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TBR estimates 30% of total global CSP spend (capex and external opex) will be on or related to NFV/SDN in 2023

5G will push CSPs to accelerate and broaden their NFV/SDN initiatives

According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) latest NFV/SDN Telecom Market Forecast, covering 2018 to 2023, 5G will push CSPs to adopt a new network architecture and both NFV and SDN will be critical aspects of that architecture going forward. As such, TBR expects NFV/SDN-related spend growth will correlate with 5G deployments. Since CSPs will need to upgrade their networks from an end-to-end perspective to realize the full potential of 5G, this will naturally drive CSPs toward the virtualization and cloudification of their networks. This trend will impact most, if not all, of the major network domains from an NFV/SDN perspective over the next five years. TBR notes that 5G core is inherently virtualized and that this will also naturally push CSPs deeper into the NFV/SDN space over the next five years as they transition to a stand-alone 5G network.

Rakuten’s legitimization of vRAN will also drive NFV/SDN market growth

Though significant skepticism remains in the industry that Rakuten will be able to make the vRAN model work, should this scenario occur, TBR believes it would embolden CSPs to double down on their own NFV/SDN initiatives, especially as it relates to vRAN. RAN is one of the costliest domains in the construction of a network, and it is a key area CSPs will be keen to virtualize to reap cost savings.

White-box adoption will proliferate, portending significant OEM disruption

TBR expects the use of white-box hardware in NFV/SDN environments will proliferate through the forecast period, accounting for 60% of NFV/SDN hardware spend in 2023, up from 15% in 2018. This industry shift toward white-box hardware will significantly disrupt incumbent OEMs’ business models, prompting them to evolve into software-centric companies. Industry organizations such as the Open Compute Project (OCP) and initiatives spearheaded by leading CSPs such as AT&T will fuel the rapid uptake of white boxes during the forecast period.

CSP spend on edge compute infrastructure will grow at a 76.5% CAGR to over $67B in 2023

TBR estimates over 100,000 mini data center (edge) locations will be built out globally by CSPs through 2023. The primary driver of edge build-outs during the forecast period is CSPs’ network transformations, which entail migrating to a cloudified and virtualized network. In this new architecture, network functions will be virtualized and housed in NFVI, which is essentially data centers. Central office overhauls will be the primary edge compute location in the early years of the forecast period, with the build-out of the capillary system required to support revenue-generating low latency use cases expected to begin in the middle years of the forecast period.

CSP spend on edge compute infrastructure will grow at a 76.5% CAGR to over $67B in 2023

According to TBR’s 2Q19 Telecom Edge Compute Market Landscape, cost optimization of the network is the primary initial justification for CSPs to build out edge compute infrastructure, with new revenue from low latency use cases expected to materialize in a few years. This initial edge build-out will lay a foundation for CSPs to support new business models as they emerge, particularly as it pertains to low latency services.

Cost savings from the use of edge sites stem from infrastructure virtualization and real estate footprint consolidation as well as bandwidth optimization. One of the key areas of cost savings for CSPs is the use of white-box hardware in their virtualized networks. According to TBR’s research, white-box hardware can cost up to 50% less than black-box hardware. This represents significant cost savings to CSPs that adopt white boxes at scale. Webscales already widely use white boxes in their central data centers, and leading CSPs such as Rakuten, AT&T, Verizon and Telefonica are beginning to build their edge sites using almost exclusively white boxes. The use of white boxes will make it economically feasible for the capillary network to be built out, as cost feasibility is one of the primary inhibitors to edge build-outs.

CSPs are in the experimentation phase of testing new business models that leverage edge compute, with low latency services being the focus area. Though there are myriad potential use cases that would require low latency connectivity, such as connected transportation and AR/VR gaming, the business case remains unclear and the theoretical investment to enable and support said use cases is high. TBR believes it will take a few more years before new revenue-generating use cases for the network that require edge compute become commercialized and begin to contribute to CSPs’ revenue.

Cost of ‘intelligent connectivity’ must decline significantly for intelligent world to unfold

TBR perspective

Realizing the intelligent world presented by the mobile industry at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019 (MWC19) will require a fundamental change in how networks are architected, including a radical reduction in the cost of providing connectivity. It will also require business transformation for companies tied to the old world, namely communications service providers (CSPs) and their incumbent vendors.

It was readily apparent at the event that technology is advancing at a much faster pace than the establishment of business cases that economically justify deployment of the technology. The reality for the mobile industry is that the cost of building, owning and operating networks is too high and networks are too inflexible to support the business realities of the digital era, whereby connectivity is relegated to a commodity service and the value lies in the platforms and applications that run over the network. The industry has known this for years, but changes have been minimal, until maybe now.

The entrance of Rakuten to the mobile industry could be a game changer and provides a glimpse into what a digital service provider will look like. In what could arguably be the most important takeaway from the entire event, Rakuten’s approach to building and operating a network could signify a paradigm shift in the industry. Not only will Rakuten’s network be agile, flexible and dynamic to provide digital services, it will also enable a dramatic reduction in the cost of connectivity.

The theme of MWC19 was “intelligent connectivity” and centered on how 5G, IoT, AI and big data are coming together to enable the intelligent world. Against this backdrop, Rakuten stole the show with the evangelization of its end-to-end virtualized and cloud-native network, which is being deployed across Japan this year. Rakuten’s network provides a glimpse into what the intelligent network of the future will look like.