Following FutureNet World (3/4 May, London) we caught up with Stephen Spellicy, Vice President Service Provider Marketing, Enablement and Business Development, VMware to get his thoughts on some of the key questions raised at the conference.
How can we accelerate network modernisation programmes and what are the biggest obstacles?
At a technical level, standards and reference architectures have made huge inroads when it comes to CSPs’ ability to innovate and drive down cost, but this only gets us so far. While VMware has a number of programs to enable technology partners and ease interoperability across the core, RAN and cloud, CSPs are looking to our automation and assurance solutions to de-risk their multi-vendor environments and accelerate deployments in the field. By leveraging automation and assurance to re-architect service operations, the industry is reducing bespoke integration efforts and reducing their OPEX. Beyond the cost savings, this shift in operational approaches will lead to faster, easier paths to differentiate-able innovation.
Re-architecting operations is not an easy challenge to solve. As highlighted by several CSP panel sessions at FutureNet World however, it’s an area of focus that could shift the industry’s trajectory. To get there, CSPs need to join forces with members across the industry to help facilitate industry-wide engagement focused on simplifying network operations.
As operational models shift, the next logical challenge is the skills gap. Another topic well covered by the sessions at the event, many CSPs feel that while we’ve witnessed tremendous progress over that last ten years since NFV was introduced, there is still concern that the ‘right’ skills to run these new operations are not yet available inside CSP organizations. As architectures have been shifting from siloes to horizontal approaches, one approach to filling the skills gap is to flatten the operational structure; remove service silos and replace them with horizontal teams. Hardware platform, cloud platform, and applications may be more in the domain of traditional IT skills whereas network operations, service orchestration and regulatory observance may be more suited to traditional network ops teams. By building layers of teams that span all services, I think the skills issue can be re-defined and the gap may not be as great as some perceive it to be. Standardization of technology platforms greatly reduces the issue of skills gaps, as organizations embrace and invest in platforms, training, enablement, and knowledge transfer becomes much easier. VMware provides several certification tracks to enable IT and network professionals with training, certification and tools to simplify the adoption of our platform. As an industry leading platform, there are also user groups and online communities that can be leveraged to share best practices to make the best use of our platform service, both within the Telco domain and in enterprise IT.
How can we overcome obstacles like investment levels to speed progress?
Industry investors see the telco industry as a relatively stable, low margin business returning modest but perhaps ‘safer’ return over time than other investments. Many CSPs have made huge investments in recent years to build and deploy 4G/5G networks, which has created greater pressure to show a return before significant future investment can be sought. To accomplish this, the technology industry is adopting OPEX-based (subscription and SaaS) sales models for their CSPs sales. While CSP have traditionally used an OPEX-based model on their revenue side; selling services on a usage and subscription basis, they typically view infrastructure as capital expenditure. This causes a disconnect in the way CSPs view and are viewed financially, based on how their budgets are defined and accounting models are typically constructed. As an industry insider, I would like to see a shift in perception of CSPs as a more dynamic and agile industry, regarding both their operational and procurement models. The benefits of a consumption model can be seen across IT and network domains for the communications industry, as many of the leading software and hardware providers are already driving this transformation in key areas of the CSP operations, such as OSS/BSS, customer care, CRM, and NOC/SOC tooling.
How can we leverage automation to implement new partnership models and overcome the challenge of competitors collaborating on projects?
Importantly, automation facilitates collaboration and eases integration challenges among vendors as we jointly develop new service models for CSPs. This co-innovation often requires a complex integration of different technologies, applications, and hardware—an often time-consuming and error-prone process, especially when multiple vendors are involved. Network automation can address these challenges by streamlining the entire service delivery process, from infrastructure provisioning to network configuration and service deployment. When these tasks are automated, partners can reduce the time, resources and financial obligations required for collaborative service delivery, while also reducing the risk of errors and delays when building a cohesive offering. VMware, and its focus on centralized automation, helps CSPs to standardize service delivery across multiple vendors, improving consistency and reducing the risk of service disruption. As such, this helps ensure that CSPs can create high-quality services that meet (and exceed) their end users’ requirements.
When do you think CSPs will really scale AI and automation, moving beyond applying it to specific tasks to wider capabilities and end-to-end processes?
Today, many operators are leveraging basic forms of AI and combining it with automation to drive specific operational tasks. As both technology areas evolve, the solutions will become easier to use and enable more advanced feature sets. This is a natural evolution for AI, as the systems are trained through experience. One key area we will soon see the acceleration of new capabilities enabled by AI, is in the RAN. As we move to more open and agile RAN, leveraging AI-driven intelligence will be essential to tapping into unified network data and programming the network to instrument change based on that data. The RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is where this already coming to fruition.