The new mobile phone standard 5G can’t come fast enough. For consumers, this means being able to download HD movies ultra-fast. For a technophile like me, the possibilities of 5G are exciting and endless. Imagine new immersive Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality applications that can be rapidly deployed, industrial robots alleviating the lack of manpower in greying markets, patients in remote locations getting access to the best of healthcare services or home-connected devices responding to commands from a user located miles away.
For communications service providers (CSPs) who are spearheading this technology, the implications are huge.
Over the past decade, CSPs have been relegated to the role of providing pipes and plumbing, while disruptors have built businesses leveraging telecommunications infrastructure to their benefit. New internet-based companies such as content providers are able to leverage actionable data, innovate quicker, and deliver new customer services faster using a more capable network digital foundation.
As we celebrate World Telecommunications Day, with the first specs for 5G approved, CSPs now have the opportunity to reinvent themselves, offer new products and services to their customers. 5G should provide CSPs with the agility and scale to quickly build and launch new services and applications, and to gain a competitive environment through the delivery of superior offerings to their customers.
The more ambitious players go as far as to claim that 5G will be available commercially as early as this year, while the more cautious anticipate 2020 as the coming-of-age year.
If we take the conservative estimate, that’s less than two years from now. This is a very short window for telcos with ambitions to lead the 5G drive to get their houses in order.
Overcoming the roadblocks
This is because 5G requires a software-driven architecture and network functions virtualization (NFV) to be successful. For example, one key aspect of 5G, known as network slicing, is the ability to divide and scale the network on an as-a-service and “on demand” basis. This requires an advanced, software-defined infrastructure to execute.
For most telcos their legacy network infrastructure isn’t capable of delivering 5G’s full capabilities. Composed of proprietary hardware and software, these legacy networks are responsible for delivering volumes of network voice, video, and data traffic that are not optimized for 5G. As a result, current infrastructure needs to be revamped with NFV in order to become more agile and automated.
NFV allows for the virtualization of many network services, such as routers and firewalls, load balancers, core networks, SD-WAN and many more, which are currently being performed by dedicated, proprietary hardware appliances. NFV replaces those appliances with software running on commercial, off-the-shelf servers. NFV fundamentally changes the way current service provider networks are built and operated. It dramatically reduces the costs of scaling a service provider’s network, while significantly increasing the capability to bring new services to market by extending the benefits of cloud technology to the network edge.
NFV is the agglomeration of all the software technology building blocks that enabled SDDC and public clouds, virtualization, SDN, virtual infrastructure management, analytics. NFV brings these all together in a streamlined design, overlaying support for high availability and real-time application and service-chaining capabilities.
Simply put, to be 5G- and future-ready, legacy IT infrastructure requires a massive overhaul.
CSPs that recognized this early on and embraced digital transformation at its nascent stage are already reaping the rewards and primed for the 5G revolution.
Telkom Indonesia, the broadband backbone of Indonesia, identified that the complicated geography of Indonesia’s archipelago of islands will prove to be their biggest challenge for network operations, on a technical and business level. They decided to virtualize their data center and establish a cloud infrastructure, consolidating all of their core applications. It now takes less than 30 minutes to design and deliver new demands. Total cost of ownership was also cut by 40%.
The company also established an Always On data center by virtualization of all lines - starting from storage, application and server. With the IT infrastructure integrated, Telekom Indonesia increased efficiency with an agile and reliable system that anticipates the dynamic needs of future IT requirements.
Telekom Malaysia is another telecom player who recognized that a robust IT infrastructure is vital to achieve their vision of being effective and efficient in meeting high customer service expectations. In view of this, they migrated their servers to a unified and secure cloud-based system, virtualizing business-critical applications, allowing the team to prioritize new business-related innovations and initiatives.
Charting the roadmap
At the end of the day, the main objective is to make networks more efficient in order to roll out new services faster, and reduce provisioning time from months and weeks to just days. This is the silver bullet platform from which CSPs can rethink new business models and services.
As we sprint along the 4G lane towards the 5G future, we need to think beyond laying down high-speed fiber networks. A strong core infrastructure is a must-have for CSPs looking to take up the leadership mantle. I have utmost confidence that they are ready to step up to a position of great influence in the imminent 5G age.
Adrian Hia is Singapore country manager at VMware