IHS Markit: SDN deployed by 78% of global service providers at end of 2018

By Michael Howard, senior research director, carrier networks, IHS Markit


  • All of the 23 service providers surveyed reported that they will deploy SDN at some point. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of those providers will deploy or evaluate the architecture by the end of this year, growing to 87 percent by the end of 2019.
  • Software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) leads the list of SDN-based services expected to generate new revenue, with 78 percent of respondents identifying it as a key deployment goal, while nearly half (48 percent) plan to implement network slicing for IoT.
  • Automation and reduction of capex and operating-expenditure (opex) are among the goals for the top domains for SDN deployments. By the end of 2019, 74 percent of respondents will use SDN to automate the delivery of new services, followed by operations and management at 65 percent.

Our analysis

Service providers are in the early stages of a long-term transition to software-defined networks (SDN), according to the sixth annual “Carrier SDN Strategies Service Provider Survey” in 2018 from IHS Markit. Various barriers and drivers have become more prominent, as operators get closer to commercial deployment, although the barriers remain. These barriers include the problem of products that are not carrier grade and difficulty with integration into existing networks.

Service providers around the globe – representing 44 percent of worldwide telecom capital expenditure (capex) and 44 percent of revenue – are investing in software defined networks (SDNs) as part of a larger move to automate their networks and transform their internal processes, operations, and the way they offer services to their customers. Providers view SDN as a key technology underpinning the fundamental changes in telecom network architecture that delivers benefits in new service agility, quicker time to revenue, automation, operational efficiency, and capex savings.

Many operators have some parts of their networks running under SDN control. The rest are moving from their proof-of-concept (PoC) investigations and evaluations for SDN toward commercial deployments in the tail end of 2018 and 2019.

The top two reasons service providers are investing in and deploying network SDN are the following:

  • Simplification and automation of service provisioning, leading to service agility and quicker time to revenue
  • End-to-end network management and control as part of increased automation

The majority of service providers are investing in SDN in order to simplify and automate the provisioning of their networks for end-to-end network and service management and control—with the goal of having a global view of network conditions across the various vendors’ equipment, network layers, and technologies. SDN figures in provider plans to generate revenue, with multi-cloud and network slicing for applications and IoT figuring more prominently this year.

Still, carriers will learn that some avenues are not as fruitful as expected, and telecom equipment manufacturers and software suppliers may well invent new approaches that open up new applications.

Carrier SDN Strategies Service Provider Survey – 2018

This sixth annual survey of global service providers explores plans and strategies of 23 operators for evaluating and deploying SDNs. The study identifies the drivers for this fundamental change in service provider network architecture and explores use cases, development stages, barriers, applications, target network areas, and timing of deployment plans.


Editor’s Note:

But what SDN model or version was implemented by these service providers?  That is not stated in Michael Howard’s report.

There’s the classical SDN/Open Flow model from ONF, the overlay or virtual network model, the evolutionary model, hybrid model, DevOps management model, VMWare’s two NSX versions, etc

Also, most versions of SDN use a centralized controller and NOT segment or hop by hop routing. Yet Cisco and Juniper routers can handle segment-routing traffic. Their versions of SDN are ready for segment routing, as well. Moreover, Linux has an open source implementation of segment routing, and Cumulus Networks’ Linux-based network OS also supports it.

With so many different versions of SDN, it appears that network equipment and software built for one SDN based network will not work on ANY other service provider’s SDN unless multiple SDN versions/models are supported in the same equipment/software.



2 thoughts on “IHS Markit: SDN deployed by 78% of global service providers at end of 2018

  1. Among service providers, AT&T has been a big proponent of SDN. AT&T has a stated goal of virtualizing 75% of its network by next year. At the end of 2018, AT&T had virtualized 65% of its network largely due to its use of ECOMP/ONAP. From AT&T website: [https://about.att.com/story/2019/2019_and_beyond.html]

    Software at the Core of Our Network: We’ve been on the most aggressive software path in the telecommunications industry for some time, which includes plans to virtualize and software-control 75% of our core network functions by 2020. In 2018, we reached the 65% mark as planned, taking advantage of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) that we co-founded in 2017.

    This initiative is making it faster and more cost effective to deploy technologies, such as our continued mobile 5G expansion. For example, the routers in our cell towers have traditionally been purchased as specialized, self-contained units from a small handful of vendors. In 2018, we decided to design our own cell site routers and released those hardware specs as open blueprints so any hardware maker can build them for us. And, we’re running our own open source software on those routers. In 2019, we plan to deploy thousands of these “white box” routers on towers across our network.


  2. I have no idea what SDN is anymore! IMHO, it has evolved into a combination of open source/open networking software and proprietary software from the big cloud service providers (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc) and telcos (esp AT&T). One providers version of SDN is completely different than any other providers implementation. The original concept of throwing away all hop by hop routers and replacing them with “packet/frame forwarding engines” never took off.

    Meanwhile, SDN WANs have been replaced by SD-WANs which despite MEFs efforts do NOT have a single well respected definition. There are probably half a dozen versions of SD-WANs with no UNI or NNI interoperability. The SD-WAN provider is dependent on a single vendor solution. Isn’t that anti-open networking as its another from of vendor lock-in?

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