Future of telecom industry - what it will look like?

End-to-end service orchestration and automation needs proper OSS tools and fit‑for-purpose network inventory. 

Ambitious network operators do not want business as usual. They want to transform their operations and become much more agile. This not only means swifter time-to-market for new services, but also lower total cost of ownership (TCO). In pursuit of digital transformation of this sort, many operators talk about turning themselves into a “software telco”.

A significant role of the service orchestration and automation

There is growing desire to put new network architectures in place – where software is disaggregated from general purpose processor hardware through open APIs – and head to the cloud. This radical vision is starting to become a reality.

Through work carried out by the Facebook-backed Telecom Infra Project, the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Vodafone are having some success in virtualising the radio access network (RAN) in rural areas.

 

But this is not enough. Aside from wanting to expand RAN into urban areas, operators – whether delivering mobile or fixed-line services – rightly emphasise the importance of end-to-end service orchestration and automation. 

 

Dr. Alex Choi, Head of Strategy & Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom – with an eye on delivering 5G services – laid out the challenge confronting operators in a recent of webinar hosted by the Open Network Foundation.

“End-to-end quality of service is becoming more and more important in the 5G era,” he said. This was especially the case, added Choi, if operators were to successfully provide ‘network slicing’, where 5G network resources are dedicated to enterprise customers in order to ensure specific performance requirements.

 

For this to happen, Choi emphasised that telcos must have orchestration control across diverse network components, including the RAN, the core, and the cloud. “To manage all these elements together”, he said, “network automation is the only possible way.”

By using open APIs, Choi also looked forward to developing new telco business models. Telco‑specific network capabilities, he said, could be opened up to third parties and packaged together with their services. “This will create a new business model for telcos that was not available before,” he said

 

What does the future telco network look like?

We can get an indication of what a fully disaggregated and ‘cloudified’ network architecture might look like – and where the service orchestration and automation layer fits in – by looking at the Rakuten Communication Platform (RCP).

 

Developed by Japan’s disruptive Rakuten Mobile, which has a fully virtualised and end-to-end mobile network up and running in Tokyo and other Japanese cities, RCP purports to be a fully integrated software stack that is ‘carrier-grade’. RCP’s foundation cloud infrastructure layer is what Rakuten Mobile calls “a telco-hardened” Docker container architecture, which can support both virtual machines and containers.

 

On top that is the network functions layer (radio, core, and IMS, for example), and above that sits the all-important RCP Automator layer that can lower operational costs and enable swift delivery services, along with dynamic allocation of network resources to meet demand as and when it arises. Underpinning the RCP Automator layer is artificial intelligence and machine learning. They enable  “intelligent operations”. The top RCP layer is the ‘marketplace’, still in development, which is designed to function like an app-store. The idea is to make it easier for other operators to deploy their own end‑to‑end virtualized networks.

 

The RCP concept is unlikely to be restricted to Japan. Rakuten Mobile has held discussions with operators in the US, Europe and Asia about collaborating on the platform and improving it. This month, Telefónica signed an MoU with Rakuten Mobile to do exactly that.

 

Enrique Blanco, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Telefónica, said the MoU was aimed at making OpenRAN architectures “a reality”. Blanco talked effusively about evolving networks towards “end-to-end virtualisation” through an open architecture”. OpenRAN, he insisted, was just one piece – albeit a key one – in the “whole picture”.

 

End-to-end vision a non-starter without the right OSS tools

Eugina Jordan, VP of marketing at US software company Parallel Wireless, perhaps put it best in a previous blog.

 

Talking about the future of telecommunications, she rightly highlighted the need for a “single automation umbrella”, whereby operations support systems and business support systems (OSS/BSS) can seamlessly support networks with mixed virtualization technologies.

 

The cloud-based bottom layer of RCP, as we have seen, supports both VMs and containers. An OSS/BSS fit-for-purpose, that can enable end-to-end service orchestration and automation, must have an up-to-date record of all available virtual network resources.

 

An exhaustive and accurate of assets across physical, IP, and service layers — in order to ensure network management across different domains as demanded by Choi – is also a must. Without this holistic network awareness, any hope of automated service fulfilment and assurance, based on event-driven workflows, is well and truly dashed.

 

Ambitions of lower TCO also goes out the window. Heavy reliance on human intervention means more expensive and error-prone service provisioning. This hardly fits in with the vision of an agile software telco.

 

Thankfully, aspiring operators don’t have to be left in the OSS/BSS lurch, SunVizion Network Inventory makes sure the OSS/BSS is fully up-to-date about availability of both virtual and physical network assets (inside and outside plant).

 

What’s more, by creating a central repository of network inventory across different domains, SunVizion Network Inventory provides operators with an end-to-end view of how all these assets relate to one another in order to deliver services. Operations staff no longer have to work in the dark, plodding away in separate silos.

 

Operators are crying out for more mature capabilities in end-to-end service orchestration and automation. They’ll need sophisticated OSS tools to realize that vision.