Transforming Telecom with an Agile-First Approach

I was pleased to participate recently in a webinar with distinguished panelists* from AWS, Capgemini Engineering, and Intel to discuss how carriers might better position themselves to monetize their 5G strategies. Our conversation centered on an ‘agile-first’ approach to software development—applying DevOps best practices to highly distributed 5G networks.

Why carriers must embrace the enterprise model of DevOps

Telcos are discovering that the prevailing model of telecom software delivery, in which it can take 1-2 years to push major new features live, is not going to fly in the new reality of 5G. 

In the past few years, we’ve seen telecoms adapt to several IT innovations, most notably NFV (network functions virtualization) and more recently 5G and cloud. These innovations have presented the impetus to and the capability for the telco world to shift to a more software-defined and automated approach. But to take advantage of fully software-defined networking environments, telcos must adopt DevOps principles that cloud-native developers have popularized. This includes collaboration and cooperation of stakeholders, automation, change management, configuration management, and rapid iteration. 

Let’s take a look at one 5G use case that demonstrates why an agile-first approach is required.

The network slicing use case

Network slicing is one 5G use case that demonstrates the level of complexity network operators now need to be able to handle. Network slicing refers to the ability to spin up a unique network slice to meet the specific communication needs of an end-user device. This could be something as simple and manageable as a bulk backup of data from IoT devices, or as demanding as an uninterrupted 4k video stream for a live event. 

But complexity abounds: The spinning up and down of network slices is complicated by numerous variables; the connections may comprise a variety of network environments spanning the globe, including telecom systems, cloud systems, and enterprise systems; and the cumulative volume of these network slicing sessions will be massive. Needless to say, the process of creating and managing network slicing will need to be frictionless, simple and as automated as possible, requiring minimal human interaction, because service providers simply won’t be able to keep up manually. Network slicing can only be supported by a cloud-native, agile approach.

The role standards will play in telecom’s agile-first journey

To make 5G capabilities like network slicing practical, we must address how to move beyond conventional carrier thinking about a Standard API. The standardization conversation in the telecom industry has centered on APIs, which has left much of the operational and implementation details lagging and controlled vendors or very large operators. This, in turn, has led to a lot of frustration and a lack of tooling and standards. 

Bottom line: waiting on a universally accepted 5G “standard API” for the entire telecom ecosystem will simply take too long. Instead, we need to adopt a new paradigm, one that anticipates and accommodates diversity and gives developers the tooling needed to manage it. For example, Cloudify takes a DevOps approach, enabling “standardization” by using API gateways and adapters to manage change and diverse environments.

There are many advantages to DevOps-style approach, not the least of which are: 

  • It gives developers the proper tools to drive velocity without being encumbered by complexity. Developers can’t be asked to come in and work to the telco’s standards. Standard tooling that isn’t telco specific is going to allow developers to get up and running and deliver faster. 
  • Having a somewhat standardized environment/ecosystem, which is a challenge of private networks, gives developers the ability to work in familiar territory to get access to the network and deploy applications quickly.
  • It releases the reliance on carrier-delivered networks. It opens the door to welcome in start-ups and public cloud providers.

The DevOps approach is the way to deliver interoperability and agility throughout the telecom ecosystem. The efficacy of this approach has already been demonstrated.

A real-word example of agile-first in action

A few months ago, Cloudify collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Intel, and Capgemini Engineering to deliver a complex automation solution based on open source, cloud-native (a multi-Kubernetes cluster service orchestration) and a DevOps-based architecture. Together, we provided an end-to-end integrated solution that involved replacing an entire 5G core between two different vendors. We delivered full 5G network slicing including a vRAN stack within a few weeks, handling new updates within a few hours. The results included a faster time to market, a significant drop in transformation costs, and future-proof offerings for the next generation cloud era.

One of the reasons this project was accomplished in such a short time is that our approach was agile first.The Cloudify platform enabled the developers to use standard tooling, not tooling that was telco specific. Because the developers working on the integration didn’t have to be experts in 5G, they were able to be up and running quickly and deliver in a short amount of time.

This will change telecom as we know it.

Going forward, the telco ecosystem will look quite different. To deploy a 5G network effectively, telcos must be collaborative and involve new players, such as public cloud providers. They must think more globally than simply running their own local network in order to take advantage of network slicing and private 5G, both of which are must-have services if telcos hope to generate the revenue required to deliver a respectable ROI on 5G. However, this expansion of the ecosystem also opens the door to start-ups and public cloud providers who may become competitors and challenge the industry hold that carriers have traditionally enjoyed. 

Thus, the agile-first approach is not only a necessity for carriers who want to survive but also a pivotal transformation that will entirely change the game. 

Nati Shalom Cloudify

Nati Shalom, CTO & Founder, Cloudify

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