Network functions virtualization (NFV) refers to the replacement of network functions on dedicated appliances—such as routers, load balancers, and firewalls—with virtualized instances running as software on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. NFV’s purpose is to transform the way networks are built and services are delivered. With NFV, any enterprise can simplify a wide array of network functions, as well as maximize efficiencies and introduce new revenue-generating services faster and easier than ever before.
NFV is a key enabler of the coming 5G infrastructure, helping to virtualize all the various appliances in the network. In 5G, NFV will enable network slicing—a virtual network architecture aspect that allows multiple virtual networks to be created atop a shared physical infrastructure. Virtual networks can then be customized to meet the needs of applications, services, devices, customers or operators. In 5G, NFV will also enable the distributed cloud, helping to create flexible and programmable networks for the needs of tomorrow.
5G NFV and Network Slicing
In 5G NFV will permit a physical network to be separated into multiple virtual networks that can support different radio access networks (RANs) or various types of services for certain customer segments. Network slices will be isolated from one another in the control plane and user plane, so the user experience will be the same as if it was a physically separate network.
Network slicing will play a crucial role in 5G networks because of the multitude of use cases and new services 5G will support. A primary 5G NFV network slicing use case will be more powerful mobile broadband with lower latency, but it will also lead to great benefits in bandwidth, mobility, resiliency, security, and availability. Future 5G networks will offer operators the flexibility to allocate speed, capacity, and coverage in logical slices according to the demands of each use case.
Distributed cloud technology allows multiple data centers to appear as a single, virtual data center. In 5G, NFV will be about more than merely moving functions to commodity hardware. The 5G NFV distributed cloud computing environment will be scalable, resilient, and fault-tolerant. Combining distributed cloud technology with virtualized network functions (VNFs) will allow the VNFs to be deployed based on performance and other requirements, making it easier for operators to optimize, manage, and maintain networks.
With 5G NFV, operators will be able to program their networks in real time and introduce new services quickly, based on service needs rather than routing configuration—essential where end users are mobile and bandwidth demands vary.
5G NFV Controls Virtualization
By its very nature, 5G NFV will enhance the viability of 5G RAN functionality and architecture, including increased automation, operational agility, and reduced capital expenditure (CapEx). As mobile networks migrate from physical to virtual, 5G NFV will improve both business agility and operational sustainability.