It's not often that anyone with a job title such as "Head of Technology and Innovation" would put technology second in their list of strategic priorities, but that's the message Hossein Moiin is sending out as he explains how Nokia Siemens Networks is addressing the future needs of its network operator customers.
Like every major vendor, NSN believes it has a unique take on how to help the telcos. Moiin, who is essentially the company's CTO (and has been since 2010), tells Light Reading that NSN differentiates itself from its main rivals -- so that's Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson AB, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. -- through its "holistic view of cost control … and revenue improvement" and its focus on helping telcos treat each customer as an individual with a high degree of personalization. (See NSN Hires a CTO.)
He adds: "We are addressing this from a business perspective first, technology second."
So, this is a story of technology developed to meet business requirements. And, stresses Moiin, NSN only details its technology capabilities once it can deliver and he believes that's unique too: "We make sure we have the technology" before we pitch our story to the industry, he says.
That could be one reason why NSN has been less aggressive in talking about its cloud technology assets and the ways it can help its customers develop hosted operations and applications.
Moiin insists NSN has been very active in developing cloud capabilities for its customers during recent years and points to the way in which the vendor's OSS and customer experience management (CEM) products can be hosted and managed from a centralized cloud platform as examples of such developments.
And, actually, once you dig a little behind the components of NSN's Technology Vision 2020, the common theme is the management of capabilities and applications in cloud architectures, with virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN) either explicit or implicit.
So what does Moiin have to say about NSN's strategy?
Enabling 1,000 times more capacity by 2020
This, the CTO says, can be achieved partly by ongoing spectrum management advances and even the use of spectrum that is currently not being utilized. (NSN was recently involved in a trial of Authorized Shared Access technology, which enables mobile networks to share frequency bands not allocated to them -- see this blog for more.)
In addition, Moiin says "much greater density will be achieved by the deployment of many small cells," while the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is "undertaking work on the more efficient use of existing spectrum resources."
Small-cell deployment will create unique network management challenges and this is where software-defined control can play a role. "Ultimately you will need SDN to build the foundations for managing many small cells," notes Moiin.
The combination of advances in spectrum management, efficiency and access, plus the deployment of small cells, is all part of what NSN considers to be the shift to 5G, says the CTO.
But that's all to come. In the meantime, advances can be made from the deployment of LTE-Advanced and the integration of Wi-Fi, says Moiin.
Reduce latency to milliseconds
NSN's big push in this respect is with its liquid applications development, which was unveiled at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. (See NSN: Understanding Liquid Applications.)
The general idea is to store applications and content right at the edge of the network -- the content is closer to where it is being consumed.
"We have had a lot of traction with liquid applications and it will be deployed soon in a European city," says the CTO. "In addition, we have [API] products in the roadmap to make it easier for third-party content owners and developers to hook into the liquid applications platform," he adds.
Personalizing the network experience and enabling "self-aware" networks
NSN has long been working on ways to help service providers improve the way they view, manage, sell to and interact with subscribers with the development of its customer experience management (CEM) capabilities and is regarded as one of the leading players in this respect.
Now the company believes it can combine the capabilities of, and data from, various Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) systems, particularly cloud-based CEM and OSS systems that have up-to-date and relevant data, to enable what it calls the "personalization of the network experience."
This involves "using 'Big Data' and [analytics] to enable a unique experience for each user on the network. The network operators can learn a lesson from the device guys and focus more on personalization," says the CTO.
This isn't something NSN can achieve by itself, though. "To take advantage of the potential here we have eight partners in this domain, a mix of large well-known names and small specialists, but we are not at liberty to disclose the names," says Moiin.
And it's more than just a technology play. "Business model innovations are needed for differentiation," he adds.
Reinventing telco for the cloud
This is where NSN is hopeful but also cautious, in that it wants to be part of the cloud revolution but not oversell its capabilities.
"Our OSS … has been enabled to run in the cloud, as has our CEM," says Moiin, flirting with terms such as "cloudified" and "liquid" to explain that such software is hosted centrally and be deployed in a more flexible and efficient manner.
Is that as far as NSN has got with its cloud adaptations?
IMS and evolved packet core capabilities "will be next but we have no timeframes. It's a matter of prioritization and resources. The base technology enables virtualization, so if there is demand from customers then this can be achieved," he says. "Prototypes are available, the algorithms have been developed."
What about the radio access network (RAN)? NSN has talked previously about how resources can be centralized and shared. (See NSN Hangs Its Future on the Liquid Net.)
Regarding the "separation of the RF and baseband components, a commitment to put it out in a generic form has not been made. But the base technology is ready and for some Asia/Pacific customers we are near production with testing and proof of concept."
So this topology could soon be deployed in Asia? "Japan and South Korea -- that is where there is demand." But, notes the CTO, this type of deployment "is very dependent on the availability of fiber between the RF and baseband, so it's not applicable universally -- it is very dependent on the fronthaul [link] between the RF and baseband." And where is there an abundance of fiber in the cities? Japan and South Korea.
OK, so what about SDN? What is NSN's take on that hot topic?
"This is very far from becoming a reality. We are very active in the Open Networking Foundation and also involved in the competing ideas that have merits. It is far from clear what the ultimate architecture for SDN and virtualization will be. We are basing our developments on hypervisors and management layers and will be ready for whatever is demanded from the industry. We will be modular and be able to hook into whatever is demanded by the network operators."
And what about involvement with the operators driving network functions virtualization (NFV)? "In terms of the NFV group at ETSI, we have been asked exclusively by a few operators to get involved as much as possible and we are contributing to the working groups," says the CTO.
Flatten total energy consumption
This is a pragmatic but important part of the mix. "It's hard to reduce energy consumption when network capacity and usage is increasing but we have a responsibility to make sure it doesn't increase, even when capacity increases by 1,000 times."
Much of the focus of this is around lower consumption in the radio access network, especially as multiple small cells are introduced.
So NSN has a vision, one that it says is in line with its customers' requirements. Now it's all about delivering on the promises.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading