Small Cell Forum Reveals Blueprint for Network Virtualization

The Small Cell Forum (SCF) has published a new version of their practical working guide detailing technical and commercial best practices for operators planning to deploy Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Small cell virtualization will be a key enabler of 5G HetNets, enterprise services and the Internet of Things (IoT), offering significant benefits including scalability, agility, cost reduction and network slicing.

In Release 8, SCF combines unique experience of real-world deployments of NFV technology today with small cells at the network edge, which will be invaluable in building out the networks for the future.

Virtualization allows network functions to be separated from the radio, and run on commodity hardware, including the Cloud. This allows resources to be scaled dynamically according to the number and type of mobile services in use.

This provides a stepping stone to network slicing, which allows virtualized network resources to be readily carved up and assigned on-demand, enabling new wholesale connectivity business models, or multi-operator sharing.

To date, industry approaches to RAN virtualization have mainly been vendor proprietary, risking fragmentation and delaying progress. These documents from SCF offer a unified set of guidelines, interfaces and specifications allowing operators to approach virtualization in an efficient, interoperable and future-proofed way.

The benefits to the mobile industry of virtualization are clear, with a range of major advantages including cost reduction, scalability and the ability to offer a broad range of new services. However, as with many new technologies the threat of fragmentation is very real. Small Cell Forum is in the vanguard of this movement and the experience from this sector is invaluable to the wider industry, particularly in light of 5G and IoT. They are proud to have delivered Release 8, which will help accelerate virtualization industry-wide.

Central to Release 8 is an open interface specification which splits the small cell into physical and virtual components. Called nFAPI (network functional application platform interface), it defines a fronthaul link between physical and virtual, which can be transported over the packet ethernet connections widely available in enterprise, urban and campus deployments.

Release 8 also contains documents to accelerate commercial adoption of virtualized small cells, including details of network architectures, management, transport performance requirements, impact on deployment and operations, and many more.