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Mobile network operator (MNO) revenues are currently flat, thanks to today’s saturated subscriber markets and mature network technologies. To address this unsustainable situation, MNOs are planning for their futures by transforming themselves into digital service providers (DSPs). According to World Economic Forum estimates, operators intend to grow their digital services from nearly nothing to a quarter of their revenue by 2020.
To do so, they’ll need to take advantage of the disruption offered by 5G’s exponentially faster speeds and bigger bandwidth. In this way, they can go beyond simple data connectivity and voice, and take advantage of the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), content delivery, and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) applications.
They’ll build up and grow a wide range of new and diverse digital services; everything from content streaming and broadcast TV, to remote smart home features, to other cloud-hosted services.
The foundation for all of these new services and capabilities will be the mobile network itself and the connectivity and intelligence it contains. The network will be the platform for future DSPs to deliver the new generation of services.
But becoming a DSP is a multifaceted transformation and won’t happen in one fell swoop. So what do operators need to do to evolve?
Network as a platform
If operators are to truly harness the expanded 5G network and service capabilities, they need to move from pipeline to platform provider. This should see operators transform themselves into mobile cloud operators where access to content and applications is provided via open APIs that allow the network to be consumed on demand, and monetized accordingly. This new “cloud native” operator will be able to manage and deliver services over a highly distributed, virtualized, on-demand environment.
In doing this, operator networks will be able to dynamically spin up and tear down resources, reallocating capacity as needed to deliver exceptional quality of experience (QoE) to customers. Ultimately, the network will become multi-tenanted, with secured slices providing virtual, private infrastructure that can be leased out to allow third-parties to plug into the network as they wish. All the while, voice and broadband service will continue to be delivered without interruption.
As mobile cloud operators come into their own, the presence and use of microservices will become crucial. Microservices allow large applications to be broken down into small, loose, composable pieces that are able to act independently of each other. These microservices, managed and maintained using emerging network management and orchestration (MANO) solutions, allow for greater agility and better resource allocation and enable operators to meet the demands and challenges of 5G networks.
But while microservices provide great benefits to mobile operators, several challenges come with their implementation. Their deliberately fragmented, multi-tenant infrastructure means that traditional monitoring solutions are incapable of delivering the level of visibility required to bring “awareness” across the entire infrastructure. What’s more, the cloud native infrastructure requires operators to ensure every application has its required level of performance and availability, while converting underutilized capacity into revenue.
While this balancing act may seem like a tough nut to crack, the good news is that many leading operators have already shown it is possible by using real-time analytics to control the network, with performance and QoE measured as a feedback loop. The next step lies in applying this concept to the realm of a consumable cloud platform. This should see visibility extended into the mobile cloud, which is typically outside of the operator’s control.
If operators are to successfully harness their transformation into mobile cloud operators, with open source microservices, they must implement a new, augmented form of visibility to keep up with these cloud-native applications.
Monitoring a cloud native microservices environment requires a revision of traditional monitoring capabilities. Indeed, monitoring should very much adopt a microservices architecture in line with the services it is monitoring. As lightweight agents, capable of being spun up in affinity with new services interacting with each other, new relationships and new resource demands will emerge and so the monitoring of these microservices will need to adapt to the ever-changing applications they assure.
Without total visibility into all consumers of network resources, including their unique demands and quality expectations, would-be DSPs will struggle to successfully choreograph service requirements and share measured service levels with ‘subscribers’ via the same APIs they use to connect to the platform.
Ultimately, the applications will be able to intelligently adapt to the network—in a similar way, for example, to how Netflix changes bitrate according to available bandwidth—while also permitting value-added service level agreements (SLAs). By delivering this assured mobile cloud, DSPs will go beyond competing on price, and towards differentiating themselves based on performance, user experience, and value-added rich analytics insight.
Seizing the opportunity
As 5G slowly creeps up on the operator community, there exists an opportunity to accelerate digital transformation strategies through cloud native infrastructure and microservices. But these new infrastructures cannot come to be value-adding propositions for operators if they are not monitored and assured in a way that guarantees complete coverage and visibility.
Operators need to take on the challenge of designing, standardising, and driving the adoption of monitoring microservices. Failure to do so will see telcos quickly miss out on the added opportunities 5G networks will offer.