MWC Preview: Telecom Needs a New Operating System

Geoff Hollingworth
Chief Marketing Officer
Rakuten Symphony
September 14, 2022
minute read
Telecom needs a new operating system that drives workforce empowerment and augmentation, workflow automation and workflow optimization. The reward will be transformational outcomes based on real value participation.

The Web 2.0 era changed how we live and work. Smartphones and the app economy powered this journey, yet telecom and mobile have failed to capture appropriate value.

While determined not to let history repeat itself, MNOs have yet to widely adopt a foundation that will enable them to position for success.

This is an urgent problem.

As the world changes yet again, we are moving from a two-dimensional flat web that people take anywhere, to a three-dimensional spatial web that people live inside. The foundation of all these trends, from metaverse to AR/VR/XR to Industry 4.0 is the provisioning of digital spatial understanding and augmented situational awareness.

This shared reality of the real world and the digital world creates an empty canvas for new experiences. The future of online will be as different from the web 2.0 era as the web 2.0 era was from web 1.0.

The existing app economy was dependent on ever improving mobile broadband. Pervasive spatial understanding and situational awareness will be dependent on ever immersive connectivity that will be so close and responsive it will feel like an extension of reality rather than an overlay. Like the oxygen we breathe, connectivity will be as omnipresent and immediate, and this responsiveness and dynamism will create new challenges and new opportunities for those providing the service. The underlying networks and operations must provide a platform that is both agile and scalable enough to manage the continuously changing demands.

 "As the world changes yet again, we are moving from a two-dimensional flat web that people take anywhere, to a three-dimensional spatial web that people live inside."
- Geoff Hollingworth, CMO, Rakuten Symphony

The operational processes of yesterday are no longer fit for purpose and have been the leading contributor to the decline in industry relevance and revenue.

The remit is clear. Telecom desperately needs to address its lack of competitiveness in the digital service provider economy.

Positioning for what comes next as the future comes into focus

Telecom cannot afford to maintain the same slow speed. It has tried to adapt to complexity by following the existing manually managed operating model, approach and processes. We’ve seen before that this doesn’t work.

When SpaceX wanted to launch a fleet of satellites, it first got to work diligently addressing the shortcomings of rockets. Netflix changed how we watched video before delivering the content we really wanted.

Telecom must fix network operations so the speed of execution and ability to adapt matches that of the cloud-native competitors we are now competing with.

What telecom needs is a new operating system.

Managing dynamic complexity at scale

Over the last twenty years, mobile and fixed networks have focused on accelerating bandwidth deployment to meet demand. While innovation has been high in increasing bandwidth per unit technology deployed per generation, little innovation has happened in how the technology has been planned, deployed and operated.

"Telecom must fix network operations so the speed of execution and ability to adapt matches that of the cloud-native competitors we are now competing with."

Starting with 5G, network operation is now increasingly dynamic given the adoption of cloud and decoupling of software from hardware. Existing tooling and processes are no longer fit for purpose. The cloud container abstraction layer introduces 100x containers and clusters per server, all continuously deployed and redeployed based on failure and shifting load. Software is no longer statically deployed, rather software micro services are deployed and redeployed 10-100 times each, based on localized distribution and dynamic customer demand. Software deployment now represents two of the three layers of deployment, is dynamically deployed and redeployed at a factor 10-1000x more nodes than the physical infrastructure underneath.

This is why the existing network tooling and inventory processes no longer work adequately, and why many modern networks still deploy statically rather than dynamically. Simply, there is no operational choice.  

People in telecom have created magic in keeping up with demand, but as with the hamster on the wheel, the running has to stop and the wheel has to change. It is time to reconsider how we are approaching the management and operating model of the total telecom business. The management and operating model is the business, not the technology. The technology is an enabler.

Making progress

Two companies have made considerable strides in the right direction: Reliance Jio and Rakuten Mobile.

Both realized telecom’s biggest challenge is planning, building and managing a large-scale distributed system of sites that is ever-increasing in size and complexity.

The distribution of the sites, the associated site complexity and the physical nature of the operation means there is a dependency on a large workforce continuously modifying the operation while customers consume the benefit. The automated deployment and redeployment of cloud-native software and micro services on top of the physical infrastructure leads to a highly complex interplay of events, actors and actions.  All must be managed, coordinated and transparent to all others to ensure chaos, inefficiency or outright failure does not occur.

During the initial build, over 400,000 people were touching the Jio network every day. There is a need for modelling this as one complex operating system to support the required scale, speed and quality with no tolerance for failure. Yet, the operational processes involved in managing this complexity were never modelled as the complex system they represent.

The telecom business is a real time distributed operating system in its own right. Unlike computer operating systems that manage hardware and software, the telecom operating system manages people, hardware, software and, increasingly, robots. The telecom operating system empowers all people in operations to have more control and accelerate execution with confidence.

Reliance Jio has announced its 5G rollout following this approach, anticipating it will take just 14 months to cover all of India. An ambitious goal to be sure, but one that it is prepared to pursue given it has digitalized all operational processes.

"The telecom operating system empowers all people in operations to have more control and to accelerate execution with confidence."

All people working in Jio are empowered with the latest real time intelligence, real time synchronization and real time insights. The same is true in Rakuten Mobile. Both use the same base of software. This is the software that Rakuten Symphony is making available to the rest of the industry under Symworld.

At Mobile World Congress Las Vegas, we will explore how the entire global MNO community can capitalize on this urgent opportunity as part of my participation in “The Future Network Has No Boundaries” session set for Sept 28 at 15:00 PST. I hope you can join me at the event to discuss what comes next for telecom and the role software will play in its next big act.

Why Rakuten Symphony Symworld?

  • It is designed at birth to manage the dynamic nature of cloud-native networks.
  • It is pre-integrated with the telecom vendor landscape, supporting 110+ node element types from 56+ vendors.
  • Speed of implementation is radically fast, 2-4 weeks rather than months.
  • Interfaces are TM Forum compliant allowing phased adoption and optionality.
  • It is proven at scale, in Rakuten Mobile and earlier in Reliance Jio.
  • Speed of execution and the ability to adapt will define tomorrow’s winners from losers. 

It’s time for telecom operations to go ghostbusters!

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