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Despite complexity and market challenges, CSP spend on NFV/SDN will grow at a 32.4% CAGR from 2019 to 2024 to nearly $147B

Key Insights

NFV/SDN spend will scale through the forecast period as leading CSPs broaden their transformation initiatives and as other CSPs begin their transformational journeys.

Operators will increasingly invest in virtualized network solutions, including vRAN and virtual network cores, to reap the full benefits of 5G.

The pool of vendors capable of aiding telecom operators in their network transformations is growing as cloud service providers and Japan-based vendors join the fray.

TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Forecast details NFV and SDN trends among the most influential market players, including both suppliers and operators. This research includes current-year market sizing and a five-year forecast by multiple NFV and SDN market segments and by geography as well as examines growth drivers, top trends and leading market players. TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer and geographic adoption, operator and vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies.

Network transformation positions CSPs to support advanced use cases and save costs via Open RAN

As communication service providers (CSPs) are transforming into digital service providers they are transitioning their networks to a virtualized, container- and microservices-based, cloud-native architecture. This cloud-centric network architecture will enable CSPs to generate value from new technologies, such as 5G and edge computing, and adopt next-generation network operations based on data as well as AI and machine learning for continuous, closed-loop automation.

This new architecture will also enable CSPs to take advantage of network slicing and low latency to more effectively support use cases in areas such as autonomous transportation, video analytics, robotic process automation, AR/VR solutions, advanced healthcare applications and cloud-based gaming.

The NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer and geographic adoption, operator and vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities.

5G will drive CSPs to adopt a new network architecture, with NFV and SDN as critical aspects

According to TBR’s 3Q19 NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape, 5G will push CSPs to accelerate and broaden their NFV/SDN initiatives. 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 stand-alone 5G networks.

CSPs are more deeply collaborating with other operators, telecom vendors and other technology providers to reap the full benefits offered by NFV and SDN. In particular, the technology industry is becoming more willing to work with open-source groups such as Airship and the O-RAN Alliance to develop open infrastructure that is interoperable across multiple vendors. CSPs such as AT&T and Colt Technology Services are also collaborating to advance the development of intercarrier virtualized network solutions, which will particularly benefit multinational businesses requiring connectivity from multiple service providers within their global footprint.

TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer adoption, operator positioning and strategies, geographic adoption, vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities. TBR’s NFV and SDN research encompasses the internal (i.e., network operations) and external (e.g., SD-WAN and other virtual network functions [VNFs] sold to end users such as enterprises) NFV- and SDN-related initiatives of communication service providers (CSPs).

For additional information about this research or to arrange a one-on-one analyst briefing, please contact Dan Demers at +1 603.929.1166 or [email protected].

5G will drive CSPs to adopt a new network architecture, with NFV and SDN as critical aspects

According to TBR’s 3Q19 NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape, 5G will push CSPs to accelerate and broaden their NFV/SDN initiatives. 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 stand-alone 5G networks.

AT&T Trumpets SDN Milestone, Reiterates Virtualization Goal

“In the realm of NFV and SDN, AT&T is among the leaders in transitioning its network to this new architecture, said Chris Antlitz, telecom principal analyst at Technology Business Research.

Significant Achievement in SDN

“‘The 75% is a significant number. They’ve built an underlay I believe for their SD-WAN … versus a lot of other operators that are doing an [over-the-top] type play,’ Antlitz said. ‘AT&T is doing it more from the ground up and from that viewpoint this makes it a little bit more significant.'” — SDxCentral

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HPE’s CMS unit reemerges as a software-centric contender in the new network architecture

TBR perspective  

TBR believes HPE’s CMS unit has the potential to become a significant disruptor in the telecom space. CMS, which had been marginalized in prior years while Hewlett Packard Co. split into HP Inc. and HPE and as HPE executed divestitures, restructurings and developed a new strategy, has received new life after obtaining corporate sponsorship from HPE’s relatively new CEO, Antonio Neri, and CFO, Tarek Robbiati, who was formerly the CFO at Sprint (NYSE: S). CMS leadership reports directly to Robbiati. With the C-Suite and board of directors providing corporate support, the telecom vertical will become a key growth pillar for HPE going forward, given the technology transformation and business model transformation that is being prompted by 5G, edge computing, AI and automation. 

The CMS unit represents only a small percentage of HPE’s total revenue, but the unit is a key gateway into emerging opportunities that are impacting the telecom vertical. CMS is reestablishing itself in the market as a growth engine for HPE corporate and is receiving the funding and support required to drive its portfolio, particularly in the management and orchestration (MANO), 5G core, and digital identity spaces. TBR believes CMS is positioned to be a key vendor in the new network architecture, which will be microservices-based, cloud-native and distributed.

CMS faces some notable hurdles, including the negative perception of its capabilities that followed the bad press it received as a supplier and the prime systems integrator for Telefonica’s (NYSE: TEF) software-defined transformation initiative back in 2015. The company was eventually replaced by several other suppliers. TBR believes the lingering effects of this situation have hindered CMS’ growth over the past few years, but notes that CMS has put the incident in its rearview mirror and is making significant headway moving forward.

CMS’ mindshare and credibility are moving in a positive direction, and the unit is gaining significant traction in CSP accounts, particularly for its Service Orchestrator and NFV Director MANO offerings. CMS has an impressive roster of CSP customers and has played a behind-the-scenes role in several significant network transformation projects, including SK Telecom (NYSE: SKM) and Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD). These reference wins will be critical to positioning HPE as a contender in new RFPs, particularly in disruptive areas such as MANO and 5G core.

CMS is challenged by OSS domain incumbents like Amdocs (Nasdaq: DOX) and Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), which CSPs will be reluctant to move on from due to possible migration and integration issues. This hesitancy could also prohibit the majority of CSPs from altering their procurement models to adopt more modular solutions, as webscales have done. CMS’ portfolio is increasingly aligned to this trend. The most difficult challenge may be delivering on helping CSPs become more than the connectivity provider or “dumb pipe” in a 5G world. Vendors will be jockeying to deliver this dream, but HPE may be better served focusing on providing the solutions that will enable CSPs to run the most efficient, cost-effective networks possible.

HPE (NYSE: HPE) hosted its first ever North America Communications and Media Solutions (CMS) Analyst Summit in Boston, bringing along top leadership from the company’s CMS business, who delved into CMS’ strategy and portfolio as well as key customer wins and success stories. Following executive presentations, which were interactive in nature, with industry analysts able to pose questions to presenters, analysts received one-on-one time with CMS VP and General Manager Phil Mottram, CMS Chief Technology Officer Jeff Edlund, CMS VP of R&D and Delivery Mark Colaluca, and CMS VP of Product Strategy and Lifecycle Management Domenico Convertino.

With CMS recently emerging from the shadows of HPE’s Pointnext business and retooling its portfolio to align with demand from communications service providers (CSPs), executives were upbeat about CMS’ ability to take market share and compete with highly entrenched incumbent vendors and startups alike.

5G network investment will push Capex for NFV and SDN

“TBR expects the use of white-box hardware in NFV / SDN environments will proliferate, accounting for 60 percent of NFV / SDN hardware spend in 2023, up from 15 percent in 2018. This industry shift toward white-box hardware will significantly disrupt incumbent OEMs’ business models, prompting them to evolve into software-centric companies.”

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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 standalone 5G network.

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.

TIS market returns to positive growth as key operators accelerate and broaden 5G build-out plans

TIS market returns to growth …

According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) Telecom Infrastructure Services Global Market Forecast 2018-2023, the telecom infrastructure services (TIS) market has returned to a positive growth trajectory through the forecast period after several years of declines, now that the 5G cycle is underway and webscales continue to increase their spend on network technologies to drive their strategic initiatives. Leading operators globally have accelerated their 5G timelines by up to two years, and this has correspondingly pulled forward the TIS market growth curve by two years. 2018 was a key year where leading operators invested to prepare their networks for 5G and, in some cases, began deploying 5G technology. This trend will play out over at least the next five years as operators build out their 5G networks and continue their transformational journeys toward becoming digital service providers.

… but growth rate suppressed by offsetting factors

Offsetting factors that will constrain the rate of TIS market growth include the shift to more efficient network architectures (NFV/SDN and cloud); the decommissioning of legacy infrastructure; the increasing use of network resource pooling, such as network sharing; and operator consolidation.

Graph showing TIS market forecast and growth 2018-2023

Professional services will be the fastest-growing services segment through the forecast period

Increasing technology and business model complexity will drive demand for a broad range of professional services through the forecast period. Leading operators will continue their journeys toward evolving into digital service providers, and this will require the full spectrum of professional services, from consulting to systems integration. Operators will increasingly rely on the vendor community for assistance, requiring expertise, staff augmentation and access to intellectual property, or a combination off all three, as they pursue digital transformation.

TBR’s Telecom Infrastructure Services Global Market Forecast provides annual analysis and forecasting of the deployment, maintenance, professional services and managed services markets for network and IT suppliers.