5G promises a more powerful ecosystem than ever before but as rollouts occur there’s a risk that history may repeat itself.
With 5G, many service providers are still a little conflicted. In the race to be first (with “more G’s”) and roll out of the radio side of the network, first the temptation may be to gravitate towards full stack vendors they have often over-relied upon in the past, hoping for a turnkey end-to-end offering. This has some risks in a 5G world that promises web-based API’s and openness as never before. Over-commitment to long-standing stack vendors risks long-termism and lock-in. 4G suffered badly from it in some operator environments. Projects that were expected to take 3-6 months ended up taking 3 years or never concluded. Primarily it risks contradicting the ultra-flexibility promises of 5G and “best in class” agility, combining various specialist vendors as opposed to more traditional “best in suite”, multi-year projects no longer appropriate for an on-demand 5G economy.
On the other hand, thankfully, the telco world has some standards. Without them there would be chaos for sure, right down to the user experience. But where there are standards (3GPP standards in this case), there’s also the risk of commoditisation.
So 5G was designed to enable a multi-vendor environment to enable more competitive “flavours” within the standards. Shifting from perhaps a few key vendors to (as many have suggested) a dozen or more vendors is also a huge shift in mind-set for many operators. But let’s get real for a minute. Procurement and Contract Management overheads could overwhelm, not to mention vendor support costs and responsibility dilution. “Nirvana” may well fall in between 2 and 16 vendors. (By the way “16” is not a random number but reflects the approximate number of new 5G network functions). So if 5-8 is a realistic number of optimal vendors in this newly flexible environment, which might an operator focus on as a means of true differentiation?
We know we are biased at Openet when we believe that if a single vendor is awarded too much of the stack then projects will be slow, corners will be cut, standards will be deviated from and vendor lock-in will result but historically this is familiar territory for many operators. Furthermore, slicing (a major promise of 5G) will become clunky and costs will rise disproportionately as the network scales.
Selection of a Policy Management (PCF/BSF) solution is of particular concern. The PCF is widely considered the “brains” behind the entire treatment of customer traffic. It (and the charging or CHF/CCS functions) will allow operators to truly differentiate in a highly competitive landscape. Simply put, a “best of breed” selection of a policy management solution from a company focused in this discipline is critical. It is why Openet has been planning for years with microservices-based policy and charging combined with ultra-usability and self-service as a focus of rapid differentiation in an evolved 5G environment. The groundwork was done in a 4G world. It comes of age in 5G and it’s why at Openet we can hardly wait.
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