- A new generation of end users will demand continuously enhanced services.
- SDN/NFV will be required to provide the flexibility to keep up with these changes.
Industry pundits have been debating the value of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) for the past year. One line of questions asks whether their value to network operators rests in an ability to cut capital costs, reduce operational expenses or stimulate revenues. Since network operators are relatively conservative, they generally base their decisions on how sure they can be of the savings or revenue figures, with the descending order of confidence being:
1. Capital costs (reliable, as an upfront figure);
2. Operational expense (somewhat controllable, but mostly future); then
3. Revenue (practically uncontrollable in an operator’s eyes).
It was surprising, then, that two operators at last month’s TM Forum Digital Disruption 2013 conference posited that potential revenues, not cost savings, would drive SDN/NFV deployment.
Regardless of the reasons they used in their presentations, the debate reminded me of a conversation that I recently had with my post-college graduate daughter regarding the upgrade of the iPhone to iOS 7. Her observations may predict a sea change in end-user requirements that absolutely trumps the costs/expense/revenue discussion.
In our discussion, I was addressing (perhaps whining about) the numerous unexplained feature changes in the recent iOS 7 upgrade. I asked her if continual changes in accessing specific features bothered her. She replied that, no, she was used to frequent incremental changes in the technologies she uses and considers these changes as “intuitive” (I hate that word). I concluded that this may be a fundamental difference between the generations (Baby Boomers and Generation-X versus the Millennials). The new generation accepts, and perhaps expects, constant feature change (with which they somehow effortlessly keep up), while the older generation prefers periodic updates because change requires effort.
The service provider industry, probably led by over-the-top (OTT) providers, is likely to pick up on this new generation’s expectation of continuous service enhancement; the device manufacturers apparently already have. Once service providers begin differentiating based on the flexible upgrades of their services, the demand for a flexible service infrastructure will be inexorable. While SDN and NFV haven’t been positioned as consumer technologies, they appear to be the only technologies on the horizon which can facilitate the flexible infrastructure required to support continued consumer – and enterprise – engagement and to help adapt to new service demands. The industry will not be discussing cost savings anymore; service velocity will be everything.