Digitizing physical proprietary infrastructure, a process known as network function virtualization (NFV), is considered by many to be the next logical step in the evolution of communications.

On the whole, virtual assets powered by software-defined network provisioning and management deploy more easily and affordably compared to their hardware predecessors, which optimizes scaling and allows for new services to hit a demanding market sooner. In an industry with steep competition and serious change on the horizon in the form of the internet of things and 5G, these are all features that modern telcos consider big wins. So it’s no wonder that analysis from ABI Research shows that global NFV market revenues will reach $38 billion by 2022.

But virtualized networks are not out-of-the-box fix-all solutions. They require careful planning, technical finesse and approaches communication service providers have never taken before.

Do focus on the problems of tomorrow

Telcos are preparing for 5G as best they can. According to an Ericsson survey of global telecom executives, 78 percent said they are currently undergoing 5G trials, a marked increase over 2016’s 32 percent.

But there’s a lot riding on this rollout: content trending toward more (and higher-quality) video on an ever-fattening bandwidth demand, industrial-grade connectivity for asset-intensive businesses and the unspoken promise of low-latency mobile accessibility, even for massive distributed stores of data that grow more voluminous by the second. And let’s not even talk about the risks involved in creating a dependable national network for autonomous vehicles from scratch, so to speak.

CSPs going NFV should not get swept up in the tidal wave of change sweeping across their industry. Instead, they must focus their attention on establishing a stable fifth-generation wireless network that can, say, intelligently manage overloaded channels by spreading them across usable spectrums. There’s no prize for first place in the race to 5G, especially if bandwidth and speed come at the cost of reliability.

The world is communicating differently, so why aren't you operating differently?The world is communicating differently, so why aren’t you operating differently?

Don’t rely on the same paradigms you did when you had physical systems

Take a lesson from Bill Walker, director of IT architecture at CenturyLink. While speaking at an NFV & Carrier SDN event hosted by Light Reading and KNect365, Walker spoke about the challenges his business faces while virtualizing core systems and reorganizing the ancillary processes around them

According to FierceTelecom, Walker emphasized the blessing and the curse of self-healing software-defined networks in virtual environments. Such a capability means CenturyLink must alter how it alerts technicians to prevent them from manually addressing issues that can be resolved remotely and automatically.

“Now we have to change an operational flow that’s been there for 20-30 years,” Walker said.

This is but one example of how NFV isn’t a 1 to 1 trade with systems comprised of physical hardware. As CSPs virtualize, they must never shirk the examination of processes designed to facilitate or maintain operational excellence.

Do enhance operations during NFV migration

Piggybacking off our last point, CSPs should consider the reorganization of processes surrounding an NFV implementation a blessing in disguise: They now have the freedom to design themselves end-to-end for efficiency, flexibility and agility.

Often when telecommunications companies acquire or consolidate with others, they neglect to prune out redundant systems, such as those related to rating and billing. In the same sense, virtualization gives CSPs the opportunity to rethink how they model services DevOps-style, automate remediation and organize operations in an environment typified by pay-what-you-use scalability. These are new paradigms for telecommunications, but carriers can’t fear them, especially since they have the perfect excuse for tearing down old-world architecture in favor of 21st-century infrastructure.

Don’t neglect customer service

NFV by itself will not impress end users. It’s all in how you use it.

In the grand scheme of things, NFV technologies that enhance the customer experience and reduce churn have relatively low revenue potential compared to others, such as virtualized customer premises equipment, according to Gartner. But that certainly doesn’t mean CSPs should lose sight of how important customer-facing assets are or how disastrous bad customer service can be.

Remember that virtualization will put services out to market with unprecedented speed, but the world is full of half-fledged ideas and telecom is no place to waste R&D on services customers don’t need or want, or on offerings that can’t draw revenue reliably.

If your organization is amid NFV or has already migrated with limited success, consider what a modern B/OSS solution can do to enhance your relationship with your customers and develop new revenue streams.