Virtual VoLTE: A ‘Marriage Made in Heaven’ or a ‘Double Whammy’?

David Snow - Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure
David Snow – Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Deploying a VoLTE-capable network core has become much easier and faster with NFV.
  • However, some of today’s pre-integrated vVoLTE solutions may re-introduce the specter of vendor lock-in.

Like virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE), virtual voice over LTE (vVoLTE) is viewed by operators and vendors alike as one of the top NFV use cases slated for early implementation. In many ways, vVoLTE’s popularity has been the result of fortuitous timing. VoLTE depends on the deployment of the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), which until now has been both a costly and protracted deployment undertaking for the carrier. However, NFV now offers infrastructure cost reduction by using shared common hardware and a faster, software-only implementation of IMS using virtual network functions (VNFs). Put these two together and you seem to have a ‘marriage made in heaven’ (that’s good).

However, in a recent webinar with Oracle, “How to Overcome VoLTE Deployment Challenges,” a question was asked as to whether deploying a vVoLTE solution would actually prove to be too much of a challenge for the average carrier without extensive resources. This would be because, firstly, VoLTE in any form is the most complex and technically challenging service ever to be rolled out in mobile networks. Secondly, moving to NFV-based technology is a major network architectural shift and also has widespread technical, operational and business impacts for the carrier. Put these two together and you may have a ‘double whammy’ effect (that’s bad).

So what’s the reality? From a Current Analysis perspective, we see:

  • A small, but steady stream of commercial vVoLTE rollouts – which show that the technology does work;
  • A high number of vVoLTE trials ongoing – which shows operators are certainly taking it seriously;
  • An increasing number of existing and new vendors marketing pre-integrated vVoLTE solutions – which indicates vendors certainly believe in the opportunity.

But, note the word ‘pre-integrated’ in the last point. This means that some of today’s vVoLTE solutions are a pre-integrated set of vendor VNFs and NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) functionality, often running on vendor-supplied NFV infrastructure (NFVI). This is not genuine, multivendor NFV, but a smart way of avoiding the ‘double whammy’ effect while keeping the ‘marriage made in heaven.’ That’s certainly still good, but the problem for carriers is that, in the longer term, the ‘marriage made in heaven’ works out only for the vendor! In other words, carriers need to ensure from the start that any pre-integrated vVoLTE service solution deployed in their network today can become part of a broader multiservice, multivendor carrier NFV-based network in the future.

If not, then carriers are simply exchanging the ‘double whammy’ effect for that old enemy: vendor lock-in.

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