Convergence: Bringing networks together while the world tries to keep them apart
Telcos are transitioning to cloud native technologies, but real interoperability and visibility between access networks, workloads and platforms remain a challenge. The carriers are left juggling multiple vertical solutions that are specific to individual vendors and add to the overall operational complexity, lack of scalability and high costs.
There are two main sets of players in the push toward convergence: the traditional operator looking to migrate to a more cloud-based architecture and the cloud provider striving to move closer to the user. These two players are driving a more open and virtualized environment but with many moving parts, including network application software, physical infrastructure and multiple network operators.
The gulf between design and production
To onboard a service, carriers must be able to simulate a production environment end-to-end at the physical and transport layers. However, even if they properly model network performance during the design stage, that is no guarantee of network performance in the production environment. Carriers must be able to monitor the network performance and infrastructure end-to-end across network boundaries to deliver the service.
Today, hyperscalers rely on the newest in automation technology to monitor services running in the cloud. However, they do not have visibility into carrier networks. When all their KPIs go red, they cannot discern the underlying or root cause. Similarly, the telcos cannot troubleshoot service delivery problems that are outside of their geographical region. As the logical barriers between networks fall, the physical realities of the network become more and more of an obstacle to reliable end-to-end performance. Both carriers and hyperscalers are striving to be more proactive in problem identification and resolution. This is tough to achieve with today's lack of visibility into each other's systems — and software is not the total solution.
The carriers are investing in solutions
From 2022 to 2027, Omdia forecasts the telco IT market will grow at a CAGR of 5%, from $33.0bn to $40.4bn. The fastest growth will be in analytics tools (CAGR of 8%) as CSPs invest in improving the intelligence and automation of systems from network assurance and orchestration to customer portals.
5G is rolling out faster than prior mobile generations, and it brings new complexity and many more parameters that must be tracked and configured. This is driving the need for greater automation, not just in network equipment, but also in the assurance and broader operations support systems that manage them. We are seeing strong carrier demand for automated root cause analysis and problem resolution powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Service assurance specialists note they are increasingly selling to engineering teams, not operations, as in the past.
Although vendor partners may be eager to support their carrier customers with next-generation service assurance, it is not enough to deliver on the functionality needed for strong service assurance alone, which includes real-time network monitoring; multilayer troubleshooting; a strong policy-driven approach; and advanced analytics. Vendors must come to market with offerings that can deal with the increasing complexity of the partnership ecosystem. This will require service assurance solutions that are not just well-integrated with other systems but are also able to deal with the wide variety of proprietary and open source standards and embrace open APIs.
Standards: Not the time to hold your breath
Telcos cannot look to the standards organizations for help today, but there may be hope on the horizon. In November 2022, the Linux Foundation announced Project Sylva, proposed by five European telcos together with Ericson and Nokia. Sylva's goal is to create a new, open source production-grade Telco Cloud Stack. Its common cloud software framework and Reference Implementation promise to reduce the fragmentation of the cloud infrastructure layer for telecommunication and edge services. It is, of course, very early days for this project. Telcos, along with their partners, must move forward with their convergence and digital transformation plans and add the following to their list of requirements: support for an eventual transition to a standards-based framework — potentially coming out of Project Sylva.
What can carriers do as networks increase in complexity while, at the same time, they pull closer together in convergence and it becomes tougher to get everything to work in harmony? Heavy Reading cannot solve the world's problems in a blog, but we can offer two guideline recommendations:
- Invest in digital transformation to improve customer experience and automate operations. Deploy new IT systems as an overlay, then retire legacy systems gradually to reduce risk.
- Choose solutions that are cloud native, modular, easy to integrate, and offer low/no-code configurability to empower users. Insist on TM Forum Open API adherence from your software providers.
— Jennifer P. Clark, Principal Analyst – Cloud Infrastructure and Edge Computing, Heavy Reading
This blog is sponsored by VIAVI.