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Mobile operators, it’s time to get your mojo back

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Mobile operators are about to become liberated in a way that they’ve never felt before. And I choose that word because what’s happening with the convergence of cloud, edge computing, and the everything-as-a-service consumption model is unburdening for mobile operators that, for the first time, allows them to soar with the startups and service innovators. This new disruptive approach allows telcos to focus on monetizing networks in preparation for 5G.

The Old Approach

Until now, service agility wasn’t an idea you encountered in telcos; it was something that other companies did (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Because telco operators shouldered the burden of deploying and managing the mobile core, the RAN, and everything in between for each service they offered, service creation took a long time.

First, you had to build the business case, then you could build the network to monetize. Meanwhile, over-the-top (OTT) providers simply had to deploy an app in the cloud and scale it up (if it was a success) or down (if it wasn’t) without worrying about infrastructure costs.

Those tables are being turned in preparation for 5G. For the first time, mobile operators can deploy everything they need in the cloud: the infrastructure, the VNFs, the private network, even the network slice that manages the service. This allows operators to leverage the same cloud economies of scale and rapid deployment models that OTTs have used for years to quickly and cost-efficiently bring new services to market.

Taking Back Control with Cloud

Until now, mobile operators have focused more on the network than the service innovation that could monetize that network. They have had a very different experience leading up to 5G: they build the network and outcome the OTT players to profit from it.

But mobile operators are getting wiser. They’re now reaching out to cloud service providers and network equipment vendors and telling them to provide the infrastructure, the edge computing, and the APIs so that the operators can focus on delivering services and creating customer experiences. In other words, they’re not standing on the sidelines anymore, and watching OTTs have all the fun; they’re getting into the game with the intent to win.

Unified Operations: Sharing Responsibility and Revenue

By shifting the burden of managing the infrastructure, product roadmaps, people, etc. from the telco to the equipment and solution vendors, will enable operators to reduce high upfront costs and the risks of creating and deploying new services. This new disruptive (for telcos) approach entails moving to an as-a-service offering and is built on the four key principles:

1. Managed Infrastructure

The shift to a managed infrastructure approach allows operators to focus on business outcomes and customer experiences while the cloud infrastructure providers focus on managing the different components of the infrastructure and network. Sharing the responsibility for SLAs and risks, lowers the burden of integration on the vendors, enabling operators to move their attention from “How do we build networks?” to “How do we monetize networks?” while benefiting the vendors with higher rewards.

2. From Products to Services

By moving from a premises-based model to an infrastructure/network-as-a-service model for BSS, mobile core, RAN, orchestration of cloud-native network functions, operators can achieve their core business outcomes quickly, significantly reducing the time-to-market for deploying vertical-specific services.

3. Leveraging the Power of Cloud

Telco operators now have the option to spin up a mobile core in the cloud rather than building a standalone core for a vertical service. Operators can also use the cloud to deploy services on the edge of their network or on the customer’s edge, and even move network slice management into the cloud.

4. Single, Centralized Management Environment

Operators can manage all aspects of orchestration, lifecycle management, and service level assurance through a single, centralized management platform as opposed to managing multiple disparate systems through different dashboards and portals.

Truly, the sky is the limit for mobile operators because they’re no longer tethered to heavy infrastructure investments, lengthy business cases, or complex integrations if they want to deploy and test a new vertical service. They can find everything they need in the cloud, operate it as part of their existing network, move edge processing where it makes the most sense, and do it with the same agility as any OTT digital native.

So, what will these new services look like?

  • For manufacturing companies, it will likely begin as private 5G network services for automated factories that can process massive amounts of data and video to drive real-time decisions.
  • For video gaming  platforms, it could be seamless gaming services where the apps are deployed closer to the end consumer for better experiences—whether the user is on a console, a desktop, or on their mobile device.
  • For sports stadiums, it could be in-stadium instant replay services that stitch together applications hosted on-premises for immersive experiences.

With cloud computing and the move toward service automation, the playing field between mobile operators and OTT has effectively been leveled. Game on!

A Moment of Reflection on the 5G Revolution in 2019

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The iPhone 11 was released on September 20th, 2019. Take a look at it 1, and you’ll quickly notice the extra camera and the lower price tag. What you won’t see is any mention of native support for 5G. The new iPhone doesn’t have it.

If you’re looking for the seeds of a 5G revolution, don’t look to Apple. Look to the core. There, you’ll find the revolution is right on schedule, as telco operators and enterprises continue to embrace 5G technology in their mobile network cores. Next year, analysts expect that 5G services will break big, and many of the leading telco companies are banking on it.

As an early visionary in the field of network virtualization, Affirmed has a front-row seat to the 5G revolution, and what we see is an industry-wide push toward 5G. At the early-adopter end of the spectrum, we see operators embracing cloud-native solutions that behave like the webscale networks of Amazon and Google. As the 5G rollout continues, we see operators understanding that virtualization is the only viable path to the future. In both cases, 5G is the endgame, even if their timetables are different.

 

The transition from 4G to 5G

With 2020 around the corner, one of the big questions we hear from operators and enterprises is “How do we get to 5G from here?” For most operators, the answer is to build a non-standalone 5G network using the existing 4G core and transport networks you have today.

At Affirmed, the seamless transformation between 4G and 5G has always been the core mission We’ve done this by building a virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC) solution that could gracefully transition to 5G. For example, operators can easily add network slicing capabilities, video optimization, CGNAT firewall security, and other value-added services to our vEPC solution to create 5G services. It’s part of what we call our native cloud approach, meaning that everything we’ve built is designed to run in a cloud architecture for optimal scale, speed/performance, and resiliency.

 

What’s Next for the 5G Revolution?

The immediate future of the revolution will be “pure” 5G networks or what the industry calls 5G standalone networks. Our UnityCloud solution is one of the industry’s first standalone 5G platforms, designed for environments where new 5G services can be quickly created, deployed, and (if needed) decommissioned. The same “fail fast” environment that companies like Amazon and Google use—to level the playing field between telco operators and their cloud-based competitors.

Telcos understand that they won’t be able to compete with the big cloud providers for new enterprise services revenue until their networks are competitive. That means adding network orchestration and automation capabilities, operating “non-stop” networks that remain online even during upgrades, and delivering service assurance to enterprises with deeper, real-time visibility into network traffic and performance.

It’s tempting to see the latest iPhone release of 2019 and think you’re witnessing the future of 5g. And in one sense, you are. But the real future of telecom isn’t happening on a stage. It’s happening behind the scenes, in the network cores of the world’s largest telco operators. And that future is worth keeping your eye on.

Unlock Your Innovation Using Open Source PaaS Technology

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It’s time to take the future back from equipment vendors and return it to the operators and the innovators!

Coming from a vendor, that’s a bold statement, so let me explain. For too long, telco operators have leaned on their equipment vendors to provide their platform of the future. Understand this: If you’re looking to a single vendor to solve your problems, you’re looking to get locked into someone else’s future. Instead, telco operators need to stop leaning on a single source, and learn to unlean by using open-source PaaS (Platform as a Service) technology and best-of-breed solutions from many vendors.

At Affirmed, we call this disaggregation. Even in a network where hardware has been virtualized, there is still a lot of proprietary functionality found in so-called virtualized network functions (VNFs). Disaggregation proposes reducing these VNFs down to their application logic and delivering everything else through a common, shared open-source PaaS: lifecycle management, databases, service mesh, monitoring, logging, etc. Disaggregation dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of the network, and gives operators the agility they need to rapidly create and innovate in the coming 5G environment.

 

Disaggregation Will Help Telco Operators Moving Forward

The idea of Disaggregation is, of course, very different from how many telco operators have constructed their networks in the past. Historically, telco networks were built using a mix-and-match approach from various vendors. Each vendor’s solution had their own CLI, database, lifecycle management, redundancy scheme and so on. Operators, in turn, learned how to use all these different tools, and were (not surprisingly) afraid to add new vendors to the mix for fear that they wouldn’t “fit” into their existing architecture. This approach didn’t encourage innovation, but stifled it.

With server virtualization, telco operators began to see the value of simplification and unification. But the real value of virtualization occurs when operators move beyond hardware and virtualize their underlying services platform. For example, in order to orchestrate the VNFs, the operator builds a multivendor orchestration system, which then needs to communicate with vendors’ proprietary VNF managers. Instead, what if all vendors simply delivered components as containers and the operator used widely adopted Kubernetes to orchestrate the containers? The same goes for service mesh, monitoring, logging and other services. Instead of operating a network designed by dozens of different vendors, you have a simple, shared architecture that features a common design and elements.

Disaggregation is at the heart of Affirmed’s new 5GC mobile core platform. Designed around open-source technology, 5GC leverages a shared PaaS architecture that allows telco operators to virtualize their networks for much higher efficiencies, improved agility and rapid delivery of new and innovative services. We see it as the difference between being a leaner and a leader. We don’t want our customers to lean on us for their future. We want to lead them to the future, which we strongly believe is open-source, cloud-native technology from the world’s most innovative companies.

Vendors still have an important role to play in the future, provided their relationship with telco operators is re-imagined around the reality that change and churn aren’t the enemy, but the opportunity. By building a software architecture around microservices and a standard PaaS layer, telco operators and their vendors can strategically respond to change and churn with agility and success. If telco operators expect to stay one step ahead in the race to 5G revenue, opening their network to more innovation is the single most important thing they can do.

The Next Frontier in Virtualization: Cloud Computing

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Today, it’s not a question of “if” but “when” will an operator adopt a cloud based architecture for their mobile networks.  It’s happening now, and the coming arrival of 5G, which is based on a virtualized architecture, assures the continuation of this trend.

But, it wasn’t always such a concrete fact.

Rewind the clock back just four to five years and there was significant debate whether a virtualized network could deliver the scale and performance of traditional hardware-based networks.

Well, wouldn’t you know, we proved that they could with the ability to achieve performance gains of as much as 10X over legacy architectures

So, we were essentially able to get rid of those big, expensive, refrigerator-sized routers, and replace them with commercially-off the shelf (COTS) servers loaded with software capable of handling all the network functions previously performed by hardware.  Pretty cool.

The next big question now became, “can we eliminate the capital costs of those servers sitting in the Telco data centers and push them outside of the walls of the organization?”

Well, we are here to tell you “Yes!” 

In case you missed it, last week we announced that Affirmed Networks’ industry-leading vEPC is now available through Amazon Web Services, one of the most proven and reliable cloud platforms.  Becoming the industry’s first First “Mobile Network as Service” offering, it represents a cloud-based service enabling rapid, and economical deployment of 4G and 5G services.   This new offering delivers unprecedented network flexibility and provides a significant reduction in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), providing operators with the ability to enter new markets (and acquire new subscribers) in an extremely low-cost, “pay as you go” manner.

In addition to geographical expansion, we are seeing many of our customers excited about the ability of this model to help them deliver differentiated services – such as IoT/M2M, enterprise data, MVNO wholesale and 5G — without having to make additional capital investments in infrastructure.

We share the enthusiasm of our customers around this sift, and believe it represents a game-changer that will drive more innovation, growth, and opportunities across the industry.  So, stay tuned, because if there is one certainty, it’s that innovation is constant and there are exciting days ahead.

Cloud Native: Why Cloud Readiness Matters Right Now

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Cloud-native architecture. The words themselves are likely to elicit a range of reactions, from apathy (“Do we even need that?”) to annoyance (“Don’t we have enough to do?”). In fact, the words should be music to the ears of mobile service providers—because “cloud-native” is a must-have for 5G.

 

What Does Cloud-Native Mean? A Definition and Examples:

“Cloud-native” isn’t marketing hype and it isn’t a complicated architectural template. The Cloud-native 5G NG Core was designed from the ground up to support the speed, scale and service requirements of the future, much in the same way that Amazon, Google, Netflix, and other cloud leaders have already done. In the simplest of definitions, a cloud-native 5G NG Core has three main characteristics:

  • It breaks traditional, monolithic network functions into microservices that are autonomous, replaceable/changeable and stateless;
  • It stores these microservices into containers that can be easily moved, arranged and managed;
  • It uses a common management tool such as Kubernetes to dynamically orchestrate the various virtual network functions (VNFs) rather than using proprietary vendor VNF managers.

From a consumer standpoint, 5G means faster speed, lower latency, and a pervasive IoT (Internet of Everything) fabric, but for mobile operators, 5G is about network slicing, innovation velocity and reducing network operating costs. In order to meet the network demands of 5G, operators need a web-scale infrastructure with dynamically reconfigurable software services –similar to what the Amazon and Google have for cloud services.

The payoff of a cloud-native 5G NG Core is enormous. It allows you to develop and deploy new services/applications much faster using continuous Agile and DevOps methodologies, gives you a network that can hyperscale efficiently (because the NFs are stateless), and provides more agility and flexibility by moving microservices into Docker containers that can be centrally orchestrated through an open-source tool such as Kubernetes. As you can see, a cloud-native architecture doesn’t compete with the goals of NFV/5G, it supports them and in many cases turbocharges them.

 

Yes, you can try to build an NFV/5G network without a cloud-native architecture. But, sooner or later, you’re going to hit a wall in terms of the performance, scale, and cost savings you achieve. Cloud-native isn’t a question of “If,” but “When.” If your NFV/5G vendor doesn’t have a clear path to cloud-native capabilities in their solutions today, you may not have a clear path to creating a cloud-based network in the future. It’s a path we set out on from the beginning when we first designed our virtual evolved packet core to support microservices, containers, and service orchestration/automation. If you want a cloud-native core from a leading NFV/5G vendor, talk to us to ensure you don’t find yourself playing an expensive game of cloud catch-up while your competitors lead the way with innovative new services and better customer experiences.