Ahead of Connected Europe 2017, we caught up with keynote speaker Enrique Blanco Nadales, Global CTO of Telefónica to discuss how the European Electronic Communications Code is driving Telefónica’s network strategy and to talk about the road to 5G deployment in Europe.

Can you outline how Telefónica is working towards the European Commission’s vision for the Gigabit Society?

From the point of view of network and systems, Telefónica is working towards the Gigabit Society by evolving its infrastructure in order to give support to the next generation of services while preparing for the future 5G networks. This means being ready to face the challenges presented by the evolution of the network: traffic growth, new traffic patterns, an ever growing number of connected devices, simplified and automated operations and spectrum management. In this way, Telefónica is working fitting together all the pieces in Fixed Access Networks, Mobile Access Networks, Transport and Core Networks, Platforms and Operational Support Systems and Operations.
Applications of network virtualization: What applicationsetwork functions are being (will be) virtualized?
Virtualization brings the opportunity to build mouldable networks with software based network functions deployed over general-purpose hardware.  Among other benefits, it improves capacity in a flexible and efficient way, leading to simpler networks and reduced ‘time to market’. General-purpose hardware allows a homogeneous and versatile infrastructure so different processes can be consolidated and simplified. Additionally, SDN will increase future Network and IT synergies. The network must be able to adapt quickly to customer needs and must be an enabler of innovative new services. The telecoms network needs to become a platform for innovation, where internal service developers use the network as a service through open APIs and open standards.
Currently there are 4 UNICA Domains with 7 UNICA Points of Presence deployed in Germany, Colombia, Peru and Argentina and 4 Virtual Network Functions used by major vendors (Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and Nokia) and another 4 Virtual Network Functions ready for deployment.
Network functions virtualized are our evolved packet core and IMS (Internet Protocol multimedia subsystem) among others, and more than 50 VNFs from over 30 different vendors are currently under validation.
How has the Electronic Communications Code changed Telefónica’s strategic priorities?
Specifically, the Directive incorporates as one of its basic objectives, the development and adoption of new high capacity networks, recognizing the importance of encouraging investment and infrastructure competition. We endorse the European vision that high-speed connectivity is an essential element to boost our economy and enhance citizen’s lives and that for achieving this ambition massive private investment will be required.  
Telefónica’s strategic plan “We choose it all” is founded upon six key elements; three for value proposition – outstanding connectivity, integrated offering, differential experience and three facilitators, Big Data and Innovation, end-to-end digitalisation, and capital allocation and simplification.
Telefónica has made a relevant effort in the last few years to transform it fixed and mobile network and it can be said that the company has anticipated the Directive, betting on a future proof fixed access network technology, as FTTH is.
Fibre is considered the first option in all kinds of areas, whilst advancing the legacy evolution wherever we have our footprint. On the other hand, the company is improving their client´s Home Network Experience by enhancing Wi-Fi and extending the Home Routers catalogue.
The company is completing 4G rollouts to reach similar coverages to 2G/3G by 2020, while improving performance and capacity, increasing efficiency by reducing investment in legacy technologies and dedicating most spectrum to LTE, while preparing for 5G.
From the customer perspective, Telefónica is moving from Network to Service and Customer centric operations, pushing for further efficiency through OSS evolution and Service Operation Centres (simplifying OSS, digitalizing, OSS based on cloud solutions, End to End service vision, Service Operation Centres, Customer Satisfaction Index, Real Time Monitoring, data driven processes).
As part of its rapid progress towards building a network designed for the future, Telefónica has completed the definition of its 5G strategy beyond pure radio specifications. Although 5G standardization is still underway, which means that 5G will not be available before 2020, Telefónica has already begun to incorporate this next generation technology into its existing networks as a future test for 5G deployments. Despite this, many of the technologies that will be used in the fifth generation of mobile connectivity can now be used in the current generation.
Telefónica is working on the development of 5G technology in its own laboratories such as Almagro Lab in Madrid (more than 10 5G tests/PoCs) and on concrete use cases in other laboratories such as 5TONIC, based in Madrid. All of this, besides of the participation in almost 30 European 5G projects, regarding Core, Transport, services and of course New Radio.
What are the biggest challenges faced by Telefónica in achieving the Commission’s connectivity targets?  
Major challenges include:
Monetising all the investment that has to be made to achieve the Gigabit society, both in access networks and in the core of the network and in transport.
Coping with the big transformation needed in the core of the network that implies the softwarization of the network through telco cloud technologies (NFV and SDN) as well as IP and optical transport optimization.
Properly managing legacy evolution.
What are the opportunities for Telefónica from building high-capacity networks?
From a network perspective, Telefónica is in an unbeatable position to take advantage of the wave of investment in updating LTE that it is taking place, thus paving the way for the evolution towards 5G. 
The company’s main challenge will be to make sure that all of the impressive capabilities that 5G has on the radio are fully aligned with 4G and that the 5G architecture includes virtualization (NFV / SDN) in its architecture from the beginning, meaning that the services for customers will evolve smoothly without incident. Telefónica is convinced that the launch of 5G networks is not linked to a specific event but to a continuous process that has already begun, to sustainably monetize new services that can be deployed over 5G (vertical industries, IoT, etc.)

What do you think will be the big telecoms trends in the next 2-3 years?
There will be 5G, virtual reality, the need for a major change in coordination and planning of networks. However, the biggest change should be in architectures and patterns/algorithms of data. 
Enrique will be discussing how enhanced connectivity is the key to unlocking Europe’s future prosperity at Connected Europe 2017, taking place in Lisbon on 11th and 12th October. We are offering free of charge guest passes for the public sector and a limited number of free passes for European based fixed or mobile operators – visit the website to find out more.