Six steps to accelerate the journey to cloud-native 5G

By Craig Clapper
Wednesday, 10 July, 2024

Six steps to accelerate the journey to cloud-native 5G

We are in the midst of a mobile telecom revolution. By 2029, 5G standalone (SA) connections are expected to represent over half of all mobile connections (GSMA). As 5G becomes the dominant mobile standard, the transition from physical network functions to cloud-native operations is undeniable and unstoppable.

The significance of cloud-native architecture cannot be overstated. Cloud-native design, characterised by its modularity, scalability and resilience, aligns seamlessly with the demands of 5G, promising unprecedented speeds, ultra-reliable low latency and massive device connectivity. In other words, if telcos are to deliver on the promises of 5G, they need the flexibility and resources to orchestrate their services efficiently.

Risk — and reward — with 5G cloud transformation

5G SA is ramping up fast and now has 51 live commercial deployments by more than 120 operators across 55 markets. Despite the notable acceleration in 5G rollouts, telcos face significant challenges. 5G SA requires new technical capabilities and an evolving, robust ecosystem to deliver the expected speeds, agility, business opportunities and efficiencies.

The problems associated with establishing this new ecosystem include compliance with equipment, security and privacy standards, and the challenges of speeding up deployment timelines from weeks to hours. It’s not only an engineering leap but also a major business leap. 5G standalone will finally allow telcos to pursue business opportunities in whole new segments in the enterprise space and new sector opportunities such as smart cities or self-driving cars.

There will inevitably be bumps in the road to cloud-native 5G deployment, but the threat associated with not embracing cloud — and risking obsolescence — now far outweighs the risks of cloud transformation. Here are six essential steps to streamlining 5G cloud-native adoption and accelerating the path to revenue creation.

DO start now

A new study by the Capgemini Research Institute predicts that almost half of global network capacity will be cloud-native in the next three to five years. Early adopters can expect to gain $110–210 million in additional revenue, and telco companies that have already initiated their cloud transformation cite notably increased customer lifetime value.

DON’T get stuck in cloud silos

According to research by Analysys Mason, many operators are still buying virtualised functions integrated with dedicated cloud infrastructure. This halfway house on the journey to cloud-native means that telcos end up with “multiple cloud silos that hamper the development of end-to-end services such as network slicing and add significantly to the cost of delivery”. Vendor lock-ins are another potential problem with this approach. So, telcos need to think horizontally, deploying a cloud-native infrastructure that can support multiple functions from multiple vendors, essentially ‘baking in’ business agility so their BSS and OSS systems can adapt to future developments.

DO supercharge automation for faster deployments

Cloud-native architecture enables telcos to develop, test and deploy applications more rapidly and at scale, achieving a much faster time to market. In addition to improved service delivery, automation and orchestration capabilities in cloud-native environments allow telcos to optimise operations, reduce manual interventions and improve overall service quality.

DON’T view cloud-native transformation as just another upgrade

It’s a complete revision of the traditional, physical — or even virtualised — way of doing things. Cloud-native operations offer CSPs cost efficiency, scalability, agility and new monetisation strategies. Alongside these game-changing advantages come tough lessons: transforming business operations to support 5G SA involves leadership vision and commitment, a culture shift and a steep learning curve.

DO optimise energy consumption

The 5G core is designed with radical energy efficiency in mind. In practice, early examples of 5G energy consumption have shown mixed results. Still, the direction is towards a greener future with new energy-efficient innovations constantly emerging. For example, a recent collaboration between Nokia and Intel evidenced 40% runtime energy savings. Furthermore, the flexibility inherent in 5G means that some networks, like 5G private networks, can simply be switched off overnight to reduce energy usage, as demonstrated by Orange’s Pikeo initiative.

DON’T neglect game-changing cloud-native security capabilities

5G’s open, flexible architecture departs from traditional telco security postures. By using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to analyse vast swathes of telco data, cloud-native 5G enables advanced anomaly detection, helping to identify unusual usage patterns that could indicate a breach as well as drastically cutting the mean time to detect (MTTD) incidents and pinpointing their root cause.

The cloud-native imperative

Once hailed as the primary route to substantial CapEx and OpEx savings, it is becoming increasingly clear that transitioning to a cloud-native architecture is about much more than cost efficiency. Adopting a cloud-native approach enables agility, allowing for the rapid deployment of new services and efficient resource utilisation — and, importantly, it is future-ready.

This agility is crucial in the face of evolving consumer expectations and the rise of digital service providers (DSPs), constantly innovating to introduce new digital experiences and leverage the BSS data to carve out new revenue streams. By embracing cloud-native architectures, telcos position themselves at the forefront of the digital transformation wave, ensuring they remain competitive and relevant in a 5G-driven landscape.

Craig Clapper is VP, Global Managed Services & Support at telecom cloud company Optiva. He has over 20 years of experience in growing and scaling businesses, operations and global management, having previously led support and services teams for Ericsson, Tait Communications and Aeris Communications.

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