Navigating the Journey to Fixed-Mobile Convergence

You can divide the task of running a communications infrastructure into three big buckets: people, processes, and technology. But what if you’re running multiple access infrastructures at once? Just multiply. #Sponsored

April 29, 2024

7 Min Read

By Hersh Sanghvi, Bang Tran, Robert McIntyre.

You can divide the task of running a communications infrastructure into three big buckets: people, processes, and technology. But what if you’re running multiple access infrastructures at once? Just multiply. So, if you provide cable and mobile services, you can count six buckets—with dedicated people/processes/technology for each. Managed Wi-Fi, too? Now you’ve got nine, each with its own independent control plane, operational processes, and capacity carrying costs.

You can see how costs and complexity can spiral out of control. Today, many service providers are modernizing their environments by converging various access networks into a single, unified services framework. By breaking down silos separating wireline and mobile infrastructures, operators can deliver better subscriber experiences. They gain the agility to launch new services and update existing ones more quickly. And they can substantially reduce operational and capital expenses (OpEx and CapEx).

At the same time, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) represents a significant evolution, with many possible paths to take at many points in the journey—all of which can have profound implications. Let’s take a closer look at what a typical convergence journey looks like and the key considerations to keep in mind on the way.


Overcoming Barriers to Growth

Facing flat or declining revenues, operators worldwide are scrambling to drive down costs and deliver more value to customers. As a result, many now seek to enter new markets—for example, cable operators launching new mobile offerings. This convergence is unfolding in different ways for different markets and operators, but it’s happening almost everywhere. According to Heavy Reading, 48 percent of service providers are currently deploying some form of FMC, and another 41 percent plan to in the next 12-18 months.

All these convergence plans, however, face the same barrier: technical and operational silos. Most operators maintain one set of dedicated technologies, processes, and teams for wireline access networks, another for mobile, still another for Wi-Fi, along with other siloed technologies spanning domains. The result is a complex knot of intertwined, often redundant network operations with sky-high OpEx. This complexity also impedes the ability to optimize capacity, increasing CapEx. Worse, these patched-together silos provide a poor foundation for trying to innovate or differentiate from competitors.

Planning Convergence

The rationale for converging siloed technology domains is easy to understand. The question is, how best to do it? Expect to need three foundational capabilities:

  • Cross-domain operational agility, so you can provide a consistent, seamless experience to subscribers, no matter how they come onto the network

  • Unified visibility to inform operations across domains and enable holistic automation and assurance, which in turn accelerate deployments and troubleshooting

  • Modern, cloud-smart operational support system/business support system (OSS/BSS), so you can easily and continually create new subscriber-facing packages and offers across domains

Additionally, you’ll want to build these capabilities in a way that preserves your freedom to quickly shift gears and move in new directions as business and service models evolve.

These are huge changes that can touch every part of the organization. The good news is that service providers don’t have to come up with a new, specialized framework to implement them. By adopting the infrastructure-as-code (IaC) model used by hyperscale cloud providers and enterprise IT, they can apply proven cloud architectures and operating models to their own environments, without having to reinvent the wheel.

Instead of maintaining technology silos for each domain, operational teams can use a common cloud platform, with different access networks running as software applications using common tools and processes. They can define networks and services in software, and automate the instantiation of infrastructure and services on demand, regardless of access. Now, operators can support more differentiated and compelling customer-facing services, with the ability to stitch cross-domain services together in real time into a seamless offering. And, they can use proven DevOps software models and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines to continually enhance and expand services.

These converged capabilities can help you:

  • Reduce OpEx and improve efficiency by consolidating redundant operations

  • Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing a seamless, consistent subscriber experience, regardless of location or device

  • Optimize CapEx by gaining cross-silo visibility and the flexibility to move capacity where it’s needed

  • Increase innovation and competitiveness, and potentially generate new revenues, with the ability to quickly, continually update services in software

Weighing Convergence Options

Convergence journeys typically begin by identifying common elements of the technology stack that are repeated across domains (such as compute, storage, networking, security, databases, assurance). The goal is to pull those elements out of their silos and consolidate them onto a common platform that serves all network applications. This universal platform can then be supported via common engineering and operational teams, bolstered by end-to-end automation and standardized lifecycle management. According to Heavy Reading, service providers view this capability - running a common network, using common hardware, with unified security and monitoring - as an economic gamechanger.

While most agree on the end state, however, the best path to get there varies. Each service provider must weigh multiple strategic and tactical considerations to prioritize the various elements in this journey. For instance:

  • Where are the biggest opportunities for quick wins? Should you focus convergence efforts on enterprise customers? Consumers? Both?

  • As you break down silos and create common teams, which use cases should you prioritize? Consolidating onto common hardware? Implementing common authentication, security policy, network monitoring, or assurance?

  • How will you determine when to deploy FMC? Should you wait until 5G Core is fully deployed? Or will competitive pressures demand more urgent action?

  • Which container-as-a-service (CaaS) strategy should you choose for your cloud orchestration framework? Should you choose a hyperscaler, or are you better off deploying a platform that you fully control?

Envisioning Success

Finding the best convergence path for your market and customers will require experimentation. There are, however, important lessons that we’ve already learned about what works (and what doesn’t) when embarking on this journey.

The most successful projects define agility as a day-one requirement. They use cloud-native design principles and service-based approaches. And they adopt a software-defined IaC framework as the platform for enabling FMC - along with many other next-generation network applications and use cases. As you progress on this journey, make sure to consider:

  • Service velocity: FMC requires the ability to create and deploy services on demand. Look for solutions that can apply skills you already have in-house to support new converged services. If they can’t, expect to need expensive long-term services engagements.

  • Vendor flexibility: If you’re uncomfortable handing over core aspects of your business to a hyperscaler, you’ll want to retain the ability to work with any vendor you choose, at every layer of the stack. Look for cloud platform solutions with a robust ecosystem of partner applications and network functions—ideally, pretested and validated - to simplify and accelerate deployments.

  • Operational consistency: The biggest TCO gains depend on using a common software stack, supported by common network monitoring, security, and other shared services. Make sure your platform partner can provide consistent tools and processes across domains, and the ability to assure consistent performance across network tiers and architectures.

No two service providers’ path to convergence will look the same. But wherever you start your journey, make sure you’re working with partners that align with your business priorities - and will preserve your flexibility to make changes along the way. Make the right calls, and you can start tapping into lower TCO, increased business agility, and other FMC benefits sooner, with far less effort and risk.

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