The Future of Telecoms is Modern and Cloud-Native. Let’s Start Investing in it Now.

This article was published in Telecom Ramblings on March 10, 2023. You can read the original article here.  

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Richard Brandon, VP of Strategy, RtBrick

In 2022, the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had the opportunity to request up to $5 million for initial planning through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. This is one of a myriad of government-funded programs aiming to increase broadband accessibility today.

While the intentions behind these programs are good and necessary, the issue is where federal funding is actually being applied. For 25 years, it has been put towards broadband buildouts using pre-cloud technology. This needs to shift.

Reliable, high-speed Internet has never been more important, and to keep up with demand, we must start taking advantage of opportunities for change and innovation within the industry. This includes:

The Disaggregation Wave

The future of the telecoms industry involves modern, cloud-native, open, and disaggregated infrastructure. Thanks to recent merchant-silicon advancements, there’s a new generation of open switches available and, consequently, a new approach for carriers to build networks. Similar to the computing industry, disaggregation breaks the tie-in between hardware and software – enabling flexibility, cost savings, and power efficiency.

Top carriers are actively adopting disaggregated architectures in the network core, the fixed edge, and the mobile RAN (Radio Access Network), but it will become more widely deployed in 2023.

A Supply Chain Revolution

The telco industry is far from unique when it comes to suffering from supply chain issues, and, unfortunately, they aren’t going away in 2023. However, this is another factor leading telcos towards network disaggregation. Instead of suffering from long lead-times of many months for equipment they’re locked into, telcos are realizing they can receive open switches in just a few weeks. Even more crucially, if a vendor is short of stock, they can easily be substituted for an alternate vendor since open switches are able to run the same software.

Supply chain issues aren’t a thing of the past yet, but they are becoming another driver for change.

Working Around Security Concerns

Security concerns about critical network infrastructure are nothing new, and the global geopolitical situation is clearly bringing an increased focus to the issue. For example, the U.S. government has decided to completely ban the use of Huawei technology in their core network infrastructure, and the UK and others have also limited its deployment. To mitigate the impact of security threats in 2023, we must change the way we deal with them.

It doesn’t seem long ago that the telecoms network market was almost exclusively in the hands of U.S. and European suppliers. But when Chinese equipment arrived on the scene, it was adopted faster than many observers might have predicted. It came with a simple proposition – it worked, and it cost less. The cost advantage of developing and manufacturing in south-east Asia has been hard for western companies to match, but that’s all about to change.

Disaggregated hardware can also be sourced from Asian manufacturers. Taiwanese-supplied switches can match or even beat the price points of Chinese vendors. However, the control of these systems is all done by independent software. This software turns a bare-metal-switch into an Internet gateway or a 5G core router, and it’s where security is managed. Operators are no longer locked-in to the same vendor for both.

Now, an operator can take advantage of the low costs with Asian hardware and select its software from a trusted democracy. The software is easy to change if the operator, or the national government, decides the security landscape has evolved – without the need to replace any physical equipment.

Broadband That’s Reliable

Inevitably, fast broadband will always be a driving competitive factor between ISPs and technologies. However, in addition to demanding higher throughputs, consumers are equally prioritizing reliability and fewer interruptions when it comes to broadband. 

Fortunately, technologies and features like faster route convergence times or sub-second failovers in case of line breaks are already advancing in 2023. As a result, disaggregated networks are rapidly on their way to becoming more reliable than traditional networks.

A Cloud-Native Workforce

The adoption of this new approach to networking will see skills gaps in the labor force. For years, telcos have built departments that needed to become experts in different vendors’ operating systems. Open networking requires the adoption of a more ‘cloud-native’ approach, with standard Linux operating environments, for example. Similar to that enjoyed by large cloud providers, it brings operational simplicity and efficiency, along with great opportunities for staff and telcos. However, it will require a positive step towards embracing these new skills.

2023 will be a year of transition, and the most successful operators will see it as an opportunity to refresh their workforces’ skills and prepare for the new environment that lies ahead.

2023 and Beyond

Excitingly, this is the year of open networking. The telecoms industry finally has the technologies it needs to move away from the traditional approach it’s taken for decades. Taking advantage of innovation and modernizing broadband buildouts can permeate through communities all over the U.S. and ensure a reliable, cost-effective, sustainable future of connectivity.