SDN skills gap could open door to virtual networks integrators, claims EE

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The telecoms industry could face a skills gap when it comes to implementing NFV and SDN, paving the way for new types of players to run virtual networks on behalf of operators, an EE executive has claimed.

Phillip Bridge, Senior Network Architect at EE, said that the UK operator was in an "exploratory phase" when it came to deciding its plans for virtualising its networks. 

New kinds of solutions currently hitting the market are a means of solving the problem around "massive" networks, he added.

"There's something a bit broken about how we operate and architecture networks today... what is apparent is how we built things in the old world does not map anymore,” commented Bridge. “Networks are much more costly than they should be and we can't deploy features at the speeds that we want to."

Speaking at a Cambridge Wireless Virtual Network Special Interest Group event in London on Thursday, Bridge said he benefits of SDN and NFV were clear to operators. 

These range from lowering the total cost of ownership because of the ability to hold all of the hardware in the same place. Bridge said networks will benefit from the ability to thoroughly test new services before implementation. 

"We can now do what Google does - we can throw something up and see if it sticks. We can know in advance if something is going to work before full implementation," he said.

However, the new technology creates a number of issues in the short term. Brdige warned that there would be an initial skills gap as companies get to grips with the implications of the new solutions.

He said: "There's a big effort to validate and integrate from different sources. I wonder if that creates an opportunity for a new kind of player, like a virtual networks integrator. We need some new commercial support models around this."

At present, Bridge said he "struggled" to see how telcos had the skills and understanding to fully use the technology, compared to more nimble start-ups. 

While stressing this was not in EE's current plans, he said it may be more sensible for operators to hand over the running of its virtual network to a third party. "It might be simpler to say to an integrator with its own NFV optimised hardware 'I need a turnkey solution'."