Internet service providers are always upgrading their networks to better prepare for the future and meet the needs of their customers. One facet of this evolution is a shift to new network architectures heavily relying upon white-box hardware and open source software. Another is the increasing rollout of DOCSIS, experimentation with DOCSIS 4.0, and an emphasis on uplink capabilities. White box and open source technology is making its way through ISPs’ core networks, access networks, radio-access networks, and now to the edge.
The disaggregation of network functions and hardware offer ISPs many benefits, including increased revenue opportunities, especially with regards to universal CPE (uCPE) and edge computing, increased network efficiency and reduced total cost of ownership with regards to networks. White box and disaggregation may also simplify device deployment logistics, once a proper automated system is established.
Network Disaggregation: US Players Leading the Way
Internet service providers in the United States have led the way in network disaggregation and the deployment of commodity hardware. US operators using disaggregation and white box in active deployments include AT&T, Lumen, Comcast, Verizon, and DISH Network. AT&T and DISH are heavily leveraging white box and disaggregation throughout their networks, while other players prefer to make use of these solutions for specific business cases – such as for uCPE, edge computing, or in specific components of the access network.
White Box Drivers
uCPE and edge computing leads to increased revenue opportunities
- High customer demand for network services in the cloud delivery model
- Improved efficiency and simplification of service deployment
- Ability to rapidly create, test, and deploy new services without needing to physically install/add new devices to network
Increased network efficiency
- Single server capable of supporting many virtualized functions, many services. Easily deploy more services as needed, no need to buy/install additional hardware
- Avoid vendor lock-in; service providers are able to mix-and-match devices and services from multiple vendors. No needs to install multiple redundant equipment from different vendors.
Reduced total cost of ownership
- Increased network efficiency leads to reduced total cost of ownership.
- The ability to consolidate racks leads to hardware savings, reduced power consumption.
Simplify device deployment logistics
- Single hardware solution running many virtualized functions as opposed to dozens of appliances running a single function.
- Easily control clusters of devices from a centralized command and control system; visibility into specific devices and services being used.
Inhibitors have included sometimes complicated logistics with regards to device deployments and maintenance, lack of cost-effectiveness at the low end, and concern about the maturity of the market – in particular the long-term viability of software vendors. Smaller operators may lack the technical expertise to deploy and manage white box in-house, and work to integrate software vendors on the backend may be significant.
However, white box and disaggregation offers competitive advantages to carriers that are becoming more widely recognized. Hardware and software players are beginning to resolve the factors inhibiting white box. Network OS vendors are offering new enterprise support models. With an increasing number of solutions existing for over five years, the market has become mature and solutions have been by and large tested and validated. Expect white box adoption to continue to grow, particularly with regards to uCPE, edge routes, and telco data centers.
Cost effectiveness may vary greatly depending on the exact implementation of white box and disaggregation, as well as the network architecture of the carrier in question. uCPE and edge computing in particular offer unique revenue opportunities for operators, while carriers are increasingly seeing cloud-enabled microservices as a desirable, efficient, and flexible way to orchestrate networks and network functions as well as monetize offerings for both enterprise customers and consumers. Solutions such as DriveNets promise operators the ability to rapidly create, test, and deploy new services without needing to physically install or add new devices to the network.
This is an excerpt from Parks Associates research library covering the US broadband markets. For more information, visit www.parksassociates.com
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