Cloud-Based PCC comes of age

April 29, 2020 - Frank Healy

The first half of 2020 will be seen as the time when cloud came of age in telco.

Little over 2 months ago we were still planning for a “normal” Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But if the past 2 months have taught anything it’s the need to be flexible. Networks have held up remarkably well – though in some cases only just. Services such as Zoom and various online gaming platforms have seen much-described treble-digit percentage growth in under a month.

Little did 3GPP consider Covid 19 when they defined 5G as “cloud-native”. But the kind of flexibility requirements being sought now were, more or less, what it had in mind. Diversity of 5G services would inevitably mean treble-digit percentage growth figures, or even greater, for some of the suggested services could be expected. The precise services were never prescribed and that was the point. You have to give credit to the early champions of 5G at 3GPP. What they were describing was an ecosystem and toolset for hyper-flexibility around whatever new and yet-to-be-determined services would come along.

It’s no surprise that much of the current “on demand” expectation is being driven from the “outside-in” requirements as opposed to engineered product being pushed to consumers. At Openet we talked a lot about the need to keep market constraint and requirements in mind during 2019. It seems a lifetime ago now. (See e.g. our White Paper: “5G: From Hype to Reality”). Users have been subscribing to services for years: everything from on-demand movies to food services to delivery services (Amazon Prime). Possessions and mementos have become a thing of the past for many it seems. The appetite for on-demand, digitally-driven subscriptions and single purchases has been here for a while and seems pretty irreversible.

In telcos too SaaS-based cloud tools have been available for some time and available to drive their own growth at scale when needed. Perhaps it has taken a societal meteorite for greater consensus and momentum around them but great cloud toolsets from the major providers have been around for some time. Right now however there is real decisions-making even within smaller or more traditional operators that would have normally always stuck with “bare metal” implementations of software. That was up to 2019 and perhaps into early 2020. For some service providers that was already a long time ago – or perhaps, more correctly, a “generation ago”.

Capex and opex simplification for the yet to be determined “killer use cases” of 5G are the key drivers here – being more flexible than the competition for the next event or app that will drive 5G usage . Of course some service providers have understandable security concerns and still want the flexibility of cloud – just a more private version. Many of the toolsets such as containerization, microservices, DevOps and open-source tools that go with public cloud can also be leveraged privately. The end-game is still the same: an ultra-flexible, distributed or even edge-based network that will easy handle treble digit (or more) growth and whatever crisis or opportunities get thrown at it. It is the availability of, at least theoretically, almost infinite capacity and the delivery of the ultra-low latency capability that was a promise of 5G.

At Openet we’ve fortunately been pondering such combined 4G/5G massive scale and edge requirements for years now. It was and remains a 5G opportunity for our service providers to retain control of an increasingly diverse range of services. Monetisation and rich datasets to manage massive scale go hand-in-glove once that control is established. The infinitely flexible requirements of cloud variants provide the enablement that we’ve been testing in labs and live environments since 5G’s inception. We knew it would happen but just weren’t sure of the exact timing that these aspects would truly converge. Most likely we will consider the first half of 2020 to have been that timing.

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