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Virtual collision

By April 27, 2016 No Comments

The telecoms and IT industries are full of buzz words and acronyms with dual (if not multiple) meanings:

Node – Flow – Platform – Interface 

Just to mention a few.

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February it seemed like 2 very different, unrelated “virtual” worlds were being talked about at the same time. On the consumer side of the event there were gadget folks demoing the latest virtual reality (VR) headsets. That seemed to garner much of the media attention and few summaries of the MWC event neglected to mention VR or show images of the latest headsets, often being worn by seemingly unlikely users. In other, perhaps less funky pockets of the event there was mention of “virtual networks” but that seemed techie, unrelated, more “engineery” and somehow a bit far removed from consumer demand. To be fair, it’s unlikely you’ll be dropping into your neighbourhood electronics store for a “virtual network” any time soon even if you do end up trying out a VR headset.

For a while it seemed that the use of the use of the term “virtualized” in both contexts was an unrelated coincidence. Oddly however these 2 virtual worlds seem on course to collide sooner rather than later.

Virtual network elements have been enabled for some time. The ability to move network functions to the cloud and flexibly scale functionality up, down and sideways has been an attractive driver of cost savings and service flexibility for several years. Recently however, one Operator we know has been describing how the continued explosion in content (especially VR content) is likely to drive further demand for the efficiencies that virtual networks provide. It’s an Operator that knows what it is talking about in fairness, having seen 150,000% growth (that’s one hundred and fifty thousand percent in case you think you’ve seen a typo) in mobile data since 2007. Driven by continued data growth, the same Operator is on track to virtualize 75% of its network by 2020.

If VR content generates even 25 times the amount of data per minute compared to a minute of HD video (think at least in terms of 100MB versus 4MB per minute of video), then the requirement for elastic network scalability seems a certainty. Actually, streaming of 4K resolution VR movies at 30 frames per second is likely to require more than 300MB per second, live events could require substantially more.

But VR is a niche, right? Jupiter (the research company, as opposed to the planet) predicts that 30 million VR headsets per year could be sold internationally by 2020. Many could be priced at $100 and take the form of smartphone add-ons. Even if you conservatively believe that only gamers, sports fans and a few other niche users such as hotel inspectors are likely to use it, say even 10% of an existing subscriber base, this still equates to at least a several hundred percent increase in data traffic. Factor in the determination of global media brands such as Samsung and Facebook that are heavily backing virtual reality and augmented reality (less immersive but where information is layered on real-world environments and events) and the results are likely to be much more dramatic.

Also at play is the renewed and publicly-stated interest of other media brands such as Netflix to work in partnership generally with Operators. (Netflix just also happens to be squarely in the video space). This also demonstrates a sharpened focus on flexible business models, easier testing and shortened service launch times enabled by more flexible, virtual networks.

Combined network capability with surging video demand might just be a “virtual” collision some Operators have been hoping for.

For more information on virtualized networks and advanced network developments, head for: