In early 2018, expect many Tier 1 telcos to announce significant new mobile cloud and mobile edge computing (MEC) initiatives that will transform today's operators into tomorrow's digital service providers (DSPs), generating new revenues through feature-rich services -- often in partnership with third-party providers and publishers.
MEC, in particular, is essential to support new compute-intensive apps and services like augmented reality, 3D and tele-surgery. There's no time to waste, given the rapidly changing service landscape and the global push for 5G.
Monetizing 5G: Easier said than done
Operators embarking on this journey have three priorities: grow their subscriber base, grow revenues and reduce costs. Hitting all three is a tall order. But it's not impossible.
By investing in systems and solutions that add extra agility to the network, to services and to the customer experience, operators can properly capitalize on the opportunities that 5G's vastly increased speeds and bandwidth present. But high-speed connectivity and ultra-low latency aren't enough by themselves to transform an operator's business. To fully monetize 5G, operators must build a network-wide, distributed mobile cloud as an open platform for developers, over-the-top (OTT) distributors and service providers to use for hosting apps and content.
Today's cloud offerings from Amazon Web Services Inc. , Microsoft Azure and others aren't suitable for this job: It's down to the operators to do it themselves instead. That means nothing less than creating clouds differentiated by consumer proximity, location awareness and near-zero latency.
Instrumentation and visibility: Crucial for mobile cloud
When operators' previous "digital transformation" efforts failed, it was often from a lack of ubiquitous, real-time insight into network performance and the customer experience. A leading operator in Latin America had to rethink its LTE rollout after two consecutive years of lower-than-expected uptake. Subscribers were reluctant to migrate from their existing 3G plans, as they didn't perceive any improvement in call quality or social network performance.
It didn't occur to the operator that its network quality was judged more by voice quality and latency than data speed; as such, it hadn't instrumented each service separately. After increasing its monitoring resolution to see each application individually -- and in the context of one another -- it quickly optimized the quality of the services that were inhibiting customers' LTE adoption.
Proper instrumentation, monitoring and visibility of the network -- including its cloud elements -- is actually easier and more affordable than ever. It starts with an open, flexible infrastructure that supports and enables the quick, easy development and deployment of new services via easy-access, open APIs.
To create this type of API-driven network, operators must overhaul their operational support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS). These systems must, firstly, support rapid, dynamic service creation, provisioning, activity and retirement. Secondly, they must ensure customers get what they want, when they want it.
Both are enabled through precise network visibility and predictive analytics to support service-oriented, dynamic, software-defined networking (SDN). Faster time to launch and more nimble response to market pressures are the end benefits for operators, their service partners and end users.
Closing the loop on service automation
But how do you "close the loop" and completely automate the process of creating a service, managing it and optimizing its delivery and performance? Such a complex process depends on accurate, real-time visibility into all network functions, relationships and behaviors -- of the network, the service running over it and the customers using it.
This might sound like another tall order. But lightweight, virtualized, monitoring instrumentation technology already exists. And, crucially, it's versatile enough to be compatible with new services as soon as they are created.
By deploying virtualized monitoring as an overlay onto existing networks, operators can streamline the monitoring process, and also identify and solve potential problems between network elements from different vendors. Software does almost all of the heavy lifting, with low-cost, small form factor hardware available if needed in locations missing key functionality.
Leave behind 'tried and tested'
To monetize 5G, operators must leave behind their tried and tested approaches to service delivery and network performance. 5G's faster speeds, lower latency and extra bandwidth are the means by which operators can move beyond the constraints of being a "traditional" operator and become a digital service provider. If they don't, their expensive network and radio spectrum investments will count for very little.
Telcos must rethink their networks and prepare them for cloud-type consumption of features and services by customers. Effective and affordable real-time monitoring and assurance is integral to this transformation.
In this way, operators can turn their infrastructure assets into an enviable mobile cloud, and properly benefit from the many and varied OTT applications and next-gen services that will soon be travelling over their networks.
— Scott Sumner, Director of Marketing, Accedian