes per month. Nearly three-quarters of all that traffic will be video, which is a 13-fold increase between 2014 and 2019.

It’s not just the consumer space that’s driving this growth. Industry verticals such as transport, healthcare, education, connected cars and more are all consuming data like never before, as Cisco’s VNI report points out. 

What has enabled this growth is the transition from 2G to 3G to 4G and, before too long, 5G. Service providers are having to grow their core networks exponentially to accommodate all these consumer- and enterprise-oriented services they are now delivering. More data and more services to larger numbers of devices and to increasingly more sophisticated devices.

But in order to do this, to cope with what the move to 5G will result in, they have to transform and re-architect their networks; service providers cannot deliver services to these 50 billion devices, the connected cars and so on, with current network architectures.

That’s where network functions virtualisation (NFV) comes in. A key benefit of NFV is delivering a flexible network architecture that allows you to introduce new services to market much faster, while providing a scalable elastic network that reduces your total cost of ownership.  Enterprises and consumers want to access lots of different types of applications and different services, and operators need to be able to create these new services quickly to keep up with demand.

NFV applies many of the cloud-computing principles including virtualization, abstraction and service automation of network services that have previously been delivered on purpose built hardware. Migrating L4-L7 network services such as firewall, application delivery control, DPI, content caching,etc to a virtual network function (VNF) and offering them as a software module in a pool of virtualized computing resources offers the innovation that enables these services to scale on demand, as well as the agility to ensure the network is not a hindrance in getting these services faster to market.

Management and orchestration is key for NFV and provides operators the ability to automate the instantiation of network services and deploy new service offerings. Along with a programmable network architecture that is based on open, RESTful APIs, operators realize the true benefits of a flexible and agile network and adds a level of a dynamic network infrastructure that allows a faster introduction of new functionality and services.

Virtualising portions of the network and maintaining a hybrid network allows operators to more cost-effectively and efficiently manage growing network demands. As operators move to a hybrid network where they can spin up new services based on what subscribers wants, while leveraging existing purpose built hardware for high processing power, with a management and orchestration system that can automate and manage both VNFs and purpose-build HW, it makes them more efficient and reduces their CapEx and OpEx significantly.

So while smart devices continue to get smarter and the applications continue to drive more and more data usage, the network that sits in between the two continues to play a vital role. But the best applications and the best devices can only do what they’re supposed to do – and what 5G was designed to do – if the network that connects them allows it.

That means performance, scale and efficiency, with all three of those elements working together. 

For more information on F5's NFV solutions, including a demo of a Tier-1 MNO deployment using F5s VNFs, please visit us at Mobile World Congress, Hall 5, Booth G11.