Five ways disaggregation will shape the future of telecoms

This article was published in RCR Wireless on January 31, 2024. You can read the original article here.  

By Hannes Gredler, Founder and CTO at RtBrick  

Disaggregation has taken the telecoms world by storm, initially reshaping the Radio Access Network (RAN) and now creating a domino effect that could permanently shift the telecoms landscape as we know it. 

But what does this mean, specifically? What are some of the challenges? And what else can we expect in the years to come? As we stand on the brink of this transformation, preparing for significant changes in network infrastructure, business models, and consumer expectations is essential. 

Let’s uncover the five ways disaggregation will shape the future of the telecoms industry and how it can unlock unlimited potential for carriers worldwide.

  1. Disaggregated networking will become the norm

Telcos have long endured an expensive and time-consuming hardware replacement cycle. This has meant being locked into a monolithic system and having to upgrade each system element in turn. They haven’t been able to mix and match the best hardware with the best software. Instead, they’ve been forced to make compromises. And that’s not all. Multiservice systems must also provide all the potentially required service features by any service, regardless of whether it’s operational. That makes it even more expensive and complicated to test.

Essentially, monolithic systems are too complex and unnecessarily expensive. No wonder disaggregated networking is spreading like wildfire.

However, the lifecycle of disaggregated networking hardware and software involves many activities that may be unfamiliar to carriers. An unprepared approach could result in indirect capex and high opex because of the upfront organizational investments in reaggregation processes and operational change.

This is why carriers must embrace the process and collaborate closely with their vendors.

  1. Vendors will work together to enhance their offerings

As disaggregation begins to drive large-scale changes in the industry, vendors are increasingly recognizing the need to form partnerships to expand their service offerings and boost operational efficiency. As recently as October 2023, systems integrator NTT DATA and open network provider IP Infusion partnered to accelerate network disaggregation, reduce operating costs, and facilitate an automated ecosystem.

Executive Director of Telecom Infra Project, Kristan Toivo, said, “Their collaboration will help create a stronger, more flexible supply chain and support high-quality connectivity for a sound digital future.”

  1. Organizations will keep up with growing demands 

End-users are demanding more: more accessibility, more speed and more dependability. While it can be difficult to manage this juggling act, disaggregation gives carriers the capabilities to meet the expectations of the modern world. Some examples include: 

  • Customer expectations: Disaggregation gives carriers newfound flexibility to make changes to existing services and deploy new ones quickly — previously a monumental task with traditional, hardware-centric networks. These changes help heighten network performance and reliability, which can lead to higher service quality for end-users, in turn boosting customer satisfaction.
  • Concrete cybersecurity: Telcos are a prime target for threat actors as their services involve transferring large volumes of sensitive data. Because of this, high-security methods are expected by both consumers and regulatory bodies, like the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Disaggregation allows carriers to seamlessly implement and replace white-box hardware with independent software from a trusted source, helping to strengthen infrastructure security.
  • Sustainability frameworks: The telecom industry’s CO2 footprint makes up approximately 2% of the global footprint — not too far off that of the airline industry. Disaggregation supports electronic waste reduction through efficient resource use and open-source hardware. If carriers implement sustainable practices like disaggregation to lower this impact, investors will likely reward them, resulting in higher market valuations for the organization.
  1. Disaggregation will be part of the AI race

AI is a force of innovation to be reckoned with these days. It’s progressing and developing at breakneck speeds and has the potential to revolutionize our society to a degree that exceeds even the internet. Truly, it has the potential to create an entirely new future for humanity – and the world is currently racing to get there. 

That said, this wonderful future is predicated on society having sufficient network infrastructure to keep up with the core computing power of the AI brain. And we’re not talking about the networking capacity within or between data centers. We’re talking about the network capacity out to devices and individuals, at the edge of the network. This includes mobile and broadband networks, the latter being especially crucial for intensive AI use.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and excitement of new technology tends to drive innovation and application first – and foundation and infrastructure second. But, eventually, the demand for AI will impact the need for capacity at the network edge and start pushing for disaggregated infrastructure to satisfy the computing power required in the core and at the edge.

  1. Countries will form international alliances

In 2024, we can expect a number of alliances, coalitions and support networks to form as open, cloud-native environments continue to emerge. These formations have already started taking place, as seen with the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance; a forum run by leading global MNOs to provide industry guidance. The Global Coalition on Telecommunication (GCOT) is another prime example.

Assistant Secretary and spokesperson of GCOT, Alan Davidson, believes that increased cooperation in the industry will help telcos “respond decisively to cross-border opportunities and challenges.” Davidson continues: “By working ever more closely together, the Coalition members will advance secure, diverse, resilient, and innovative telecommunications networks around the world.” 

As more alliances form, we can expect governments and industry bodies to play a driving role in spearheading this change.

The open era is already among us

While we may expect to see disaggregation drive significant changes to the telecoms industry in the future, the revolution has already begun. Telco giants are embracing these changes, not just to keep up, but to lead the charge in innovation.

A thrilling vision of the future unfolds before us. Take this as your sign to embrace this transformative shift and contribute to building a brighter future for the telecoms industry.