The technology of the central office has evolved considerably since the first telephone exchanges of the 1870s. However, despite shifting infrastructure, the function of the central office, or cable headend as an access point remains essentially the same today.
Of course, change is ever-present. As such, the role of the central office is set to grow considerably in the coming years as networks are upgraded to support a diverse range of devices in the IoT.
In an effort to provide a better user experience, servers will be increasingly deployed in the central office and further out in the access network. There are four major trends which are now reshaping the central office. These include the evolution of access networks, the convergence of wireless and wireline networks, virtualization through NFV and SDN, and the move from the central office to edge data centers.
We’ve previously outlined how the evolution of access networks and the convergence of wireless and wireline networks are having an impact. In this post, we’ll outline and explore the third of these trends: virtualization through NFV and SDN.
In the same way that the smartphone has made devices such as cameras, calculators and watches obsolete – replaced by software on a single device – virtualization means that network functions performed by actual hardware equipment are replaced by software programmes. This is expressed as “network functions virtualization” (NFV) in the central office. SDN or “software-defined networking” is also vital to changes to the network architecture; by introducing concepts of centrally orchestrated networking, SDN enables agile traffic rerouting (depending on network conditions) and optimizes available capacity use.
NFV and SDN will have a substantial impact on network services and application deployment, and are changing the nature of the central office. As a result, these technologies and the new architectures they entail can reduce costs and optimize capacity. While network functions like routing, firewalls, deep packet inspection and session border controls have previously been performed by dedicated and expensive pieces of equipment, NFV and SDN are circumventing these expenses. Implementing network functions with software, which operates on low-cost x86 servers deployed in data center network architectures, allows a provider to more easily allocate equipment and bandwidth to deal with demand – for example, at a large sporting event.
The development of NFV and SDN parallels the convergence of wireline and wireless networks, as new architectures are developed for new services. For example, the central office will see added equipment to support C-RAN – service providers are deploying NFV and SDN equipment such as servers, switches, routers, and SDN controllers and orchestrators. This new central office architecture will allow providers to deliver a wider range of services, adopt new business models, and enter new markets.
In the long term, NFV and SDN will enable providers to scale up network capacity and increase the speed of deployment for new applications and services based on actual customer demand. The world’s networks are rapidly evolving and a more virtualized model will require an evolved infrastructure. In order to create a successful plan of action, providers must consider their mix of current and new technologies, timing, and ramp-up speed. A higher-performance fiber-optic infrastructure will be a pre-requisite for service providers to remain competitive.
You can learn more about considerations for modern network infrastructure here.