As industry momentum behind 5G development, and deployments continues to build, edge networks are going to become a fundamental piece of the service enablement puzzle. However, if these networks are not architected properly, they could become the bottleneck that hinders a network operator and/or service provider’s ability to meet customer demands.

To this end, as operators look to extend the benefits of network virtualization from the core of their network(s) to the edge, they need to be careful that they take the proper steps to ensure that they are creating efficiencies, not bottlenecks. While no two operators’ network migration journey will be exactly the same, there are some signposts to following terms of logical steps that can be taken. Three important steps to consider include:

  • Embrace the practical benefits. While the ability to support applications such as autonomous driving, remote telesurgery, and massive IoT is an eventuality that operators must prepare for, focusing on cost saving benefits related to concepts such last local/cloud traffic breakout is a way to reduce strain on their core networks, and potentially, defer capacity related CapEx. Beyond the financial benefits of more efficient capital deployment, traffic breakout schemes can help operators to ensure a better quality of experience for video content. This not only helps to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, but also sets the stage for potential new service offerings as video content becomes more ingrained in everyday data usage patterns of customers.
  • Push hard on the “blocking and tackling.”  Network virtualization holds several important benefits that will become fundamental to 5G service enablement. At the same time, there remain fundamental challenges associated with migrating from PNFs to VNFs in pursuit of a fully virtualized (and automated) network architecture. One such “fundamental” is the current compute requirements of many VNFs. To this end, operators need to actively push their supplier ecosystem to produce VNFs that can run on fewer cores than they can today. In the same vein, operators must also take an active role in helping their providers architect VNFs, perhaps using microservices, so as to make them more malleable in their ability to support unique characteristics that will be a facet of nearly all large telecom grade network implementation.
  • Don’t wait for the future, build it. While the somewhat practical benefits related to local traffic breakout and the ability to deliver enterprise service more efficiently should occupy much of the near-term business case and ROI modeling in support of edge virtualization, the future in undeniably in the ability to support 5G, IoT, and Industry 4.0 use cases. To this end, operators need to embrace this destiny by not only planning for it, but also by investing in it. One potential way would be to leverage techniques such as local traffic breakout to defer capital spending on core network capacity, and reallocated that spending to advanced technologies at the edge such as MEC, and the platforms needed to support network slicing.

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