Exploring Collision Theory in the Telecom World

Author: David Sliter, Communications Solutions Business, HPE

If you pay attention to science news, you’ve likely been following the work over at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). By smashing fundamental particles together, scientists are looking for and discovering new insights into the nature of the universe.

In the telecom world, we’re experiencing our own kind of collision theory right now. As communications service providers (CSPs) look to new technologies like network functions virtualization (NFV), software defined networking (SDN), and the promises of 5G to transform their networks and services, we’re seeing the collisions in people, process and technology across the entire business. The lines separating many tried-and-true CSP constructs are eroding. As these worlds continue to collide, a vast array of exciting new technologies and services will emerge.

Opposites Collide

The digital transformation journey on which many CSPs have embarked includesseveral “collisions” of ideas that used to live in very separate worlds. Things like:

  • Open vs. siloed: In the past, CSP networks were largely closed architectures, with every element tightly controlled by the service provider. Today, especially in the NFV/SDN space, openness and open-source are becoming table-stakes requirements. CSPs are working with vendors and partners to implement open-source frameworks for “carrier-grade” environments. But it’s clear that open-source projects and industry groups will play an important and growing role in the evolution of the CSP network.
  • Collaboration vs. competition: Who is a competitor and who is a partner? For CSPs, the answer is not nearly as clear-cut as it used to be. In the early days of cloud and digital services, many CSPs viewed “over-the-top” service offerings strictly as the competition. They looked to build their own cloud and digital portfolios to stay in the game. CSP’s still build and operate clouds, but in many cases they have found that with more open, flexible, IP based networks, they can develop successful business partnerships with a wide range of third-party cloud providers especially when looking at new & faster revenue stream use cases into the market like vCPE related services.
  • Public vs. private cloud: In the early days of the cloud, organizations faced a binary choice—public or private. Today, those distinctions are increasingly determined by price and security sensitivities vs features. Increasingly, CSP customers want the flexibility to move individual workloads wherever they run best and most cost-efficiently. CSP’s and Enterprise alike need the hybrid flexibility to move resources back and forth among private and public clouds as business demand dictates.
  • Data center vs. edge: Until recently, a limited number of things could be done at the network edge. Anything requiring more intensive computation had to be backhauled to a network core or data center. The introduction of mobile edge computing (MEC) is smashing that paradigm, and looks to be a standards based method to start delivering 5G capabilities ahead of the current plan of record. CSPs are now developing intelligent services and capabilities that reside at the network edge enabling a wide range of applications from connected vehicles, Smart Cities, asset tracking and security services that weren’t possible before.

Uncovering New Insights

At the LHC, each collision holds the potential to reveal fundamental truths about the building blocks of matter. What fundamental truths then are Communications industry collisions revealing about the CSP business?

  • Virtualization and digital transformation are real and delivering real-world results: The intersection of traditional telecom with SDN and NFV was bound to be a bit messy at first. With many tools and projects still being defined, it would be easy to dismiss virtualization as a theoretical science experiment. But we shouldn’t. There are concrete examples all over the world and hundreds of CSPs using NFV to become agile, improving profitability. The results can be stunning with one Tier 1 service provider projecting a 50 percent reductions in capital and operational costs over the next five years.
  • Virtualization is an essential ingredient in service agility: As with any major technology change, it’s been a journey determining the best way to implement new NFV capabilities, and you can find some in the industry complaining about the pace of this evolution. But even the loudest detractors accept a fundamental truth: if you have the choice of deploying new capabilities with dedicated hardware or virtualized software, you pick software every time. The benefits in flexibility, costs, and time-to-revenue are simply too great to ignore. Take for example: standing up a special purpose network with encrypted and secure data and calling features for an Enterprise customer. The costs and deployment timeline to implement such a service with legacy technology would be cost prohibitive and take years to build out. In a virtualized environment leveraging software this can be done in a few hours.
  • You can’t do everything at once: CSPs and their partners are clear on the requirements for this transformation. Virtualization enabled flexibility across all network layers, from the hardware to the OSS/BSS to the Network Functions. But, attempting to address everything in one motion is a recipe for getting quickly overwhelmed. The most successful CSPs are evolving their environments pragmatically. They start with a relatively simple and perimetered use case—virtualizing one limited, self-contained part of the network, such as enterprise WAN and value-added services. They fail fast, learn, realize a return on that investment, and use those revenues to fund transformation in other domains. At the same time, an “agile” approach across the full service life cycle is put in place with new skills bridging together service creation, deployment and operations phases that have been traditionally implemented in a sequential and waterfall way. A phased redesign of existing processes and operating models will drive the success of such initiatives and enable to expand from relatively simple use cases to broader initiatives that will virtualize the full Core and Access CPS network.

Pushing the Envelope

If all of this sounds like an industry in flux, that’s because it is. But it’s a good kind of disruption—the kind that paves the way for CSPs to leave behind slow, outdated operational models and unlock new business models and entirely new levels of agility and innovation.

Like the physicists working at the LHC, modern CSPs, vendors, industry groups, and developers are pushing the boundaries of accepted wisdom about how CSP networks work and intersect customers’ lives. As the collision between the legacy people, process and technology continues in the Communications industry, I would encourage you to embrace the disruption. It’s at the intersection of the collision that the real opportunity will be uncovered.

By: David Sliter, Communications Solutions Business, HPE

Learn more at hpe.com/dsp/transform

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