Alcatel-Lucent unveiled a new network services platform (NSP) that utilises software-defined networking (SDN) at both the IP and optical layers – an industry first says the supplier – and which holds out the promise of allowing mobile and fixed operators to provision services much faster than before and make better use of network resources.

“This is a major announcement,” Manish Gulyani, Alcatel-Lucent’s VP of product marketing (IP routing and transport), told Mobile World Live. “It enhances our SDN portfolio significantly with a carrier solution that is aimed at service providers’ wide area networks [IP and optical]. We believe it is the first really unified platform that’s going to allow our customers to unify service automation, along with real-time network control. It will give them the capability to introduce an on-demand, simplified customer experience.”

The way services are provisioned today, Gulyani explained, multiple systems are invariably involved, as well as an often laborious service design process in which capacity availability needs to be checked. It’s a process that can take “days and weeks”.

As more apps and services move to the cloud, however, there is greater demand on the network (by enterprises and operator customers) to access those services as and when they are needed, which is where Alcatel-Lucent’s SDN-based NSP is designed to come in. Gulyani said the new platform would make services “on-demand and easy to use”.

Bold claims
Indeed, the Franco-US supplier made a number of bold claims for its new NSP, based on 40 customer engagements and trials over the last year, and research carried out by industry analyst firm ACG.

By “streamlining” the definition of new services, Alcatel-Lucent said the NSP allowed innovative offerings to be designed more than 58 per cent faster – with at least 56 per cent fewer resources – than was possible before (Gulyani added that these percentages assumed a level of existing automation, so would be much higher when automation was absent).

And once defined, maintained Alcatel-Lucent, new services can be provisioned “instantaneously” across multiple layers, domains and different networking vendor platforms.

Underpinning the NSP is tighter coupling of IP and optical core networks, courtesy of SDN, so traffic flows can be managed across both routing and optical elements. This brings down cost per bit.

A recently-published study by Bell Labs, the industrial research division of Alcatel-Lucent, showed that by converging routing and optical transport technologies, operators can meet the same requirements for service availability while using up to 40 per cent less network resources.

Multi-layer optimisation, however, has historically posed a huge mathematical and algorithmic problem, but the NSP announcement suggests Bell Labs has made significant headway in cracking it.

Bell Labs research also shows that operators are able to support 24 per cent more revenue-generating traffic by using sophisticated algorithms to intelligently distribute new connections across their network.

Gulyani said Alcatel-Lucent had already achieved one NSP sale – with a ‘Tier One’ operator in Asia – but the first release of the product would not be ready until June.

BT, meanwhile, has gone on record as vindicating Alcatel-Lucent’s SDN approach to the wide area network.

“Tightly coupling service requirements and performance with network control, as in ALU’s NSP, promises to deliver real-world benefits of centralised optimisation whilst exploiting the strength of our existing distributed network,” said Rob Shakir, BT’s end-to-end network architect.

Of course, Alcatel-Lucent is set to be purchased by rival Nokia next year in an eye watering €15.6 billion deal.