One by one the major operators are standing up to say they will not build the next generation of mobile networks in the same way as the current ones. They need an entirely new cost structure, and if the major vendors are not prepared to deliver that, then the MNOs will look to new entrants. Those new companies are being supported by open source initiatives such as Facebook TIP (Telecom Infra Project), which a Deutsche Telekom executive described last week as “one of the most important projects in the telecoms industry today”.
The comment, by Axel Clauberg, DT’s VP for aggregation, transport and IP, echoed similar views expressed by other TIP aficionados like BT, SK Telecom and Orange (the latter has actually suggested TIP-supported RAN start-ups such as Amarisoft could supplant incumbents like Ericsson).
In the past, bringing small challengers into the heart of the network was largely wishful thinking, because of the risk of the supplier of a critical piece of equipment failing. But now operators believe that risk can be mitigated by standards – as in WiFi, if vendors conform to standard frameworks, and participate in broad ecosystems, they are more likely to survive, and if they do not, the MNO can introduce an alternative supplier relatively easily.
Of course, the move to software-heavy networks is the major catalyst for a complete upturning of the cost of a network. However, even in heavily virtualized and software-defined RANs, there is the risk of lock-in, if just a few suppliers continue to dominate, and fail to agree to standards. Whether companies are providing VNFs (virtual network functions) or physical antennas and base stations, they need to be in a competitive and price-sensitive environment.
Clauberg hailed TIP as one way to help achieve this. He said: “We need more radical approaches to deliver capital efficiency”, adding: “We have lots of great partnerships in place with vendors but we need to come up with more disruptive approaches to cope with exponential data growth. Anything that helps us to do that will be useful.” He is co-chairing a new TIP group focused on AI in network management (see separate item below). He hopes such moves will enable telcos to derive greater benefits from their network transformation, saying: He said: “Five years ago we launched NFV and we are pushing that and the cloudification of network functions heavily, but it is not enough.”
DT recently announced plans to follow in the footsteps of BT, SK Telecom and Orange and set up a TEAC (Telecom Ecosystem Acceleration Center) in Berlin. The TEACs are the main vehicle by which Facebook’s initiative works through established operators. The operators incubate and sometimes fund the start-ups, which become part of the global network which Facebook hopes TIP will become, mirroring its older Open Compute Project for cloud computer hardware.
The German telco is also co-chairing several TIP working groups, including one with Telefonica focused on network AI, and one looking at commercializing Facebook’s developments for 60 GHz radios, and other millimeter wave topics.