In the past, wireless carriers built and operated their own networks. Now, vital components of those networks are being virtualized--their functions are being provided as services over the Internet. Wireless network virtualization isn't just a more cost-effective way of doing things, however. Virtualization creates exciting new business opportunities for operators, resellers, and users.
Introducing new features and services on traditional mobile networks is time consuming and expensive because traditional mobile networks consist largely of proprietary hardware and software. Virtualizing the mobile network dramatically reduces the time required to develop and deliver new services. Services that catch on with consumers can be quickly scaled to meet demand. And virtualization makes it easier for third parties to create and sell packaged solutions for markets such as health care.
The wireless industry is not a complete stranger to virtualization. Today's mobile phones are also personal organizers, digital cameras, portable music players, wristwatches, and GPS receivers. While some additional hardware is involved (such as camera lenses), most of the functions are provided as software or network services. You never have to adjust the time displayed on your mobile phone because your phone gets the exact time for your current location over the network. And that GPS receiver in your phone uses a technology called assisted GPS for faster, more accurate locating. Soon, NFC-equipped phones will serve as virtual credit cards.
Catch The Wave
The wave of wireless network virtualization comes at a propitious time. In the current economic environment, businesses must focus on reducing costs and boosting productivity. Network virtualization will allow mobile operators to limit capital investment and keep monthly expenses in line with current business activity. The virtualization of credit cards (using NFC) will enable retail merchants to offer customers faster service and greater convenience. Cutting costs while delivering a better customer experience is exactly what's needed during tough times.
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of wireless network virtualization. A mobile phone network is similar to an electric power plant in at least two key respects. Both must be designed to ensure that demand never exceeds capacity. Yet both operate most efficiently when consumption is steady and just shy of capacity. Unfortunately, real-world demand fluctuates greatly and is hard to control. Not many people are willing to make phone calls or download songs at 3:00 AM just because rates are lower.
If operators can't control demand, then maybe it's time to look at controlling supply. With network virtualization supply is much more elastic. Mobile operators can purchase network resources as they need them. There are cloud-based solutions available or on the way for the radio network (example: Devicescape Software, Inc.), the core network (Connectem Inc.), and the provisioning and billing functions (Itson, Inc.). (continued...)