Nokia Networks says it’s delivering the world’s first ‘carrier-grade’ commercial platform for NFV (network function virtualisation) technology and that initial deployments will be cloud-based VoLTE.

The identity of which mobile network player (or players) has ordered the platform is not disclosed, but the Finnish supplier says first network implementation is planned to go live with a “major operator” by end 2014.

Network functions, through NFV, are implemented on virtual machines rather than being tied to specific hardware. And by shifting from proprietary infrastructure to open platforms, operators should be able to avoid customer lock-ins as well as be more agile in service delivery.

Nokia Networks says it’s ticking all these boxes.

As part of its NFV platform announcement, the Finnish firm launched new ‘cloud network director’ kit. The director acts as an orchestration tool that can “automatically deploy, configure, optimise and repair a set of virtualised network functions [VNF] to simplify the deployment of services like VoLTE”.

But by having open interfaces for “easy integration” with VNF managers from other vendors, the tool also gives mobile broadband operators flexibility on supplier selection.

Nokia Networks adds that an operator’s existing operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) can also be integrated with the director.

The Finnish vendor emphasises that its new NFV product is in keeping with guidelines outlined by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute Network Functions Virtualisation (ETSI NFV) working group, which is aiming to harmonise the various approaches to implement cloud-enabled solutions.

“The prime motivations for operators to move to the telco cloud are business agility and network flexibility. We are making 2014 the year in which these benefits become reality for operators,” said Michael Clever, senior vice president of Core at Nokia Networks.

Nokia’s announcement is the latest in a series of supplier moves to ramp up their NFV credentials. They include Alcatel-Lucent, which, in the run up to this year’s Mobile World Congress, announced it was in trials with some 20 service providers using its NFV portfolio, which includes virtual EPC (evolved packet core), IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) and LTE RAN technology.

Operators, too, are beginning to move on NFV. NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile operator, announced in May it had completed proof of concept (PoC) trials with Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and NEC to verify the feasibility of NFV (network function virtualisation) technology. It now plans to virtualise EPC, the LTE core network, and have commercial services running over it by the end of its 2015/16 fiscal year (31 March 2016).

Telefonica has arguably the most ambitious NFV plans. The operator has set a target of having 30 per cent of the company’s new infrastructure virtualised by 2016.

The Spanish giant is also testing Nokia Networks’ virtual IMS and virtual EPC capabilities, using both the supplier’s hardware and software.

Telefonica is a strong candidate for Nokia Networks’ “major operator” announcement on cloud-based VoLTE.