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Vodafone upgrades global network with SDN for flexible scalability

Software-defined networking stack deployed on both IP and optical global internet network controllers

Vodafone has upgraded its global transport network using software-defined networking (SDN) to connect the multi-supplier parts of the network. This network orchestrates all the telco’s mobile and fixed data and voice traffic and serves hundreds of millions of users and third-party internet and content providers in 28 countries across four continents.

Vodafone’s global transport network is the engine of the company’s network operations. It comprises optical-fibre cables capable of carrying and directing up to 250 terabytes of data traffic at any one time. It provides the vital links connecting consumers, businesses and strategic partners via tens of thousands of mobile base stations across Europe and Africa and more than 270 third-party and Vodafone-owned datacentres.

The implementation and roll-out involved Vodafone network engineers activating an SDN stack on both the internet protocol (IP) and optical global internet network by deploying the IP and optical area controllers and a hierarchical controller. According to Vodafone, this enables end-to-end multilayer automation and programmability, removing the complexity for third-party services interacting with the network.

The network has been built using a multi-supplier and multi-layer hierarchical architecture, based on Juniper Networks’ Paragon Pathfinder IP and MPLS SDN Controller, Ciena’s Manage, Control and Plan (MCP) Optical SDN Controller and Cisco’s Crosswork Hierarchical Controller (formerly Sedona Netfusion). The different components of the architecture communicate with each other using open and standard industry protocols and application programming interfaces (APIs), creating a single, end-to-end SDN management layer. 

The virtual SDN applications have been deployed within Vodafone’s private cloud and are accessible via its geographically dispersed datacentre infrastructure. 

Vodafone said the software upgrade is the foundation on which its wholesale and enterprise customers can progressively add capacity faster and meet future demand more cost-effectively. It said it has also introduced new services and boosted security at scale.

According to Vodafone, the new technology will lead to a network that is fully automated and programmable and behaves more like a super-computer. It claimed that changes to more than 620 multi-supplier network platforms can be achieved using software-driven commands, stored virtually in Vodafone’s secure private cloud.

Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer at Vodafone, said: “This software upgrade gives us a single view on the section of the transport network connecting people and machines globally. It will allow us to provide even faster and more secure connectivity across Europe and to other regions. We can continually and automatically adapt to dynamic peaks in traffic worldwide, whether they are due to people returning to the office or live-streaming major sports events.”

Vodafone said it hopes the upgrade will enable it to support growing demands for data on its network, which has seen growth of 15% a year. Using what it describes as “advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence”, the firm said that in the future, it will be able to anticipate precisely where network bandwidth is needed.

A common transport network API is also being made available to Vodafone’s global customers and strategic partners, so they can improve the quality and the performance of their own streaming, internet and data services for end-users.

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