What are the technologies that will have the biggest impact on the communications sector in the next few years? Artificial intelligence, machine learning, fog computing, robotics, drones, virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as the full gamut of virtualization capabilities, all look set to play a major role in future networks. But which companies have the boldest visions for these technologies and how they will get used?
The Leading Lights shortlist for the Outstanding Communications Technology Vision award features several names that will be familiar to readers. But the strategies that all nominees are pursuing will take them into extremely unfamiliar territory as each looks to position itself for the next wave of industry growth.
The winner will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner on Monday, May 15, at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas. The following day, the Big Communications Event opens its doors for two days of networking, learning and fun.
To find out which companies were shortlisted in all of this year's Leading Lights categories, see Leading Lights 2017: The Finalists.
So, here's a look at the shortlisted companies...
Known worldwide as a vendor of operational and business support systems, Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) makes it on to the shortlist for a vision it calls "The Intelligent CSP."
This essentially entails developing an artificial intelligence (AI) "engine" that is tailored specifically to telco requirements. As operators worldwide begin taking advantage of AI and machine-learning technologies, Amdocs' expertise -- the company claims -- will help them to use AI across both front- and back-end processes. The broad idea, of course, is to improve automation, aid decision-making in various parts of the business and generate insights that will assist future planning activities.
Amdocs appears to have teamed up with some big hitters on the project so far, naming Microsoft and IBM as technology partners, and says its logistical data model is already TM Forum-certified and standards-based. The move into this kind of machine learning seems to make sense for a company with Amdocs' background. If Amdocs can pull it off, it could become as integral a part of the AI landscape as it is in the OSS/BSS arena.
- The Secret to Intelligent Operations
- Amdocs CMO: We're Gonna Mint It in MANO
- Amdocs: Expect ECOMP Adoption Boomlet
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) needs no introduction, but while its DNA is in building the routers and switches that power that power the Internet, it has been evolving into a software and services company through a series of ambitious takeovers and the rollout of new cloud-based services.
A new product called iCAM (for Intelligent Comprehensive Analytics and Machine Learning) takes Cisco deeper into the world of predictive analytics based on AI and machine learning. It promises to help customers plan future network upgrades based on analysis of traffic patterns, and should also support troubleshooting and network procurement activities. The end result? Significant savings in both capital and operational expenditure, says Cisco, as customers get rid of equipment and processes they no longer need.
Cisco already claims to have a number of customers that are deploying iCAM and says many others are looking at it. If any start to link savings to the Cisco technology, interest in the product could quickly grow.
Just about everyone seems to be talking about 5G these days, but Israel's ECI Telecom Ltd. is linking the forthcoming standard to a vision it calls the "ELASTIC network strategy." Through a range of products based on SDN and NFV technology, ECI aims to help telcos automate their networks and speed up service development in advance of 5G rollout. Its LightAPPS products, for example, are all about networks that can "self-maintain," promising cost savings and more simplified operations. LightSEC, meanwhile, is a cybersecurity product based on innovations in the software and virtualization space. ECI clearly faces competition from the industry giants in this market, but it now claims to have about 40 customers on its books.
- CEO Chat With ECI's Darryl Edwards
- The Era of Agile Optics Has Arrived
- Intel & Cisco on Joint 5G Solutions
Formed during a complicated bout of consolidation and from the combination of three separate businesses -- Xura Inc. , Mitel Mobile and Ranzure -- the company now calling itself Mavenir Systems Inc. was born as recently as March. But it can draw on plenty of expertise in cloud-based network technologies, and claims to have been responsible for several "world firsts" on the rollout of virtualized services. Its portfolio, it says, includes a range of "5G-ready" core and access products, a set of end-to-end network solutions and a number of voice, video and advanced messaging services (think voice-over-LTE and voice-over-WiFi). More interesting, perhaps, is that Mavenir's customer base incudes nine of the top ten communications services providers in the world. Telcos, it seems, are buying into its vision.
- Pardeep Kohli Discusses Network Transformation & the Market Opportunity for the 'New' Mavenir Systems
- Xura Bets High on 5G With Acquisitions: Is the Timing Right?
- Mitel in M&A Maelstrom
If some of the most sophisticated 5G services are going to fly then networks are going to have to change pretty radically over the next few years. Among other things, telcos will need to make investments in so-called "edge computing" infrastructure, shifting more of their IT resources out of centralized facilities and installing them near basestations, where they are much closer to end customers.
Texas-based Vapor IO aims to be at the forefront of this transition with its Vapor Edge platform. Through new hardware and software designs, Vapor says it can ease the process of building and operating what it calls "microdatacenters" in edge environments. Its Vapor Chamber enclosure, it claims, is far more efficient at cooling and protecting equipment than traditional server hardware. And the company's OpenDCRE software is intended to support remote operations. With operators talking more about an overhaul of their network architecture, Vapor's innovations look timely.
- Vapor IO Builds Wee Data Centers
- Vapor Lets Greener Data Centers Bloom
- Vapor Pushes Data Centers to the Edge
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading