Who cares about Telco Cloud?

“Who cares about Telco Cloud?”

I’ve been asked this twice in two weeks. It’s a valid question. After all, I lead our telco cloud practice – so I should be able to justify my existence!

One of my interrogators was a business leader. “Isn’t “telco cloud” just a technical term which covers up a host of boring three-letter acronyms that we would rather leave to the geeks?”

The technologist had a different perspective. “Telco cloud is marketing spin applied to expensive technologies that have delivered very little of the value they’re supposed to”.

Both views are valid, to a large extent. Telco cloud is one those things that the industry has made a lot of noise about – but with little substance behind it.

Back in the early 2010s, the idea that a telecoms operator could run its network in the cloud was earth-shattering. Telecoms networks were complicated and highly-bespoke, and therefore expensive to build, and operate. What if we could find a way to run networks on common, shared resources – like the cloud computing companies do with IT applications? This would be beneficial in a whole host of ways, mostly related to flexibility and efficiency. The industry was sold.

Over time, the term has started to also be associated with cloud business practices – that is to say, the innovation-focussed business model of successful cloud computing companies. If the telco’s core asset was running in the cloud, it’d be easier to “do a Google/Amazon/etc.” – and, as if by magic, make more money:

Telco Cloud Diagram

But most telco cloud “deployments” to date have been monolithic implementations of network functions virtualisation (NFV) that have delivered very little of the technical agility, flexibility, programmability and efficiency that is required to adopt Google-like innovative working practices. A lot more work needs to be done before the cash comes rolling in!

As a result, telco cloud has made little impact within operators’ technical teams, and no impact whatsoever across the rest of the business. It is simply uncool – a load of expensive, geeky stuff that doesn’t help much.

But the truth is: telco cloud is extremely important if we are to achieve what we’re aspiring towards.

Think back to the business leader who told me telco cloud was for geeks. I asked her what she was interested in. What exciting stuff gets telco people out of bed in the morning, if it isn’t cloud? Her eyes lit up, and she began to list new “growth services” that she’s working on, and that her new 5G network investment would enable. All of them are very “Google”:

On-premise edge computing for financial services companies. Cross-border networks for connected cars. Ultra-low latency network slices for enterprises. Drone platforms. Augmented-reality for live sporting events.

Many of these things would cause my industry analyst colleagues to cringe and roll their eyes. But they stand out on three fronts:

First: none of them are outside the realms of possibility. In fact, 5G is supposed to enable all of them.

Second: all of them require connectivity, so telecoms operators will have a role to play.

Third – and most important: they are cool.

But the business leader had forgotten one thing: all of those use-cases will need to be underpinned by highly flexible, programmable network and IT infrastructure: the fabled telco cloud. Without that infrastructure in place, none of these ideas will ever move beyond the idea stage, and the 5G investment case, which was built on opportunities like this, will collapse.

So, the answer to my tongue-in-cheek question is: everyone should care about telco cloud. Now is the time to pull together and make it happen.

If telco cloud still matters, how can we ensure it happens and quantify what success looks like? My team is working with leading operators and vendors on this issue – and also publishing strategic research. Take a look.

Author: Matt Pooley, Telco Cloud Practice Lead

Upcoming webinar: 5G Telco Clouds – Where we are and where we are headed

Operators have struggled with telco cloud to date. NFV deployments have suffered from a lack of truly ‘cloud-native’ components and approaches, and the industry continues to grapple with the complexities of transformation and building skillsets. Meanwhile, there is a growing urgency to safeguard investments in 5G new radio, which have been justified based on new use-cases which assume extreme sophistication in the network.

In this webinar, we will argue that 5G will only pay if telcos find a way to make telco clouds work.

We will share learnings from first-hand work with operators and vendors about successful (and less successful) routes to cloud deployment, and suggest that shifting industry dynamics – new partnerships, ecosystems and integrations – mean that now is the time to make it happen.

Join us on April 8th 16:00 – 17:00 GMT by following the registration link below:

5G Telco Cloud button