Exclusive: TAG halts Balkan NFV trials

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Telekom Austria has suspended a trial of virtualised core network functions at VIP mobile, its Serbian operating company, as it restructures its operations in southeast Europe.

A separate trial of a virtualised evolved packet core (EPC) within the live network of its Croatian subsidiary Vipnet is also in doubt. The future of a number of Telekom Austria’s key vendor partnerships, essential to the success of the trials so far, are also uncertain. 

Telekom Austria confirmed last month it was cutting four of 12 senior management positions from its operating companies in Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. The operator said it will group its Serbian and Slovenian units on the one hand, and its Croatian and Macedonia businesses on the other, as single management ‘clusters’.

Wolfgang Fleischer‏, Head of NFV and IMS Services at Telekom Austria Group, told Mobile Europe: “The restructuring in Serbia and Slovenia has meant people are now busy with organisational changes, and they are no longer dealing with the virtualisation path we laid out."

Telekom Austria has seen a number of high profile exits this year, with CTO Gunther Ottendorfer, a high profile advocate of virtualisation, leaving in March. He was followed by CEO Hannes Ametsreiter, who announced last month he was swapping the Austrian operator for Vodafone Germany.

Following trials of a number of individual NFV components at various operating subsidiaries last year, Telekom Austria announced in February it had deployed a fully virtualised stack, combining all of these, in its live network at VIP mobile in Serbia

The VIP mobile deployment incorporated NFV components from a number of vendors, including virtualised EPC from Connectem, virtualised IMS from Metaswitch and virtualised VoLTE from OpenCloud. Telekom Austria described the project at the time as a “world first”. The Croatian deployment involved just the virtualised EPC from Connectem

Following the acquisition of Connectem by storage networking firm Brocade in March, Telekom Austria had expected to deploy Connectem’s virtual EPC in its commercial networks in both Serbia and Croatia. 

Fleischer said: “Our intention was to continue deployment with Brocade in Serbia. However, these events in the holding company and the operating companies have obstructed our path.”

However, Telekom Austria’s NFV rollout remains on course, with a new partner to be announced by the end of the year, trials to run in tandem across its footprint, and full commercial deployment across 2G, 3G and 4G in all its territories through 2016.

Nokia Networks and Huawei are considered to be the frontrunners for the new infrastructure contract, although Fleisher would not be drawn on the matter. 

“Right now, we are focused on introducing the virtualised EPC into our live networks, across out footprint. We are in the final stage of negotiating a contract with a larger vendor, and will complete testing this year. Hopefully, by early next year, we will have it deployed in most of our operating companies,” he said.

Just incremental traffic will be put through the new systems in the first instance, with the load increasing as performance targets are met. “Provided everything goes well, we should have moved over to the new solutions by the end of next year,” he said.

Telekom Austria’s Bulgarian subsidiary is expected to be the first to go live with its virtualised EPC solution, the operator said. Its A1 network in its home market is likely to be last.

This is an extract of a forthcoming feature from the next issue of Mobile Europe, which will have an insight report into virtualisation. To subscribe to Mobile Europe, please click here.