The Shift to Cloud-native Network Function in the Telecommunications Industry: What it Means for Operators
The telecommunications industry, for many a beast that moves at geological pace – and only then with reluctance – is taking rapid and innovative strides towards implementing cloud technologies. Operators are going “cloud-native”, delivering, managing, hosting and running applications in the cloud and embracing concepts such as microservices, containers and DevOps in order to bring down costs and speed up operations. They are doing this simply as a matter of necessity, to give them a chance to keep up with “born in the cloud” competitors in an era of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtualization.
Cloud-native telco. What does it mean for operators?
CSPs which are going cloud-native are doing so by exploring optimal combinations of microservices, containers and platform as a service (PaaS) delivery. Microservices, as the name suggests, are compact building blocks each with their own data models, repository and functions that can be accessed only through their own APIs, and which can be deployed, developed and combined flexibly. Microservices are run via containers, which store code so that it can be run in all environments (such as production, testing and integration) simultaneously. Containers give code a high level of flexibility and portability, allowing any solution to be scaled up or down to meet demand at any given time. Finally, PaaS provides an Internet-based abstraction layer that takes care of software, operating system and network infrastructure so that users can focus fully on developing and deploying applications with a high level of scalability.
The journey to cloud-native telecom
That’s not to say that the path to cloud-nativeness is as simple as adopting microservices, containers and PaaS. There are challenges, such as high latency and the unreliable connectivity of mobile devices, which need to be overcome before this technology can be successfully implemented and, moreover, monetized. This is where 5G comes into its own, promising LAN-like speeds, broader bandwidth, greater capacity, reduced latency and greater operational efficiency for mobile devices. It’s also important that operators can bring to an end their seeming love affair with the physical when it comes to architecture. The cloud – and therefore going cloud-native – means network function virtualization (NFV) for the creation of service topologies that are independent of physical structure and scalability, while opening up the potential for network slicing, by which CSPs’ partners can access and manage their own segments of the operator’s network without investing heavily in infrastructure and its maintenance.
Rapid technological developments, particularly the advent of 5G and the growing network of devices communicating with each other in the IoT, have more or less forced the hands of telcos.
New challengers – the over the top (OTT) players such as Amazon – might be relatively young compared to traditional CSPs, but they were born into a market primed for virtualization and cloud-nativeness. For these organizations, the cloud and the massive opportunities presented by the IoT and 5G are simply a natural way to speed up their own natural evolution. If telcos want to keep up, they must continue their own shift to the cloud.