I'm a bit hard to surprise these days, but a few things caught me off guard in 2013 and here they are, in reverse order:
The power behind the virtualization trend: Software-defined networking (SDN) was already a hot topic at the close of 2012 and network functions virtualization (NFV) was picking up steam, so the fact these twin towers of virtualization dominated the telecom headlines in 2013 is far from surprising. But the determination behind service providers to push this forward was impressive – and a bit unexpected. The continued insistence that this is a long-term, full-scale network transformation a foot will keep virtualization front and center for some time to come. (See ESDN: SDN Is Under-Hyped, Says Ciena and ESDN: AT&T Calls for SDN APIs Now.)
The emergence of the MANO layer. This is virtualization surprise, part two. And, to be honest, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all and yet, it seemed to catch many folks off guard. By early summer of 2013, a number of folks paying close attention to the work of the ETSI NFV Industry Specifications Group (ISG) said there are major challenges lurking in the Management and Network Orchestration or MANO layer. They are too many to be detailed here, but one of the basic issues is how, when or whether to interface to existing operations and business support systems in introducing virtualized functions into the network. This is also going to play out over time and, no doubt, mean more curve balls. (See In the Cloud, Repurposed BSS Won't Cut It, The SDN/NFV Integration Challenge, ESDN: OSS Implosion, SDN & NFV to Shake Up Operator OSS Market, Heavy Reading Finds and Clouding Up the NFV Transition).
Cloud services face same old challenges. The things that were a challenge to cloud adoption in 2011 were a challenge to cloud adoption in 2013. Telecom network operators who jumped into cloud two to three years ago are still refining their approach – thus both Verizon Enterprise Solutions and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) made major cloud moves in the second half of the year – and enterprises are still finding reasons not to move some core applications and data into the cloud. (See Enterprises Not Rushing to Embrace Cloud, Why Verizon Needed a Cloud Reboot and CenturyLink Shows Cloud Is Still Critical.)
Competitive eyes are smiling. In the US, competitive carriers are claiming things are going better, with business fueled in part by mobile backhaul services but also by growth in a variety of other areas, and continued demand for broadband data. One of those "other things" might be the biggest surprise I had this year. (See Comptel a Sunny Spot This Fall.)
Voice services still generate revenues. Voice is widely considered the tail, and no longer the dog, of telecom but the move to an all-IP realm is producing a surprising interest in converged services that include voice capabilities – the trend formerly known as Unified Communications – and network operators are again making money by delivering voice. To be fair, some of what they are delivering isn't actually voice, but network functions and capabilities associated with voice, such as phone numbers, and what they are delivering is actually VoIP, not traditional circuit-switched voice. But still. Mobile voice is even getting a little bit of love – and may well get more next year when VoLTE becomes more real. (See Why Voice Still Matters, Mobile Voice is Dead. Long Live Mobile Voice!, Business Market Rediscovers Its Voice and Bandwidth Bringing Profits Back to Voice.)
So that's just one reporter's view - what surprised you in the past year?
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading