ETSI Gathers Points of View from Asian Telcos and Sets Out Future NFV Development

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By Jake Saunders | 3Q 2023 | IN-7032

ETSI convened a “Telco cloud-native roundtable” during MWC Shanghai 2023, gathering insights and perspectives from a number of Asian telcos regarding Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and cloud-native services development. There were a number of discussions regarding how to promote telco cloud automation and how to improve network reliability. The quorum also then set out study programs for the future evolution of NFV.

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MWC Shanghai Was the Stage for a Telco Cloud-Native Roundtable


MWC Shanghai 2023 returned for the first time since 2021, with more than 37,000 people attending from 115 countries. Many sectors, not just telcos, have been determined to rebound and get back to business as usual. ETSI took advantage of the convention to promote Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) community participation from Asian operators in the quorum and discuss the future evolution of the telco cloud. To that end, ETSI ISG NFV organized a “Telco Cloud-native Roundtable” during MWC Shanghai 2023.

Cloud services are becoming significant revenue generators and enable a wide range of novel and innovative services. Driven by software services, ABI Research forecasts that global cloud revenue (consisting of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Network-as-a-Service (NaaS)) will grow from US$324 billion in 2020 to more than US$778 billion in 2025. Telcos are taking their slice of that market. ABI Research forecasts that global telco cloud spending (generated from telco infrastructure) will grow from US$8.7 billion in 2020 to US$29.3 billion by 2025. A number of telcos are going down the hybrid cloud route, in which they leverage solutions from hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Azure, and Tencent, among others. ABI Research forecasts that global hybrid cloud revenue will grow from an estimated US$5.2 billion in 2021 to over US$8.5 billion in 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13%.

Embracing Cloud-Based Microservices & Network Resource Management


As the cloud services market grows, the telco sector is determined to contribute to its future direction, key technical features, and growth. ETSI, to ensure a broad base for its NFV and cloud-native virtualization initiatives, has been keen to integrate viewpoints from Asian telcos. During the roundtable, there were presentations from China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, SKT, AIS, and NTT DOCOMO. It is evident that telcos do want to leverage opportunities in cloud-based microservices and network resource management, but it also has become clear that there are “challenges.” Three reoccurring themes were: 1) the best approach to implement containerization (i.e., Virtual Machine (VM)-based containers versus bare-metal containers); 2) the lack of End-to-End (E2E) automation; and 3) the friction and cost that is incurred from the presence of various incompatible fragmented solutions and products.

During the open discussion, there was debate as to how to promote telco cloud automation. Both operators and vendors recommended introducing methods such as intent-driven Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Moreover, from the perspective of a live-network’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) lifecycle, operators requested better observability to ensure network reliability. Considering the best approach to implement containerization, most attendees present suggested that having a single unified backward-compatible platform for managing both bare metal and virtualized resource pools would be advantageous. Their top three concerns for selecting between VM-based containers and bare-metal containers were performance, resource consumption, and security.

Future Roadmap


ETSI and its stakeholders have been busy expanding the future roadmap for telco and cloud virtualization technologies. ETSI ISG NFV has started work on Release 6, which will focus on: 1) new challenges, 2) architecture evolution, and 3) additional infrastructure work items. Study groups have been setting out the future evolution of NFV, especially in relation to declarative intent-driven approaches, containerization, autonomous networking, etc. As we head toward a 6G future, NFV architectures will also need to deliver greater energy-efficiency and resiliency for Network Functions (NFs). Backward compatibility will also be essential where there is a 5G Non-Standalone (NSA)/Standalone (SA) converged core that supports SA NFs and NSA NFs with legacy protocols.

NFV architectures have also continued to evolve, especially with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) automation. Data centers, either cloud-based or “on-premises” are becoming complex, heterogeneous environments. In addition to Central Processing Units (CPUs), complementary Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) handle parallel processing functions for accelerated computing tasks of all kinds. AI, Deep Learning (DL), and big data analytics applications are underpinned by GPUs. However, as data centers have expanded in complexity, Digital Processing Units (DPUs) have become the third member of this data-centric accelerated computing model. The DPU helps orchestrate and direct the data around the data center and other processing nodes on the network.

NFV must enable heterogeneous hardware management to ensure telco computing resources are open access and accessible to third-party APIs. NFV has always aspired to be agile, but as networks migrate to 5G-Advanced and 6G network architectures, agility will be a fundamental tenet of operations.

Additional insights can also be gleaned from two whitepapers that were launched at the event, In the Light of Ten Years from the NFV Introductory Whitepaper and Evolving NFV towards the next decade.