NEC, NetCracker, Cricket Wireless and AT&T: SDN Trials and Trap Doors into Tier-1 Build-Outs?

Jason Marcheck
Jason Marcheck

Isn’t it nice when people do what you say?  Maybe it’s the parent in me, but it just feels nice when your guidance seems to go somewhere.

No sooner did I suggest in a recent Professional Services advisory report that NEC and NetCracker should starting talking more about their joint projects than the parent company issued a press release detailing an SDN trial in conjunction with its NetCracker subsidiary.  Now, whether we should split hairs and call this an SDN or NFV trial is fodder for another blog.  For my part, I’m thinking that this either points to my own clairvoyance or is just a supreme coincidence… though I suppose it’s probably the latter.  Joking aside, the much more interesting aspect is that this is far from the only part of the release which invites conjecture.  Actually, it appears to be full of fruit ripe for juicy gossip.

The fact that Cricket is in the process of being acquired by AT&T holds a number of implications from both the operator and vendor perspectives with respect to SDN/NFV market development.  First off, we know that AT&T is keenly interested in incorporating SDN and NFV in its next-generation network plans.  Its Domain 2.0 vendor selection program is designed to choose the suppliers which will build SDN and NFV into its network.  Along these lines, as we discussed the significance of this recent release amongst ourselves here at Current Analysis, two thoughts immediately bubbled up:

  • Is AT&T encouraging this as a test drive of EPC virtualization before it begins work on its own network?
  • Could this be a way for NEC to leap to the head of the Domain 2.0 supplier line?

Of course, the only accurate answer to both of these questions at this point is “perhaps.”  Speculation aside, however, there are a few reasonable conclusions that can be drawn from this regarding the future of SDN/NFV.  With respect to the first question posed above, regardless of who is driving the move (AT&T or Cricket on its own), AT&T will be paying very close attention to how the trial plays out.  If successful, it could serve as the playbook for the company’s own EPC virtualization plans.  What’s more, the fact that NEC got the trial instead of other well-known competitors such as Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent or others means that the folks at Cricket or AT&T (or both) like what they see from NEC on the SDN capabilities front and trust NetCracker to integrate it.  In this respect, this project can certainly be viewed, at the very least, as NEC/NetCracker’s audition for a Domain 2.0 contract, if not a blaring-loud alarm bell for the throngs of suppliers chasing SDN and/or NFV opportunities.

Beyond being a potential path to winning business at AT&T, the project also has potentially larger significance.  If AT&T is indeed driving this trial, it is a smart way to use secondary brands to gain some operational experience with carrier SDN and NFV without directly putting its core brand reputation at risk.  To this end, regardless of AT&T’s involvement in this project, expect to see similar projects commissioned by large operators using their sub-brands as real-world sandboxes of sorts.

Moreover, expect NEC’s consistent demonstration of SDN momentum (though largely confined to contracts with large Japanese enterprises at this point) to spur some of the aforementioned competing SDN suppliers to get more aggressive about hyping their own projects in an effort help build the case for their own SDN/NFV deployment skills.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll have a raft of trials and public announcements from operators and vendors alike coming out of Mobile World Congress.  I think they should do it.  Let’s find out who’s listening.

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