Inside the cloud-native telco

Executive Briefing Service, Network Innovation

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Telcos are getting moving with cloud-native. We have asked executives at seven such telcos about the process and what it has meant for their organisations, skills requirements and ways of working.

Approaching the cloud-native transition

Most telcos that have progressed on their virtualisation journey now envisage an evolution to cloud-native network architectures as the next step of their transformation. Cloud-native is a design principle for building and managing applications in the cloud that has been applied to IT for several years and is now being transposed into telecoms. According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance the term “cloud-native” describes a way of designing applications, network functions and services in an open and flexible environment. It typically involves the use of containers and a container orchestration layer, and the deployment of a microservices architecture (i.e., where applications/network functions/services are put together from independent service components with a single function). The objectives of such a transformation when applied to the way of building and managing telecoms networks include:

  • Agility in creating new services.
  • Creating a software platform to support automation and network APIs.
  • More efficient use of resources, including human resources who can then dedicate themselves to innovation rather than maintaining legacy systems.

Telcos looking to adopt a cloud-native approach need to radically rethink not only the network architecture itself, such as how to design and build the infrastructure and applications to enable the delivery of communications services, but also:

  • The organisational culture that supports this approach.
  • The skills needed to build and operate the new cloud-native network.
  • The ways of working that support this new, faster way of creating services (as a collection of microservices).
  • The organisation structure that facilitates these new ways of working (flatter hierarchies, more collaborative).
  • The mechanisms to make this complex network understandable and manageable (how to make the network observable).

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Activities to secure change need to be carried out while continuing to operate the legacy (non-cloud-native) networks and deliver services to customers.

STL Partners spoke to six network and cloud executives from national and international telcos and a global systems integrator. We wanted to understand the objectives of telco cloud initiatives (where and how are they going “cloud-native”) and what this has meant for their organisations to date – how much of a “radical rethink” was underway.

The six telco respondents were mainly from incumbent telcos in European markets (one emerging market telco) – with three being multi-country operators. See the table below.

Profile of telco respondents

Source: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Recommendations
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
  • How telcos view the cloud-native transition
    • What is the ambition behind cloud-native?
  • Steps in the cloud-native transition process
    • Step one: Virtualise and go cloud-native in IT
    • Step two: Acquire cloud skills
    • Step three: Start small
    • Step four: Expand cloud-native practices
    • Step five: Decommission legacy technology
  • What is the impact on the organisation?
    • Network team
    • The wider organisation
  • Skills acquisition
    • Leveraging external resources
    • Setting learning as an organisational priority
    • Motivating employees to learn
    • Training network teams
    • Involving partners/vendors
    • Training non-network employees
  • Helpers and hinderances to a cloud-native future
    • Helpers
    • Hinderances
  • Key findings
  • Index

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Nicola Warren


Nicola Warren

Senior Analyst

Nicola Warren is a senior analyst, leading the Transformation Leadership research service at STL Partners.