Driving the agility flywheel: the stepwise journey to agile

Agility is front of mind, now more than ever

Telecoms operators today face an increasingly challenging market, with pressure coming from new non-telco competitors, the demands of unfamiliar B2B2X business models that emerge from new enterprise opportunities across industries and the need to make significant investments in 5G. As the telecoms industry undergoes these changes, operators are considering how best to realise commercial opportunities, particularly in enterprise markets, through new types of value-added services and capabilities that 5G can bring.

However, operators need to be able to react to not just near-term known opportunities as they arise but ready themselves for opportunities that are still being imagined. With such uncertainty, agility, with the quick responsiveness and unified focus it implies, is integral to an operator’s continued success and its ability to capitalise on these opportunities.

Traditional linear supply models are now being complemented by more interconnected ecosystems of customers and partners. Innovation of products and services is a primary function of these decentralised supply models. Ecosystems allow the disparate needs of participants to be met through highly configurable assets rather than waiting for a centralised player to understand the complete picture. This emphasises the importance of programmability in maximising the value returned on your assets, both in end-to-end solutions you deliver, and in those where you are providing a component of another party’s system. The need for agility has never been stronger, and this has accelerated transformation initiatives within operators in recent years.

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Concepts of agility have crystallised in meaning

In 2015, STL Partners published a report on ‘The Agile Operator: 5 key ways to meet the agility challenge’, exploring the concept and characteristics of operator agility, including what it means to operators, key areas of agility and the challenges in the agile transformation. Today, the definition of agility remains as broad as in 2015 but many concepts of agility have crystallised through wider acceptance of the importance of the construct across different parts of the organisation.

Agility today is a pervasive philosophy of incremental innovation learned from software development that emphasises both speed of innovation at scale and carrier-grade resilience. This is achieved through cloud native modular architectures and practices such as sprints, DevOps and continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) – occurring in virtuous cycle we call the agility flywheel.

The Agility Flywheel

agility-flywheel

Source: STL Partners

Six years ago, operators were largely looking to borrow only certain elements of cloud native for adoption in specific pockets within the organisation, such as IT. Now, the cloud model is more widely embraced across the business and telcos profess ambitions to become software-centric companies.

Same problem, different constraints

Cloud native is the most fundamental version of the componentised cloud software vision and progress towards this ideal of agility has been heavily constrained by operators’ underlying capabilities. In 2015, operators were just starting to embark on their network virtualisation journeys with barriers such as siloed legacy IT stacks, inelastic infrastructures and software lifecycles that were architecture constrained. Though these barriers continue to be a challenge for many, the operators at the forefront – now unhindered by these basic constraints – have been driving a resurgence and general acceleration towards agility organisation-wide, facing new challenges around the unknowns underpinning the requirements of future capabilities.

With 5G, the network itself is designed as cloud native from the ground up, as are the leading edge of enterprise applications recently deployed by operators, alleviating by design some of the constraints on operators’ ability to become more agile. Uncertainty around what future opportunities will look like and how to support them requires agility to run deep into all of an operators’ processes and capabilities. Though there is a vast raft of other opportunities that do not need cloud native, ultimately the market is evolving in this direction and operators should benchmark ambitions on the leading edge, with a plan to get there incrementally. This report looks to address the following key question:

Given the flexibility and driving force that 5G provides, how can operators take advantage of recent enablers to drive greater agility and thrive in the current pace of change?

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Agility is front of mind, now more than ever
    • Concepts of agility have crystallised in meaning
    • Same problem, different constraints
  • Ambitions to be a software-centric business
    • Cloudification is supporting the need for agility
    • A balance between seemingly opposing concepts
  • You are only as agile as your slowest limb
    • Agility is achieved stepwise across three fronts
    • Agile IT and networks in the decoupled model
    • Renewed need for orchestration that is dynamic
    • Enabling and monetising telco capabilities
    • Creating momentum for the agility flywheel
  • Recommendations and conclusions

The future of assurance: How to deliver quality of service at the edge

Why does edge assurance matter?

The assurance of telecoms networks is one of the most important application areas for analytics, automation and AI (A3) across telcos operations. In a previous report estimating the potential value of A3 across telcos’ core business, including networks, customer channels, sales and marketing, we estimated that service assurance accounts for nearly 10% of the total potential value of A3 (see the report A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value). The only area of greater combined value was in resource management across telecoms existing networks and planned deployments.

Within service assurance, the biggest value buckets are self-healing networks, impact on customer experience and churn, and dynamic SLA management. This estimate was developed through a bottom up analysis of specific applications for automation, analytics and AI within each segment, and their potential to deliver cost savings or revenue uplift for an average sized telecoms operator (see the original report for the full methodology).

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance, US$ millions

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance (US$ millions)

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

While this previous research demonstrates there is significant value for telcos in improving assurance on their legacy networks, over the next five years edge assurance will become an increasingly important topic for operators.

What we mean by edge assurance is the new capabilities operators will require to enable visibility across much more distributed, cloud-based networks, and monitoring of a wider and more dynamic range of services and devices, in order to deliver high quality experience and self-healing networks. This need is driven by operators’ accelerating adoption of virtualisation and software-defined networking, for example with increasing experimentation and excitement around open RAN, as well as some operators’ ambitions to play a significant role in the edge computing market (see our report Telco edge computing: How to partner with hyperscalers for analysis of telcos’ ambitions in edge computing).

To give an idea of the scale of the challenge ahead of operators in assuring increasingly distributed network functions and infrastructure, STL Partners’ expects a Tier-1 operator will deploy more than 8,000 edge servers to support virtual RAN by 2025 (see Building telco edge infrastructure: MEC, private LTE and vRAN for the full forecasts).

Forecast of Tier 1 operator edge servers by domain

Forecast of Tier-1 operator edge servers by domain

Source: STL Partners

Given this dramatic shift in network operations, without new edge assurance capabilities:

  • A telco will not be able to understand where issues are occurring across the (virtualised) network and the underlying infrastructure, and diagnose the root cause
  • The promises of cost saving and better customer experience from self-healing networks will not be fully realised in next-generation networks
  • Potential revenue generators such as network slicing and URLLC will be of limited value to customers if the telco can’t offer sufficient SLAs on reliability, latency and visibility
  • It will not be possible to make promises to ecosystem partners around service quality.

Despite the significant number of unknowns in the future of telco activities around 5G, IoT and edge computing, this research ventures a framework to allow telcos to plan for their future service assurance needs. The first section describes the drivers affecting telcos decision-making around the types of assurance that they need at the edge. The second sets out products and capabilities that will be required and types of assurance products that telcos could create and monetise.

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Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • The three main telco strategies in edge assurance
    • What exactly do telcos need to assure?
  • Why edge assurance matters
  • Factors affecting edge assurance development
    • What are telcos measuring?
    • Internal assurance applications
    • Location of measurement and analysis
    • Ownership status of equipment and assets being assured
    • Requirements of external assurance users
    • Requirements from specific applications
    • Telco business model
  • The status of edge assurance and recommendations for telcos
    • Edge assurance vendors
    • Telco assurance products
  • Appendix

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