For years, the traditional telecom vendor has been the leviathan on the landscape, generating billions of dollars in revenue through hardware, software, and network-related services. But those vendors are going the way of the dinosaur—that is, toward extinction. Telecom operators (i.e. Communication Service Providers, or CSPs) are looking for a new kind of partner, one that can help them innovate and evolve to compete in a cloud-based world that they didn’t create and can’t easily control. It’s a frightening world for many CSPs, one teeming with exotically named inhabitants like Kubernetes, Jaeger, Docker, Elastic and Istio. And it’s the reason why the role of telecom vendors, more than ever, is to help CSPs tame this new world.
What has become increasingly apparent in my conversations with customers around 5G and the future is that CSPs aren’t looking for network vendors. They’re looking for Continuous Innovation Partners (CIPs). In other words, they’re seeking partners who can help them effectively leverage cloud-native, microservices-based technology to drive innovation and service creation. Telecom operators understand that the fast-fail, webscale development mode popularized by Amazon, Google and others is the future, but they also realize that they don’t have the skill sets and expertise to seamlessly shift to a service creation environment based on containers, microservices, NoSQL databases, and other advanced technologies. That’s where CIPs enter the picture.
The CIP effectively splits the DevOps process by focusing on the development side of the equation, allowing CSPs to focus on the more familiar operational side of managing networks and subscribers. In an environment where services are constantly being created and updated, this looks like a Continuous Innovation/Continuous Development (CI/CD) process. In the CI/CD framework, the CIP is responsible for:
- Synching code between developers (a/k/a “checking in” code) and building it out
- Testing the individual service/microservice components
- Performing quality control
- Deploying new code to a test environment
- Fetching the latest builds
- Service integration and regression testing
- Packaging and archiving
This process typically takes place in an isolated part of the network, away from production, so as not to impact existing network services. In this way, telecom partners can quickly decide whether to shelf the service or move it into their production network and scale it. By accelerating the service creation process, the CIP allows the telecom operator to adopt a fail-fast mode of deployment and more quickly monetize services that look profitable.
Of course, not every telecom equipment vendor is ready to take on the role of a CIP. At Affirmed, we had a significant head start with our cloud-native UnityCloud platform. To create UnityCloud, we analyzed hundreds of different cloud developer tools to find the best few dozen, then packaged and integrated them with our cloud-native, microservices-based architecture. Doing this required a deep understanding of cloud developer tools and concepts, something that lies outside the core competency of most CSPs and even most telecom vendors.
It’s not unusual for CSPs to register apprehension the first time they see UnityCloud up close, because many of the components are unfamiliar to them. But this apprehension soon becomes comprehension as CSPs realize that we’ve already done the heavy lifting for them by selecting and packaging these cloud-native tools together. By working with a continuous innovation partner like Affirmed, CSPs can leverage the cloud for a competitive advantage without retraining themselves or investing millions to update their software development skills.
The road to 5G is a journey, but it’s a journey that telecom vendors must be able to take with their customers. With a continuous innovation partner (CIP), telecom operators (CSPs) can reach their goals sooner and continue on a path of innovation and monetization for years to come.