Why telecom is moving to the cloud — and the 3 ways telcos can get there (Reader Forum)
The cloud revolution has been widely adopted within IT, and most businesses are taking a “cloud-first” approach when deploying new applications. Gartner states that 85% of organizations will be “cloud first” by 2025. However, when it comes to adoption in telecom, the pace can best be described as slow, but steady.
The reason for this pace is due to the fact that it’s not that simple to lift and shift a Telco and its applications to the cloud. Today, many Telcos maintain, operate and integrate a vast portfolio of infrastructure interconnected with the world’s communications networks. There are few systems wired together in such complex ways, amid mountains of switches, routers, optical transceivers, multiplexers and various legacy and modern technology infrastructure. It’s like our world’s nervous system and brain, with nerve endings extending, seemingly, everywhere.
A national mobile network operator in the United States can have 50,000 to 70,000 cell sites and hundreds or more central office locations connected together. It takes an army of people to support and maintain this infrastructure. Many telcos see value in upgrading and ultimately simplifying their networks. But if a telecom is the world’s brain and nervous system, rearchitecting these networks and placing most of their functions in the cloud is equivalent to brain surgery: Precision is key.
Amid the progress, there’s still more to be done including reconfiguring of functions, redeployment of equipment and the actual migration to cloud environments. Many operating processes will need to be redefined, organizational structures updated, and workforces retrained. Since the days of the original telephone line to today’s mobility and the Internet technologies, telcos have built a strong legacy throughout the world serving their customer bases. As the world continues to evolve, telcos must continue to innovate in support of new opportunities in the connected world — including increased leverage of the cloud.
The slow-but-steady migration to and robust deployment of the cloud is well worth it. However, there’s no single path. Here are three approaches telecom companies are considering.
1. The big bang upgrade: This involves a provider pursuing a generational change, leapfrogging, by going cloud-native as they roll out a new 5G network. Instead of buying all bespoke equipment, a 5G deployment could be all cloud-based. Going all in on a new approach, like rolling out a cloud-based telecom network, is a higher-risk, higher-reward approach, but can be especially effective in greenfield projects, network upgrades to fiber or full upgrades to a new generation.
2. The hybrid approach: As technology matures, telcos may plan to expand their networks using some new technology, without immediately sunsetting all legacy equipment. This requires multiple sets of procedures, training tracks and skill sets for technicians. The primary benefit of this approach is that resulting operational redundancy can provide additional reliability.
3. Selective replacement: In such scenarios, a provider takes certain parts of its architecture and applies the cloud to it. For telcos, this means they would choose to virtualize certain types of services or elements in their networks such as VPNs. Already, some providers are virtualizing certain wide-area networking with enterprise clients. This can be far easier to manage, from both a cost and planning perspective. It can also be a good way to test the new technology and operating model, and prove its viability.
Data processing and transmission are vital for sustainable telecom network performance and high subscriber quality of experience. Shifting multiple aspects of these operations to the cloud can enable unprecedented scale, and increased reliability and security. Taking a step-wise approach to the cloud enables telcos to meet today’s demands and simultaneously prepare for the next generation of innovation.