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Author: Ashwin Moranganti

Unlock Your Innovation: Unlean from Single-Sourcing Your 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 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 Platform as a Service (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.

“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 EPC to support microservices, containers and service automation/orchestration. 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.

Is Your RAN vendor Trying to Sell You a Mobile Core? Run in the Other Direction

by Ashwin Moranganti Ashwin Moranganti No Comments

It’s pretty obvious, but building a car is vastly different than building a house.  It requires significantly different tools, skills and processes. That said, if the company that built your home offered to sell you a minivan they designed and built themselves, you’d most likely decline—even if they offered their minivan at a great price.

While that illustration may seem obtuse, the message behind it is not.  Specifically, through our work with the world’s leading operators, we see the same mistake being made from time to time when they buy mobile core solutions from their RAN providers. Think about it.  RAN vendors are in the business of selling hardware—lots of it. Today’s mobile core vendors are in the business of reducing hardware through virtualization and anticipating the decoupled service architecture of 5G. Although RAN and mobile core technologies are designed to work together, they’re worlds apart in terms of how they’re built.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Radio-Core Combination from RAN Vendors

Buying a radio-core combination from your RAN vendor is a bad idea for several reasons:

  • You’re probably settling for a second-rate core. No vendor is going to be best-of-breed in everything; at best, they may do a few things well. If a vendor is making 90% of their money selling hardware, they’re probably not the right people to entrust with your cloud/virtualization strategy. Mobile cores are a science unto themselves; it’s why some companies like Affirmed Networks are 100% focused on building virtual mobile core solutions. It’s a different game.
  • Market competition fosters innovation and drives down prices. Market consolidation stifles innovation and drives up prices. Think about Boeing, Airbus and the airline industry: Is that what you want for the telecom industry as it embarks on a new era of growth ushered in by the arrival of 5G?
  • You’re selling the vision of 5G short. 5G is all about disaggregating components in the network and providing open interfaces, not building a proprietary system based on one vendor’s architecture. If you approach your 5G mobile core the same way you approached your 3G core, you stand to miss out on many of the benefits that 5G brings to the network.

What exactly are the benefits that a best-of-breed mobile core can bring to your business? We’re glad you asked. Let’s look at what it means for some of our customers:

  • It means having a cloud-native, 5G mobile core right now, not three years from now when we get around to it on our roadmap.
  • It means virtualized network functions that are already decoupled to scale efficiently, deliver high performance and accelerate service creation. And remember, these aren’t just requirements for the future, they’re benefits that can drive revenue and deliver a significant competitive advantage today.
  • It means unique innovations you won’t find anywhere else, such as virtualized network probes that deliver rich network insights without impacting network performance and a built-in service automation platform that can create new micro- and macro-services in minutes.

Look, we understand the appeal of saving money on your mobile core and having one throat to choke. But wouldn’t it be better not to have to choke any throats at all? You wouldn’t drive a car designed by your architect, or live in a home built by your mechanic. Why settle for a virtualized mobile core designed by your legacy hardware vendor? After all, you’re going to have to live with that decision for a long time.

Learn more about our mobile core solutions.