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Cisco has introduced an all-in-one platform that mobile carriers can use for running virtualized network services.
The networking company also unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week plans for developing a carrier-grade 5G router with Ericsson and Intel. The partners plan to test the technology in Verizon labs.
The new Cisco NFV product, called Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure Solution (NFVI), provides the computing, storage and networking infrastructure to run software-based network services. The product is designed to complement other Cisco technology for virtualizing network functions, such as its Virtualized Packet Core (VPC).
The VPC combines mobile packet core services for 4G, 3G, 2G, Wi-Fi and small cell networks into a single product. Vodacom, a South African carrier, is integrating VPC and NFVI into its network.
Major carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, Deutsche Telecom and SK Telecom, are in the process of moving hardware-based network services to more agile and flexible software-based systems running on virtual machines. AT&T, for example, wants to virtualize more than 75% of its network functions by 2020.
Cisco NFV versus OCP
Most of the carriers have network functions virtualization (NFV) projects underway on technology developed through the Open Compute Project, an initiative started by Facebook. OCP's purpose is to develop inexpensive open source server, storage systems and networking hardware.
Cisco competes with OCP by delivering production-ready technology, such as NFVI, which the company says is "ready-to-go, fully integrated and tested infrastructure." Cisco is providing support for the technology, which includes Red Hat's Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform.
Pre-built infrastructure, such as the Cisco NFV product, is attractive to carriers that need to deploy technology today to handle the increasing number of mobile devices. By the end of 2016, almost two-thirds of the 3.2 billion people with access to the Internet globally will be doing so on mobile devices, according to IDC. The number of mobile Internet users is expected to grow 2% annually through 2020.
Other traffic drivers include video and the Internet of Things, which refers to adding sensing, computing and communications capabilities to devices ranging from home appliances to industrial equipment. Gartner predicts 25 billion IoT devices by 2020, a fivefold increase from today.
Carriers plan to absorb the higher data traffic by upgrading their networks to 5G technology, which is expected to deliver speeds up to 100 times faster than the average 4G long term evolution (LTE) connection available today. AT&T and Verizon plan to conduct field trials of the faster technology this year.
Carriers with aggressive 5G strategies are the targets for the router from Cisco, Ericsson and Intel. The companies did not release details or say when the router would be available.
Cisco and Ericsson launched last November a broad partnership in which the two companies would work together in developing, marketing and selling networking, mobility and cloud technologies. Over the last three months, the companies have had about 200 "customer engagements" that have resulted in multiple joint sales, the companies said.
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