Advances in processing power and virtualisation technology allow many businesses around the world to run on infrastructure they don’t own. What would have been seen as unusual and risky ten years ago, is now regarded as a prudent way for many organisations to access computing resources. They can adjust the amount of power available to them as and when it’s needed and access new services quickly and seamlessly. There is the added benefit that technology costs become an operating rather than capital expense.
In the world of telecoms, sharing infrastructure is not unusual and has been intrinsic to the industry for many years. From early telegraph cables, right through to the ultra-fast mobile data networks, telecoms networks have been capable of hosting traffic from multiple companies.
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But unlike companies offering cloud computing services, network complexity has made it difficult for owners to give partners a high degree of autonomy over the services they provide. These restrictions make networks less attractive to potential partners and can limit the amount of value the owners can derive from assets, which is an issue when investment is urgently needed in ultra-fast fibre connections to the premises. However, we have been testing a pioneering new technology which could help change this.
Working in partnership with Huawei, we have used virtualisation technology to partition a single physical access network into multiple virtual networks. Commonly referred to as “Fixed Access Network Slicing”, the technology we’ve tested in our labs in Ireland gives Vodafone, and those sharing its network, increased flexibility and control over the services they are able to offer. For the test, we created separate consumer and enterprise virtual network slices on a live fibre optic network. The consumer slice carried broadband internet and Vodafone TV services whereas the enterprise slice carried OneNet business services including voice.
In the past, Vodafone would need to be heavily involved whenever a partner wanted to make a change to a service. With a virtual network, a new service for a consumer or enterprise can be provisioned, configured and assured by the service owner with little or no intervention from Vodafone. This means that partners are no longer encumbered by the way a network is configured by its owner and can have greater control over the type and quality of service they offer. Virtualisation technology simplifies the management of shared networks and helps us offer a new level of service to our partners.
In a world where delivering fibre to the premises will be critical to consumers and businesses alike, we’re confident that the technology will help us increase utilisation levels and stimulate the development of new services. It could also make it easier for partners to share our networks which in turn will help us build fibre networks that deliver ultra-fast speeds to everyone and not just the few.