Service providers are launching new services faster than ever before and upgrading networks to fit the new 5G ecosystem. As they streamline offerings and build out advanced use cases, they’re getting help from an unexpected source: network function virtualization (NFV).

While many operators have completed NFV deployments, they typically only cover a small portion of the carrier’s traffic. But NFV is still the fastest way to launch new services for enterprise and industrial sectors. It also offers additional capacity for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Service providers should continue to rely on NFV as they increase connectivity speeds in the age of 5G.

Overcoming challenges

The conventional wisdom is that orchestrating and managing both NFV and a traditional network is too complicated an undertaking for most enterprises. Operators are revisiting their return-on-investment calculations for NFV to justify scaling it in such a fragmented ecosystem.

Leading service providers still haven’t rolled out NFV comprehensively, running relatively low amounts of traffic over their virtual infrastructures instead. They want to launch new 5G services as quickly as possible given the technology’s increasing prominence but are unsure whether NFV will help them achieve that goal.

In fact, virtualization is the most efficient strategy for modern operators because NFV offers flexible scaling and agility that can stimulate growth. It also enables 5G slicing so multiple virtual networks can run on top of a physical one.

Cloud providers are now partnering with carrier service providers (CSPs) to address the complexities involved with moving to the 5G network edge. They are packaging and monetizing public architecture to accommodate systems that require lower latency and massive throughput.

By managing these services from the edge, providers can increase their investments in high-bandwidth 5G. McKinsey estimates that operators who add NFV to any cloud or any 5G network will lower capital expenditures by 40%.

But that will only happen if service providers deploy NFV as part of a system that includes visibility without borders. The best strategies prioritize areas with higher population density. That way, when providers make networks available to all customers, they can guarantee high levels of service assurance.

This process may be challenging in the early stages but will ultimately pay big dividends. NFV and virtualization in general are catalysts for 5G, offering enhanced mobile broadband to fit an era of increasingly sophisticated technology.

A $2 trillion opportunity

The stakes are high for contemporary service providers, as the World Economic Forum has shown. The digital transformation of networks through NFV and 5G could unlock $2 trillion in value for the telecom industry, consumers, and society by 2025. But companies need to invest an equal amount in networks over the same timeframe if they want to reap all those benefits.

To access this revenue sustainably and cost-effectively, operators should work together to accelerate 5G and NFV deployments. By getting into the game early and combining technical resources, they’ll create profitable virtualized environments with clear business cases.

 Given the risks involved, service providers need total visibility into network architectures so they can audit smart data affordably. They should also employ automation to ensure irrelevant information cycles out of the program. This end-to-end, multi-layer, multi-domain coverage will provide superior performance for every customer.

If the worst does happen, NFV also allows operators to improve their incident response times. The technology offers more resilience against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack vectors, giving 5G networks better protection from threats of all sizes.

These solutions help preserve investments in existing router infrastructure while automating virtual elements of the 5G ecosystem and upgrading performance. As a result, service providers can launch new products faster, boost efficiency, and support a broader range of applications. That way, users will have the power to access 5G when and where they need it.

NFV is an integral part of 5G deployments. The two technologies complement each other, enabling higher workloads and making hardware management easier. Operators and enterprises that embrace NFV can innovate confidently and ensure their 5G networks are ready for future technological change.

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