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China Mobile charts NFV growth, eyes next decade with ETSI

Jay Ian Birbeck

July 20, 2023

3 Min Read
China Mobile charts NFV growth, eyes next decade with ETSI
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With NFV quietly but decisively changing the telecommunications landscape, China Mobile has recognized its potential. Taking center stage at MWC Shanghai, China’s largest wireless carrier showcased a decade of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) breakthroughs.

NFV technology enhances network flexibility and efficiency by freeing functions from dedicated hardware and transferring them to software applications. It plays a vital role in the rapid evolution of 5G networks, enabling faster scalability and improved services.

“China Mobile has constructed a colossal NFV network spanning 178,000 servers, supporting over 370 million 5G users and 270 million IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) users,” explained Liu Jinglei, head of the Computing Technology Research Center and Deputy Director of Network and IT Technology Research Institute at the China Mobile Research Institute, in an interview with Telecoms.com.

The company began researching NFV in 2012, piloted it in 2015, and rolled it out commercially in 2018. Over four years, China Mobile virtualized more than 40 types of network functions, accounting for over 85% of all telco network functions. It also established over 300 nodes on the edge cloud side for third-party IT applications.

The crown jewel of their achievement lies in their unrivaled telecom-grade reliability, standing at a staggering 99.999%. This impressive feat owes much to their robust End-to-End (E2E) reliability mechanism and the successful application of best practices in the NFV domain.

Yoshihiro Nakajima, chairman of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) ISG NFV, praised China Mobile’s shift towards cloud-based software systems. He underscored ETSI’s input in setting NFV standards, paving the way for successful adoption by global carriers, including industry giants such as China Mobile, SKT, and Docomo.

Despite advancements, the road ahead is not without bumps.

One such hurdle lies in the transition from older Virtual Machine (VM) technology – which ran network functions on virtual replicas of physical computers – to the newer and nimbler “Container technology.” Unlike its predecessor, container technology ensures seamless operation as software traverses various computing environments, banishing compatibility issues that could occur with VM tech. The integration of this technology into the existing NFV structure, while maintaining network stability, is crucial for future advancement.

Automation is another key focus for the sector, as networks grow increasingly complex. Using adaptable tools that streamline operations and self-contained software units is essential for efficiently automating telecom cloud networks.

However, harnessing NFV extends beyond technical innovation. “It also requires rethinking non-technical aspects, including management processes and operation and maintenance systems,” stated Liu, highlighting the necessity for comprehensive transformation.

Exciting times lie ahead for NFV as it embraces emerging technologies such as AI and large language models. Liu emphasized how this fusion could spark industry upgrades, open smart business opportunities, and streamline processes. Liu also highlighted China Mobile’s vision to enhance network agility and simplify operations for a smarter, faster 5G service – or, as he called it, a “fully intelligent 5.5G” service.

Looking at the future of telecom cloud standardization, Nakajima envisions a transformation driven by the evolution of APIs, the rise of hybrid technology infrastructure, and advancements in managing and coordinating network resources.

As NFV technology develops, the average consumer can expect faster, more reliable services from carriers like China Mobile.


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