Net Transformation tackles a broad set of topics around operator efforts to evolve and otherwise transform their telecom networks in an effort to reduce complexity, keep costs in check and earn new revenues.
• This year’s SDN NFV World Congress was marked by the two major open source MANO projects firing salvos at each other.
• At the end of the day, operators will choose what ‘works on the ground’, and that will be sourced from vendors and systems integrators, not open source groups.
This year’s “fifth anniversary of NFV” SDN NFV World Congress in The Hague, Netherlands prompted many appraisals of industry progress. One of the most fundamental developments during this period has been the inexorable rise of open source software. This has been particularly surprising in the NFV Management and Network Orchestration (MANO) space, generating a vast amount of activity and subsequent consolidation that has now distilled into two major open source projects vying for leadership: Open Source MANO (OSM) and the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). With an OSM Workshop on the Monday and an ONAP Mini-Summit on the Thursday, the two projects comprehensively “bookended” the Congress. Operators and vendors sometimes referenced one or other (or both) during the intervening days, so there could be no doubt as to their importance to the industry.
• This week, the Small Cell Forum announced a set of new members as well as a newly elected Board.
• A shifting Board composition focused on service providers vs. vendors is a good sign, particularly the presence of tower and in-building deployment specialists; ultimately, they’re the companies who will be deploying small cells – or not.
When the Small Cell Forum announced new members and a newly elected Board, the news could easily have been ignored or seen as nothing more than “business as usual.” After all, a new Board is elected every year, and considering the various parts of the network that small cells touch, it’s only natural for a wide array of companies to be involved in the Forum’s activities.
But looking to the composition of the new Board tells an important story.
Broadly, the companies on the Board can be divided into three groups:
• Vendors that develop small cells and supporting network gear.
• Supporters – like Qualcomm and Node-H – that provide software and silicon components powering small cell technologies and services.
• Service providers delivering wireless services out to consumers and enterprises as well as those in the deployment services and siting business.
And, when looking at the composition of the 2016 vs. 2017 Board, a handful of encouraging facts emerge.
• Better Balance. With 60% of the Small Cell Forum board composed of vendors last year, it was clearly over-weighted. You could argue that this is only logical since small cell vendors have the best understanding of the technologies at play and have the greatest exposure to diverse customer demands. Circa 2017, however, a more balanced set of board members promises to help in capturing a more diverse set of market views and requirements in guiding the work of the Forum.
• Balance Where it Matters. Where the composition of the board shifted dramatically is on the service provider front. Small cell vendors will have their own agendas, but service providers will always be closer to market demands and the ways in which small cells will get deployed.
• The SPs that Matter. The definition of “service provider” here extends beyond carriers who deliver services out to consumer or enterprise end-users. The category also includes companies who deploy small cells for carriers – and they constitute 50% of the service providers on the Forum’s Board. Why is that important? Small cell technology is still evolving, but is fairly mature; the technology isn’t a check on market growth. But deployment dynamics – the time, cost and effort to get small cells deployed – could be. Whether indoors or out, they factor into the small cell RoI. To be sure, SPs like AT&T, Reliance Jio and Softbank understand those dynamics. But, if carrier-neutral deployments are seen as important to moving the market forward, a different set of services providers need to be included. Service providers like American Tower, Crown Castle and Extenet.
It would be naïve to think that an evolution of the Small Cell Forum’s Board would lead to massive new market growth. But, if the Forum’s leadership is meant to reflect the state of the industry and include the companies who understand its issues, the evolution of the Board is a good sign, highlighting shifts in the industry and signaling that the Forum is responding.
Ongoing questions around CBRS priority access license (PAL) terms suggest that licenses won’t likely be available until a year from now.
Without priority access, CBRS will still roll out; many use cases don’t require it. However, the sooner PAL terms are decided on and licenses auctioned, the better it will be for driving the industry forward.
The concept of marketing new technologies or solutions around use cases seems like a logical way to link deployment to real world carrier requirements and opportunities.
Use case marketing is also a not-so-subtle way to suggest that competitor messaging is based on hype more than reality, in the process flagging areas where a vendor potentially sees itself at a perceived competitive disadvantage it needs to counter.
New base station introductions in the run-up to 5G pose challenges depending on both their timing relative to competitors’ moves and their messaging relative to legacy products.
All major RAN vendors have faced challenges unveiling new base stations recently, including Huawei, which was forced to make big changes in response to shifting market demands.
Everywhere you look, people are talking about the coming migration to 5G mobile networks. A much less talked about – but perhaps no less challenging – transition is the one radio access network (RAN) equipment vendors are making from base stations that were optimized for LTE to ones designed to lead operators into the 5G era. Yet, in the waiting period before 5G’s true arrival, marketing new base stations aimed at future networks alongside the current generation of base stations is a balancing act akin to stepping from an unmoored boat to a pier. Continue reading “The 5G Migration That’s Already Happening: RAN Vendors Launching 5G-Era Base Stations”→
• NB-IoT and LTE-M deployments are proliferating. Proofs of concept abound, but neither technology appears to be generating significant momentum yet.
• Regardless of the technology, moving beyond connectivity is vital to mobile operator success in IoT.
In the past six months, cellular operators worldwide have been rapidly deploying narrowband (NB)-IoT and LTE-M. In June, the GSMA announced the success of its Mobile IoT Initiative, claiming nearly 75 operators deploying NB-IoT or Cat-M and 500 members in its Mobile IoT Innovators initiative designed to help operators add IoT value. The bulk of this focus has been on NB-IoT, which cellular operators are using to establish new use cases, including smart agriculture and a variety of smart cities applications involving lighting, parking meters, smart buildings and the like. For example, T-Mobile USA completed live NB-IoT smart city trials in July 2017 in advance of a planned national launch.
Turbulence in the NFV MANO market is high; that can be good to shakeout problems, but it also makes for an uncomfortable flight.
Some operators have decided to take matters into their own hands; others are engaging a trusted vendor to “just make it work”.
As with any long haul flight, the risk of experiencing periods of turbulence is ever present. The flight metaphor is also appropriate to long haul telecom network transformation projects, and NFV is certainly the largest to be navigated by the industry in the past 20 years. The NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) architectural block is a good indicator of the “flight status” of the whole NFV project, which now seems to be entering a new phase of turbulence. A couple of recent announcements have highlighted some major, and sometimes forgotten, basics: Continue reading “NFV MANO – Entering Yet Another Bout of Turbulence”→