At Mobile World Congress Americas, the cloud and 5G loomed large and, frequently, were part of the same story.
One example: Affirmed Networks Inc. announced a "Mobile Network as a Service" offering, wherein it made its virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) available to mobile operators on Amazon Web Services Inc. (See Affirmed Networks Launches 'Mobile Network as a Service'.)
With that offering, in theory, a network operator could secure spectrum and begin offering mobile voice and data services in any geography where AWS is accessible without needing to build their own network. Enterprises and MVNOs can, as an example, take an offering like Affirmed's and provide IoT connectivity for their own devices or as a service to other customers.
"This is a very logical extension of the Affirmed NFV platform into a cloud platform and what we're announcing now is… all the things that service providers love about our platform -- the automation, the time to deployment, the same levels of reliability -- now apply all of those on AWS," said Amit Tiwari, Affirmed Networks’ VP of strategic alliances and systems engineering.
This sort of offering combines all the things we love about the cloud, with the freedom of mobile computing. It creates an opportunity for service providers but also adds some pressure on them to deliver services at different, competitive price points.
Eventually, network operators of all mobile services are going to have to justify the cost of running their networks against "public cloud pricing or public cloud benchmarks," according to Gabriel Brown, principal analyst for mobile networks and 5G at Heavy Reading . As more mobile network operator functions are subsumed into the cloud, that day gets nearer.
Also, this is an important announcement from Affirmed because it gets them out in front of the conversation, a valuable thing when you're a network infrastructure specialist.
"I think it's safe to say they're competing against four other vendors -- Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco and Huawei," Brown said. "It's definitely safe to say that all four of those vendors are investigating the model -- and I would say Nokia and Cisco have probably made more progress [out of that group]."
Other vendors might be in this ballpark already. Expeto, for example, offers an LTE core network via a Platform as a Service offering. Also, Athonet offers what it calls a software-based mobile packet core solution "for centralized or highly distributed edge-cloud deployments." Either one of those two vendors could very likely be offering a mobile network as a service, but the potential customers and use cases might differ from what Affirmed is targeting.
Affirmed has one customer talking about the need for this kind of service, but it doesn't yet have a paying customer using the Mobile Network as a Service in AWS, as announced. The company hopes to be able to talk about some case studies soon -- and that's where I think the story gets really interesting.
— Phil Harvey, US News Editor, Light Reading