Spotlight on Tech

Creating competitive differentiation in telcos through cloud-native

Partha Seetala
President, Cloud Business Unit
Rakuten Symphony
November 7, 2022
minute read

It’s never too early or late to start talking about cloud-native.

By 2025, more than 95% of new workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms. Clearly, a lot of organizations are on their way to cloud-native adoption, among them some of the most prominent telecom operators of our time. After all, the benefits of cloud-native are most pronounced in the telecom sector, where the need for scale, automation, and predictable cost structure at optimal OPEX and CAPEX is more persistent than ever. With the advent of 5G, new use cases, applications, and services, the need for hyper-automation, low latency, and efficiencies in handling complex AI/ML-type data-intensive applications at the edge are gaining more prominence.

Cloud-native has been proven to improve the cost models of telcos dramatically. The very fact that even the vendors today are packaging their network functions (NFs) as cloud-native indicates that it is set to become the de-facto-standard service delivery platform for telecom operators. Greenfield operators have been quick to onboard cloud-native applications and NFs. As an integral component of Rakuten Mobile’s in-production, fully cloud-native 5G network, Symworld™ Cloud is a testament to the fact that cloud-native can produce agility and significant savings for any operator.

Rakuten Mobile was built as a cloud-native network from the get-go. This posed a clear set of benefits regarding efficiency, faster deployment, agility, cost savings, and more. Of course, when it comes to brownfield deployment, there is more need for definitive planning and standardization, as there’s a lot at stake. Operators are known to be cautious about the transition; nevertheless, the benefits of cloud-native apply just as much to brownfield use cases when the operator is embarking on the modernization of some of its infrastructure, like Open RAN, for example.

Cloud-native vs. virtualization

Before we take a close look at what it means for a brownfield operator to go down the cloud-native path, a couple of realities need to be considered. The telecom sector has been experiencing a pressing need to streamline operations and bring home efficiencies. One of the biggest challenges facing telcos today is how to bring different operational siloes together and optimize them. There is also a desperate need to manage customer experience and create market differentiation. Spread all of this across the multi-technology, a multi-vendor spectrum that most telcos operate in, and things become extremely complicated.

The virtualization model on the cloud, despite its many virtues, does not deliver the actual benefits of software-driven infrastructure in terms of operations and management. This is because virtualization does not force operators or vendors to follow a standard approach for application development. Hence, every vendor supplying NFs has its own way of developing, deploying, upgrading, scaling, lifecycle management, etc. This, in turn, inhibits complex, multi-vendor, and seamless software-driven operations.

On the other hand, cloud-native does all of this and more. As an opinionated stack, cloud-native forces vendors to build their applications in a certain way, which removes the challenges of deployment and scaling at the application layer.

Ultimately, this brings more control. For example, when building an application, the vendor does not need to worry about how to scale that application. That’s handled inherently and quite efficiently by cloud-native platforms (like with the Symworld™ Cloud portfolio) as long as the application is built to certain specifications. The power then shifts back to the operator, who can take charge of this consistency even in a complex, multi-vendor environment. They can optimize it for their specific needs and, over time, achieve the tremendous cost benefits and simplicity that come with it.

Leveraging the benefits of cloud-native – what does it take?

The grand vision behind the openness or cloud-native movement is to democratize. In reality, large telco workloads have not been running effectively in a “cloudified” fashion without many overheads, and they do not allow operators absolute control over their lifecycles. Why is this?

Contrary to popular belief, contemporary frameworks like agile development, DevOps implementation and cloud-native architecture are all about discipline. The industry is not fully ready for them yet as not all vendors are on board with these new paradigms. This needs to change. For example, as the first step, telcos could start with a blueprint of their strategic or operational roadmap and ensure that all of their vendors adhere to it, rather than leaving it to the vendors’ discretion.

There is no denying that as things stand today, telcos have no choice but to cut overheads and streamline operations to sustain in the near future. There’s little or no room for innovation. Cloud-native technologies, such as Symworld™ Cloud, are set to challenge this over the long haul. By unlocking superior operational discipline and efficiencies, telcos can shift their focus to the strategic side. Differentiation will eventually be delivered in value-added market offerings rather than the differentiation created through operational efficiencies. The cloud-native model is engineered to deliver on this promise.

Where are we headed?

Cloud-native is designed for more than just deployment. It addresses fundamental aspects like scalability, self-healing, lifecycle management and so on – all integral parts of telco operations. But while this may work wonders for a single application, telecom networks are built on a complex and diverse set of apps and NFs. When evaluating the proper cloud-native orchestration and automation, the key things to consider are how the underlying platform works across these multi-vendor applications and functions and how intelligently it observes, corrects, and self-heals in the fastest way possible.

This is what Symworld™ Cloud is all about. Symworld™ Cloud is at the forefront of cloud-native innovation that allows operators to leverage the possibilities that technologies like 5G and Edge bring to the table. Having proven its expertise with cloud-native delivery of network services, Symworld™ Cloud has created conversations centered on how to get the power of cloud-native to large-scale brownfield deployments.

The cloud-native revolution has already begun. Accelerating it is the only question that we’re faced with today.

Let’s learn together how to make it work.

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