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Forget the shiny smartphones: the network is back!

The network story at MWC has been the same (pretty much) for the past 4 years: that there's lots of data demand, so how can the network keep up and how can mobile operators further 'monetise' the network they had built? That's from the operators. The vendors were always quick to fixate on the same problem and a lot of the 'solutions' they came up with were, in one way or another, ways of attenuating raw demand.

Things like personalisation looked like one way through; Deep Packet Inspection might enable carriers to offer differentiated services; then again, policy management might be the answer; what about real time billing and charging? That might return granular pricing control to carriers. And so on.

But it became more obvious as the years flicked by that mobile telcos didn't just need cunning new business models - they were going to have to adapt their fundamental approach.

The real task facing them, as the tide of end-user devices continued to flow and their data demands grew ever higher, was to maintain relevance by developing networks which, whatever else they might do, pumped a hell of a lot more data at ever lower cost.. for ever.

So this year, at MWC 2013, the atmosphere around the infrastructure booths was crackling with more confidence than for many a year. Vendors had new(ish) acronyms and operators were apparently listening avidly.

Software Defined Networks (SDN) are not new - in fact they've been talked about and vaguely cited as the coming thing for years - but this year they were the buzz, as you'll hear if when you listen to our MWC video collection (see below).

SDN is very simple and very complicated at the same time. It's simply about splitting apart network infrastructure and network services so you can develop adaptable, software-driven networks that make use of standard infrastructure components underneath. So standard optical networks controlled, not by proprietary appliances like specialised routers, but by commodity hardware running applications that undertake the routing or switching functions. I say complicated as well because how you do it, where the boundaries are and how you replicate telco functions all have to be settled.

Closely allied to SDN is Network Function Virtualisation (NFV). Again this is about getting rid of specific network components or even entire architectures and virtualizing them on standard hardware. This allows telcos to move functions about the network or house multiple functions on a single platform - flexibility and lower cost at the same time.

Things like processor-intensive security functions, DPI, or video compression are just some of the candidate functions which can and are already being virtualized. (see - our earlier Executive Insight: Surgical video optimisation below).

Our 'The Network is Back' video collection from MWC comprises:VIDEO:What must carriers do to survive?

Carriers face significant challenges around network convergence and integration, says Jeff Edlund, CTO Communications and Media Solutions at HP. For instance, how do you cost-optimise the business and ease the delivery of new services to customers, while at the same time moving from proprietary to standard hardware and infrastructure?VIDEO:HP senses the telco IT opportunity

With the big strategic telco trends now clearly identified as Cloud, Big Data, Analytics, Network Function Virtualisation and Software Defined Networks, IT companies like HP know that they're well placed to play a key role as the tectonic plates of IT and networking finally crunch together in a meaningful way. David Sliter, VP and GM of Communications, Media and Entertainment Solutions at HP tells Abe Nejad how HP can marry IT scale with its best of breed specialist products to deliver cost savings of up to 30 per cent.VIDEO:EMC comes out of the data centre to take a mobile call

John Roese, Chief Technology Officer at EMC on how the company has quietly but deliberately positioned itself in a number of networking and IT sweet-spots for the data centre and enterprise markets - things like virtualisation and big data analytics. Guess what? These are precisely the capabilities that mobile operators need as they look to the cloud and advanced data processing and analytics to spearhead their next business transformation. EMC, claims John, is delighted to welcome a new set of potential customers.VIDEO:Spotlight falls back on the network with NFV and SDN

Intel's John Woodget, global director for the telecoms sector, talks with Martyn Warwick about the renaissance of the network. For the past five years the focus of the industry and of events like Mobile World Congress, has been on the shiny device and its apps. This year, says John, we're hearing much more about the network and its direction: concepts like Network Functions Virtualisation and Software Defined Networks are going to be where it's at.VIDEO:Executive Insight: Surgical video optimisation

Network video optimisation usually involves specialist appliances at the edge of the network squeezing and preening each video stream as it passes. Skyfire’s European VP, John Rintoul, claims that approach is fast proving expensive, inflexible and often unnecessary. Better to site commodity hardware in the cloud and divert and optimise only those streams struggling to get across the access network.

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