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There is a lot of buzz in the industry about cloud and 5G in new network deployments. At the same time, there is a lot of confusion over terms, in particular terms like open virtualized cloud, cloud native, Virtual Network Functions (VNF), and Containerized Network Function (CNF).
To add to the confusion, there is hybrid cloud, which is usually a combination of public and private, and also multi-cloud – which is a combination of private and multiple public clouds. These are provided by companies such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. If an entity is using a number of those together with your private cloud, it’s a multi cloud environment rather than a hybrid cloud. That is the entity’s own private cloud plus one of those public ones.
There is also a great deal of talk about the open Radio Access Network (RAN) part of new deployments in 5G, otherwise known as O-RAN. That is the biggest cost of any mobile network deployment. The RAN is about getting base stations on top of buildings and building the infrastructure that aggregates mobile traffic back into a core network and provides large-scale connectivity.
Open RAN means that there are open standards published by an industry group called the O-RAN Alliance. So rather than the historical practice of buying all network elements from one large vendor — Huawei, Nokia, or Ericsson for instance, it means that you can pick and choose different parts and components of standard interfaces from a variety of vendors and integrate them.
That allows operators to reduce vendor lock-in so they can drive costs down significantly. Moreover, there is increased flexibility and scalability that is created by building distributed cloud infrastructure into the RAN to make it scalable and more cost effective.
Within that, there is also the virtualization of network functions. Previously, traditional telecoms software used to sit on proprietary hardware. Now, it sits on standard servers that work in standard data centers. That enables cost reduction by managing standard hardware expansion on a standard cloud platform. This leads to containerization, for example, which allows a microservices architecture be more flexible, more scalable, and more manageable from a cutting across different clouds.
Essentially, at the point of containerization, mobile telco infrastructure can become as flexible as enterprise applications and hybrid cloud infrastructure that are used today.
Why do all of this? This evolution can deliver cost reduction, flexibility, scalability, and in some ways — a simplification of telco infrastructure that can run on a flexible cloud network with multiple public and private cloud components. So the whole telecoms core network the telecoms radio access network simply becomes one application of many that run across this distributed cloud network.
The telco, then, becomes a set of applications running on the cloud, and this is why owning and managing the cloud strategy is a strategic imperative for any mobile network operator.
Robert Jones is the CEO and founder of Bluefire, a global business advisory and interim management firm based in Singapore that specialises in accelerating growth and transformation for mid-market companies in the technology sector.