Disaggregation, virtualization, automation: carriers will need to be softwarized to survive. The current transformation in the world of networks is rewriting the way carriers work and paving the way for major upscaling in terms of operational efficiency and flexibility. For customers, this means the arrival and development of an on-demand network model.
“The introduction of IT software practices for networks—including Cloud hosting for network functions—and the widespread use of data to automate network operations” are the two main phenomena at work, explains Laurent Leboucher, Group CTO & Senior Vice President Orange Innovation Networks. “Our networks are becoming more autonomous, and our teams are more efficient and more productive with the same headcount. It’s a significant change and the impact on our practices and working methods is just as big. This means we need to help employees develop new skills, to support them in their transition to emerging roles through upscaling and rescaling.”
Disaggregation and Automation
What does this transition mean for networks and operations? With software comes disaggregation: “Until now, carriers have purchased and deployed network equipment combining hardware and software functions. In recent years, these functions have moved away from hardware, which is becoming commonplace. This already affects devices such as routers and switches. It is also central to mobile networks, which are virtualized across the Group’s geographic areas. A vast backbone disaggregation program has been launched.”
Softwarization paves the way for new customer promises based on NaaS and on-demand networks.
“These disaggregated, virtualized, cloud-based capabilities allow us to benefit from the advantages of shared computing and storage, with economies of scale as a bonus. Automation, which is already in place with traditional mechanisms, will come into its own in the virtualized networks era, making our operations even more efficient. Finally, artificial intelligence technologies will be used to improve data usage. Anomaly detection, predictive maintenance, threat identification, etc.: our networks will become more autonomous and more resilient to unexpected events, with refined and effective management.”
A Time of Change for Businesses and Customers
This fundamental transition concerns work linked to networks, from upstream tasks such as design, integration and planning, to downstream tasks like supervision and field interventions. For the latter, the aim is to achieve more targeted interventions, optimizing journeys, while offering more autonomy to technicians. Orange is creating a training curriculum to support those in roles affected by this transformation.
Softwarization also paves the way for new customer promises based on NaaS and on-demand networks. “For our customers, in the Business market in particular, this means new consumer habits, with the possibility of configuring a network from a portal or via APIs [software interfaces] to request bandwidth, establish a secure slice, etc. For the general public, the challenge of monetizing networks materializes in the form of new services, designed in conjunction with developer communities by showcasing our APIs — in the field of immersive content applications for example, which require low latency and therefore the prioritization of certain traffic.”
Getting to the Heart of Innovation
This transition has been creeping in for a few years now, through particularly dynamic standardization and innovation work within open-source communities. “In particular, the entire Telco Cloud platform is addressed by the Linux Foundation, through the Anuket project dedicated to standardizing specifications for virtualized and cloud-native network functions. Likewise, work to virtualize RANs is underway within the framework of the Open RAN Alliance. In conjunction with the GSMA, the Linux Foundation has also recently launched the CAMARA initiative to support the interoperability of network APIs, making them more accessible to developers.”