2G Shutdowns, Multivendor NFV: The Glacial Pace of Telecom Change vs. Future Aspirations

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Last week, AT&T highlighted how it had shut down its 2G network on January 1st. On the same day, Ericsson announced it had worked with Cisco to address Vodafone Hutchison Australia’s SDN and NFV needs.
  • While not formally linked, both events showcase how slowly telecom service providers change the way they think about and run their networks – with implications for IoT and 5G plans.

Last Monday was a holiday in the U.S. The good folks at AT&T, Cisco and Ericsson, however, weren’t taking it easy. They had news to announce.

AT&T – with a blog post from Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan – started off the week by talking up the shutdown of its 2G network at the start of the year, positioning it as a part of their 5G network evolution. Ericsson and Cisco had their own milestone: following the signature of a “global business and technology partnership” back in November 2015, the two network infrastructure heavyweights were eager to announce a joint win at Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), supplying SDN and NFV solutions including data center assets, SDN controllers, service and network orchestration products, and VNFs. While the two had already won other joint deals, the win at VHA was heralded as “the first major collaboration between Ericsson and Cisco on Telecom Cloud infrastructure.”

On their face, the two announcements are completely unrelated. Putting them into perspective, they provide a reminder of the pace at which telecom service providers evolve their networks. AT&T’s 2G network, after all, had long been surpassed by 3G and 4G, with a 2G sunset being telegraphed four years ago. And ETSI’s introductory white paper on NFV? The promise of multivendor NFV was formally driven into the market back in 2012. The fact that AT&T is among the early movers in shutting down its 2G network is telling; it points to how slowly telecom networks evolve. And the fact that multivendor NFV is still newsworthy in 2017 – five years since the concept was originally introduced – is equally telling; it points to the speed (or lack thereof) at which the telecom operator-vendor relationship has evolved. This is all very understandable. Even with a four-year notice, some AT&T 2G customers were caught off guard. And with millions upon millions of dollars invested, the idea of trusting competing vendors to pull together behind a joint solution built on new technologies is an undeniable risk.

Of course, suggesting that telcos move slowly (sometimes for good reason) is like suggesting that water is wet – no great revelation. Positioning 2G shutdowns and multivendor NFV alongside lofty service provider aspirations around IoT and 5G, on the other hand, provides some perspective.

It’s great that service providers are looking forward to things like 5G, moving on the next ‘G’ without even waiting for standards. The same could be said for the hopeful attack on IoT with things like NB-IoT and end-to-end platform offers. But, the work required to bring these innovations to life will be enormous, touching the RAN, transport networks, core networks and back office. Last week’s announcements from AT&T, Ericsson and Cisco suggest that 2017 is off to a good start with legacy network shutdowns and multivendor network transformations moving forward. If operators are truly serious about network transformations and renovations, these types of announcements will need to evolve to be as frequent as the seemingly nonstop buzz around 5G and IoT.

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