Where to begin? When it comes to the opportunities swirling around 5G telco cloud, it’s become something of a pastime for experts to predict how a range of approaches will play out. A few perspectives are inarguably clear:
What’s the playing field? Mobile core cloud, network edge cloud and virtual RAN cloud represent the three major domains telcos will pursue on their quest for a winning cloud strategy.
What’s the state of play? The network edge cloud has already sub-fragmented into a public and private offering, leveraging different partnership models with hyperscalers.
Why the urgency? The overwhelming scalability, flexibility and cost-efficiency benefits of 5G cloud are just too great to risk by not getting it right at the start, while time is of the essence, with competition looming from all quarters.
What’s on the horizon? The virtual RAN cloud offers operators the biggest opportunity to reduce TCO, but the complexity of supporting the near real-time layer 1 and 2 radio functions requires a specialized cloud architecture utilizing hardware accelerators such as smart-NICs GPUs and FPGAs.
Where do we want to go? The holy grail is establishing an efficient and cost-effective path from today’s vertical architecture to a horizontal strategy, that leverages a transparent multi-cloud infrastructure, to exploit the greatest benefits for all three domains.
The overwhelming scalability, flexibility and cost-efficiency benefits of 5G cloud are just too great to risk by not getting it right at the start, while time is of the essence, with competition looming from all quarters.
As network operators ramp up cloud investments, most of the spending is focused on 5G and edge computing, according to Analysys Mason. The firm anticipates network operators will spend a combined $114 billion on network cloud between 2019 and 2025.
In our just-released second annual 5G market outlook report, we note that 2020 saw only five service providers globally deployed with 5G mobile core clouds. We estimate we’ll see more than 30 by the end of this year and more than 60 by 2022. Along that adoption route, a common set of 5G core challenges operators face is dealing with deploying on containers. Many vendors that began the journey to virtualization are still evolving towards cloud native, meaning a hybrid environment supporting a mix of virtual machines and containerized network functions.
From a geographic perspective, consumer services will initially lead deployments of network edge clouds in the West. Meanwhile, the APAC focus has accelerated towards vertical industries and laying the foundations for nationwide automotive transport networks. Eventually, leading providers will need to become experts in each domain, including adhering to specific industry and security regulations.
In the meantime, the industry is working hard to find its footing in this burgeoning market. If the right strategies are put into place, telcos will position themselves to drive application developer ecosystems with easy-to-consume offerings. They’ll have successfully laid the foundations required to support differentiated value added capabilities in the private edge, by unleashing the power of automation and simplifying onboarding, as they push deeper into the enterprise markets.
The next step for cloud: Consistency.
From a testing and assurance perspective, the critical question remains: How can we ensure our cloud architectures will deliver for our customers on a consistent basis? Each cloud domain must be proven, with use cases and benefits clearly defined. There will be a range of complexity and challenges to address. This means zeroing in on a smart approach for baselining performance, and continuously testing, to understand behavior, requirements and impacts across systems.
Only once this state-of-the-art in testing and assurance capability driven by next-gen automation is in place will a move to a unified hybrid approach over the next number of years be viable. Considerable forces are driving the pursuit. As mentioned, cost, manageability and flexibility all play a major role. Bringing seamless multi-tenancy processing between each cloud instance is a key goal. Backend systems are massive today and any opportunity to streamline them should be taken. Unified systems also lend much more to upgradeability, laying the groundwork for effortless addition of capabilities in line with market demand.
The reality is that telco cloud buyers will ultimately expect the push and click experience of public cloud. To that end, telco and public cloud providers are engaged in high-stakes co-opetition. While one needs the other to meet near-term needs, neither can let the other get a leg up on serving premium and lucrative new markets. With that in mind, getting to hybrid isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a mandate for winning and maintaining share.
In future posts on this subject, we’ll dive into the challenges facing the three primary cloud domains and what will be required to begin overcoming the inherent complexity they bring to the table.
To learn more about the key concepts in developing a smart 5G testing strategy, read our eBook Safely Accelerate to Lead the 5G Race.