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.