Why and how to go telco cloud native: AT&T, DISH and Rakuten

The telco business is being disaggregated

Telcos are facing a situation in which the elements that have traditionally made up and produced their core business are being ‘disaggregated’: broken up into their component parts and recombined in different ways, while some of the elements of the telco business are increasingly being provided by players from other industry verticals.

By the same token, telcos face the pressure – and the opportunity – to combine connectivity with other capabilities as part of new vertical-specific offerings.

Telco disaggregation primarily affects three interrelated aspects of the telco business:

  1. Technology:
    • ‘Vertical’ disaggregation: separating out of network functions previously delivered by dedicated, physical equipment into software running on commodity computing hardware (NFV, virtualisation)
    • ‘Horizontal’ disaggregation: breaking up of network functions themselves into their component parts – at both the software and hardware levels; and re-engineering, recombining and redistributing of those component parts (geographically and architecturally) to meet the needs of new use cases. In respect of software, this typically involves cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and containerisation
    • Open RAN is an example of both types of disaggregation: vertical disaggregation through separation of baseband processing software and hardware; and horizontal disaggregation by breaking out the baseband function into centralised and distributed units (CU and DU), along with a separate, programmable controller (RAN Intelligent Controller, or RIC), where all of these can in theory be provided by different vendors, and interface with radios that can also be provided by third-party vendors.
  2. Organisational structure and operating model: Breaking up of organisational hierarchies, departmental siloes, and waterfall development processes focused on the core connectivity business. As telcos face the need to develop new vertical- and client-specific services and use cases beyond the increasingly commoditised, low-margin connectivity business, these structures are being – or need to be – replaced by more multi-disciplinary teams taking end-to-end responsibility for product development and operations (e.g. DevOps), go-to-market, profitability, and technology.

Transformation from the vertical telco to the disaggregated telco

3. Value chain and business model: Breaking up of the traditional model whereby telcos owned – or at least had end-to-end operational oversight over – . This is not to deny that telcos have always relied on third party-owned or outsourced infrastructure and services, such as wholesale networks, interconnect services or vendor outsourcing. However, these discrete elements have always been welded into an end-to-end, network-based services offering under the auspices of the telco’s BSS and OSS. These ensured that the telco took overall responsibility for end-to-end service design, delivery, assurance and billing.

    • The theory behind this traditional model is that all the customer’s connectivity needs should be met by leveraging the end-to-end telco network / service offering. In practice, the end-to-end characteristics have not always been fully controlled or owned by the service provider.
    • In the new, further disaggregated value chain, different parts of the now more software-, IT- and cloud-based technology stack are increasingly provided by other types of player, including from other industry verticals. Telcos must compete to play within these new markets, and have no automatic right to deliver even just the connectivity elements.

All of these aspects of disaggregation can be seen as manifestations of a fundamental shift where telecoms is evolving from a utility communications and connectivity business to a component of distributed computing. The core business of telecoms is becoming the processing and delivery of distributed computing workloads, and the enablement of ubiquitous computing.

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Telco disaggregation is a by-product of computerisation

Telco industry disaggregation is part of a broader evolution in the domains of technology, business, the economy, and society. This evolution comprises ‘computerisation’. Computing analyses and breaks up material processes and systems into a set of logical and functional sub-components, enabling processes and products to be re-engineered, optimised, recombined in different ways, managed, and executed more efficiently and automatically.

In essence, ‘telco disaggregation’ is a term that describes a moment in time at which telecoms technology, organisations, value chains and processes are being broken up into their component parts and re-engineered, under the impact of computerisation and its synonyms: digitisation, softwarisation, virtualisation and cloud.

This is part of a new wave of societal computerisation / digitisation, which at STL Partners we call the Coordination Age. At a high level, this can be described as ‘cross-domain computerisation’: separating out processes, services and functions from multiple areas of technology, the economy and society – and optimising, recombining and automating them (i.e. coordinating them), so that they can better deliver on social, economic and environmental needs and goals. In other words, this enables scarce resources to be used more efficiently and sustainably in pursuit of individual and social needs.

NFV has computerised the network; telco cloud native subordinates it to computing

In respect of the telecoms industry in particular, one could argue that the first wave of virtualisation (NFV and SDN), which unfolded during the 2010s, represented the computerisation and digitisation of telecoms networking. The focus of this was internal to the telecoms industry in the first instance, rather than connected to other social and technology domains and goals. It was about taking legacy, physical networking processes and functions, and redesigning and reimplementing them in software.

Then, the second wave of virtualisation (cloud-native – which is happening now) is what enables telecoms networking to play a part in the second wave of societal computerisation more broadly (the Coordination Age). This is because the different layers and elements of telecoms networks (services, network functions and infrastructure) are redefined, instantiated in software, broken up into their component parts, redistributed (logically and physically), and reassembled as a function of an increasing variety of cross-domain and cross-vertical use cases that are enabled and delivered, ultimately, by computerisation. Telecoms is disaggregated by, subordinated to, and defined and controlled by computing.

In summary, we can say that telecoms networks and operations are going through disaggregation now because this forms part of a broader societal transformation in which physical processes, functions and systems are being brought under the control of computing / IT, in pursuit of broader human, societal, economic and environmental goals.

In practice, this also means that telcos are facing increasing competition from many new types of actor, such as:

  • Computing, IT and cloud players
  • More specialist and agile networking providers
  • And vertical-market actors – delivering connectivity in support of vertical-specific, Coordination Age use cases.

 

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Three critical success factors for Coordination Age telcos
    • What capabilities will remain distinctively ‘telco’?
    • Our take on three pioneering cloud-native telcos
  • Introduction
    • The telco business is being disaggregated
    • Telco disaggregation is a by-product of computerisation
  • The disaggregated telco landscape: Where’s the value for telcos?
    • Is there anything left that is distinctively ‘telco’?
    • The ‘core’ telecoms business has evolved from delivering ubiquitous communications to enabling ubiquitous computing
    • Six telco-specific roles for telecoms remain in play
  • Radical telco disaggregation in action: AT&T, DISH and Rakuten
    • Servco, netco or infraco – or a patchwork of all three?
    • AT&T Network Cloud sell-off: Desperation or strategic acuity?
    • DISH Networks: Building the hyperscale network
    • Rakuten Mobile: Ecommerce platform turned cloud-native telco, turned telco cloud platform provider
  • Conclusion

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2020 in review and focus on North America: How should telcos do cloud?

Tenth update of the Telco Cloud Tracker

This report accompanies the tenth release of STL Partners’ ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), SDN (Software Defined Networking) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. This analytical report focuses on trends in North America, set in global context.

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Scope and content of the Tracker

The data in the tenth update covers the period up to the end of January 2021, although reference is made in the report to events and deployments after that date. The data is drawn predominantly from public-domain information contained in news releases from operators and vendors, along with reputable industry media. However, it also includes a smaller set of deployment data disclosed to us confidentially by operators and vendors. This information is added to the aggregate data sections of the ‘Tracker’ spreadsheet, which do not refer to the specific solutions supplied or the operators where they were deployed.

We apply the term ‘deployment’ to refer to the total set of virtual network functions (VNFs), CNFs or SDN technology, and their associated management software and infrastructure, deployed at an operator – or at one or more of an operator’s opcos or natcos – in order to achieve a defined objective or support particular services (in the spreadsheet, we designate these as the ‘primary purpose’ of the deployment). For example, this could be:

  • to implement a virtualised mobile core
  • to launch a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) service
  • or to construct a ‘telco cloud’ or NFV infrastructure (NFVi): a cloud infrastructure platform on which virtualised network services can be introduced and operated.

Accordingly, some of the deployments contained in the database comprise multiple elements, which are listed separately, including details about the category of NFV / SDN / CNF, and vendor and product name where known.

In addition to these mainly public-domain deployments, there are many non-publicised deployments that are inevitably omitted from the ‘Tracker’. However, the ever-growing ‘Tracker’ database now constitutes a considerable body of research that in our view offers a reliable snapshot of the overall market and the main trends in the evolution of telco cloud. In addition, as the ‘Tracker’ contains details only of deployments in live, commercial telco networks (either completed or in progress), this provides a useful corrective to the hype of some vendors’ pronouncements about agreements with operators, which often relate only to collaboration arrangements and preliminary trials, rather than commercial roll-outs.

The one exception to this rule of including only deployments that are implemented to support commercial services is a limited set of data on some of the current live network trials of open and / or virtual RAN (vRAN). The reason for making this exception is the very high level of interest currently in open RAN.

In terms of the telcos included, we limit the database mainly to Tier-One international and national telecoms operators, along with national fixed and mobile operators in smaller markets. For subsequent updates, we may expand the range and types of service providers included, because telco cloud is opening up opportunities for new players to provide cloud- and CNF-based connectivity and related services that are competing strongly with classic telco services.

SD-WAN in focus

In this update of the Tracker we have included a deep dive on SD-WAN, which was one of the main early drivers of SDN/NFV deployments, particularly among North American operators. It is worth exploring in more detail because, as it evolves into an increasingly cloud-centric and cloud-native service, it is emerging as another battleground between operators, hyperscalers and vendors.

5G is driving deployments – but will it drive business model change?

This is the first update to the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’ in 2021, which provides an opportunity to review 2020 and discuss the key trends in 2021.

Despite the global pandemic, the pace of virtualised network function (VNF) deployments has continued at a strong level.

Total deployments by region, 2016 to 2021

Our projection is that the final number of deployments in 2020 will be at around the same level as 2019 (182 in total). Many live deployments are confirmed some time after the event, swelling the totals for previous years. Accordingly, some of the deployments currently recorded as ‘in progress’ will be added to the tally for 2020.

5G core dominates the scene but is done largely via single-vendor, ‘vertical’ NFV

The main driver of deployments in 2020 was 5G network launches around the world, particularly in the second half of the year. This meant that many Non-standalone (NSA) 5G cores – the platform supporting almost all live 5G networks – also went live, as is illustrated below:

 Deployments by leading network function, 2016 to 2021

We recorded 76 completed deployments of NSA cores in 2020, up from 56 in 2019. A further ten deployments were either completed or pending in the first quarter of 2021.

Table of content

  • Executive Summary
    • 5G core drives deployments
    • SD-WAN: Telco value moves from the WAN to the edge
    • The industry is facing an existential question: How should telcos do cloud?
    • Conclusion from North America analysis: Can a brownfield MNO be more cloud-native than a greenfield one?
  • Introduction
    • Tenth update of the Telco Cloud Tracker
    • Scope and content of the Tracker
    • SD-WAN in focus
  • 5G is driving deployments – but will it drive business model change?
    • 5G core dominates the scene but is done largely via single-vendor, ‘vertical’ NFV
    • The industry faces an existential question: how should telcos do cloud?
    • Focus on North America: four divergent answers to the existential question
  • SD-WAN: While WAN moves to the cloud, new software-defined value migrates to the edge
    • SD-WAN was one of the success stories of the first phase of SDN / NFV
    • SD-WAN has been largely made in America
    • Changes accelerated by Covid favour SD-WAN vendors over telcos – but telcos retain strengths in key areas
    • Main opportunities currently for telcos in SD-WAN, and challenge from vendors
    • ‘SD’ moves towards the edge, while ‘WAN’ moves to the cloud
  • Conclusion: Can a brownfield MNO be more cloud-native than a greenfield one?

 

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Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker: Updated April 2021

The NFV Deployment Tracker builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past two years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

This unique service is updated on a regular basis and provides a steadily growing database on live deployments of NFV and SDN by telcos worldwide. The data is presented as an interactive Excel spreadsheet, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

The tracker covers only verified production deployments of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate. The latest update, released in April 2021, contains details on 858 NFV/SDN deployments made up of around 1,600 sub-components.

Public-domain information is presented in full detail. Confidential information, obtained direct from operators, is included in an aggregated and anonymised data set.

Each new release of the tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in given regions from time to time:

Logged-in subscribers can download the latest version of the NFV Deployment Tracker spreadsheet from this page.

Telco Cloud Europe update: Open RAN approaching tipping point

Telco Cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020

Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’

This report accompanies the ninth release of STL Partners’ ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), SDN (Software Defined Networking) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. This analytical report focuses on trends in Europe, set in global context.

For this update and hereafter, we have changed the name of the database from ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ to ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’. The name change reflects STL Partners’ new focus on ‘Telco Cloud’ as both a research stream and consultancy practice. But the change also corresponds to the fact that the telecoms industry has now embarked on the second phase of its journey towards more integrally software-based networks – the first phase of which went under the banner of ‘NFV’. This journey is not just about a migration towards ‘software in general’, but cloud-native software: based on design principles developed by the cloud industry, which have the potential to bring cloud-scale economics, programmability and automation to connectivity and connectivity-dependent services.

The Tracker database is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of more than 760 individual deployments of NFV, SDN and CNFs, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

We will produce further research and reports on different aspects of cloud-native software and its impact over the coming months.

Growth in 5G core offset by declines in other areas

Telco cloud deployments so far

After a slight drop in the overall number of deployments in 2019, 2020 is set to be a year of modest growth, as is illustrated by the figure below:

Total number of deployments worldwide, 2014 to July 2020

Source: STL Partners

The data for 2020 is split up into completed, ‘pending’ and estimated additional deployments. We have recorded 63 completed deployments between January and July 2020. Pending deployments (totalling 72) are those previously announced that we are expecting to be completed during 2020 but which – to our knowledge – had not yet gone live in the commercial network by the end of July. The estimated additional deployments are derived from extrapolating to the full year 2020 from the total of completed implementations in the first seven months. This results in around 45 further deployments. On this basis, the total for the year as a whole would reach around 180 deployments: just above the previous record year of 2018 (178).

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Telco cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020
    • Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’
    • Scope and content of the Tracker
  • 5G core drives new growth in 2020
    • Deployments are on the rise again
    • Growth has been consistent across almost all regions
    • Europe also on track to maintain its record of year-on-year growth
    • Deployments in Europe are still dominated by the major players, but smaller telcos are catching up
    • Vendors: Ericsson in close second place behind Cisco owing to strong presence in mobile core
  • Open RAN at a TIPping point in Europe
    • European telcos are playing a leading role in open RAN
  • Conclusion: Growth being driven by 5G – with open RAN waiting in the wings
    • Worldwide surge in NSA 5G core deployments
    • NSA 5GC is now nearly the leading VNF overall in Europe
    • … with cloud-native, SA 5GC coming down the pipeline
    • … and waiting in the wings: open RAN
    • These overlapping waves of innovation will make telco cloud mainstream

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ngena SD-WAN: scaling innovation through partnership

Introducing ngena

This report focusses on ngena, a multi-operator alliance founded in 2016, which offers multi-national networking services aimed at enterprise customers. ngena is interesting to STL Partners for several reasons:

First, it represents a real, commercialised example of operators working together, across borders and boundaries, to a common goal – a key part of our Coordination Age vision.

Second, ngena’s SDN product is an example of a new service which was designed around a strong, customer-centric proposition, with a strong emphasis on partnership and shared vision – an alternative articulation, if you like, of Elisa’s cultural strategy.

Third, it was born out of Deutsche Telekom, the world’s sixth-largest telecoms group by revenue, which operates in more than fifty countries. This makes it a great case study of an established operator innovating new enterprise services.

And lastly, it is a unique example of a telco and technology company (in this case Cisco) coming together in a mutually beneficial creative partnership, rather than settling into traditional buyer-supplier roles.

Over the coming pages, we will explore ngena’s proposition to customers, how it has achieved what it has to date, and to what extent it has made a measurable impact on the companies that make up the alliance. The report explains STL Partners’ independent view, informed by conversations with Marcus Hacke, Founder and Managing Director, as well as others across the industry.

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Shifting enterprise needs

Enterprises throughout the world are rapidly digitising their operations, and in large part, that involves the move to a ‘multicloud’ environment, where applications and data are hosted in a complex ecosystem of private data centres, campus sites, public clouds, and so on.

Digital enterprises need to ensure that data and applications are accessible from any location, at any time, from any device, and any network, reliably and without headaches. A large enterprise such as a retail bank might have physical branches located all over the place – and the same data needs to be accessible from any branch.

Traditionally, this sort of connectivity was achieved over the wide area network (WAN), with enterprises investing in private networks (often virtual private networks) to ensure that data remained secure and reliably accessible. Traditional WAN architectures work well – but they are not known for flexibility of the sort required to support a multicloud set-up. The network topology is often static, requiring manual intervention to deploy and change, and in our fast-changing world, this becomes a bottleneck. Enterprises are still faced with several challenges:

Key enterprise networking challenges

Source: STL Partners, SD-WAN mini series

The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present

This is where, somewhere around 2014, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) came on the scene. SD-WAN improves on traditional WAN by applying the principles of software-defined networking (SDN). Networking hardware is managed with a software-based controller that can be hosted in the cloud, which opens up a realm of possibilities for automation, smart traffic routing, optimisation, and so on – which makes managing a multicloud set-up a whole lot easier.

As a result, enterprises have adopted SD-WAN at a phenomenal pace, and over the past five years telecoms operators and other service providers worldwide have rushed to add it to their managed services portfolio, to the extent that it has become a mainstream enterprise service:

Live deployments of SD-WAN platforms by telcos, 2014-20 (global)

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker
Includes only production deployments; excludes proof of concepts and pilots
Includes four planned/pending deployments expected to complete in 2020

The explosion of deployments between 2016 and 2019 had many contributing factors. It was around this time that vendor offerings in the space became mature enough for the long tail of service providers to adopt more-or-less off-the shelf. But also, the technology had begun to be seen as a “no-brainer” upgrade on existing enterprise connectivity solutions, and therefore was in heavy demand. Many telcos used it as a natural upsell to their broader suite of enterprise connectivity solutions.

The challenge of building a connectivity platform

While SD-WAN has gained significant traction, it is not a straightforward addition to an operator’s enterprise service portfolio – nor is it a golden ticket in and of itself.

First, it is no longer enough to offer SD-WAN alone. The trend – based on demand – is for it to be offered alongside a portfolio of other SDN-based cloud connectivity services, over an automated platform that enables customers to pick and choose predefined services, and quickly deploy and adapt networks without the effort and time needed for bespoke customer deployments. The need this addresses is obvious, but the barrier to entry in building such a platform is a big challenge for many operators – particularly mid-size and smaller telcos.

Second, there is the economic challenge of scaling a platform while remaining profitable. Platform-based services require continuous updating and innovation, and it is questionable whether many telecoms operators are up to have the financial strength to do so – a situation you find for nearly all IT cloud platforms.

Last – and by no means least – is the challenge of scaling across geographies. In a single-country scenario, where most operators (at least in developed markets) will already have the fixed network infrastructure in place to cover all of a potential customer’s branch locations, SD-WAN works well. It is difficult, from a service provider’s perspective, to manage network domains and services across the whole enterprise (#6 above) if that enterprise has locations outside of the geographic bounds of the service provider’s own network infrastructure. There are ways around this – including routing traffic over the public Internet, and other operators’ networks, but from a customer point-of-view, this is less than ideal, as it adds complexity and limits flexibility in the solution they are paying for.

There is a need, then, for a connectivity platform “with a passport”: that can cross borders between operators, networks and markets without issue. ngena, or the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance, aims to address this need.

Table of Contents

  • Executive summary
    • What is ngena?
    • Why does ngena matter?
    • Has ngena been successful?
    • What does ngena teach us about successful telco innovation?
    • What does this mean for other telcos?
    • What next?
  • Introduction
  • Context: Enterprise needs and SD-WAN
    • Shifting enterprise needs
    • The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present
    • The challenge of building a connectivity platform
  • ngena: Enterprise connectivity with a passport
    • A man with a vision
    • The ngena proposition
  • How successful has ngena been?
    • Growth in alliance membership
    • Growth in ngena itself
    • Making money for the partners
  • What does ngena teach us about successful innovation culture in telecoms?
    • Context: the need to disrupt and adapt in telecoms
    • Lessons from ngena
  • What does this mean for other telcos?
      • Consider how you support innovation
      • Consider how you partner for mutual benefit
      • What next?

NFV goes mainstream: How cloud-native is contributing to growth

This report accompanies the latest update of the NFV Deployment Tracker (June 2020).  It provides an analysis of global tracker findings and covers deployments from 2011 until March 2020.

About the NFV Deployment Tracker

The NFV Deployment Tracker is a regularly-updated database of commercial deployments of Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies by leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past five years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of nearly 700 individual deployments of NFV and SDN, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

The NFV Deployment Tracker

Overview of STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

Source: STL Partners

Previous reports have focussed on trends in specific regions, in addition to global findings. These include:

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NFV/SDN continues to grow at different speeds in different regions

NFV deployments continue to grow…

In total, our database now contains information on 689 NFV and SDN deployments comprising 1,401 individual functional elements, i.e. an average of just over two components per deployment. As has been the case since we began collecting data, the number of deployments (as defined by STL Partners) continues to grow year on year; although the trend as illustrated below requires some explanation:

Deployment growth continues – despite an apparent slowdown

Source: STL Partners

Pending deployments are those regarding which there is uncertainty surrounding completion.  STL Partners expects some of these will be allocated to 2019 as it discovers that they were completed in that year. 2019 could yet emerge as a growth year, and if not, 2020 looks set to exceed the totals for 2018 and 2019.

…but the rate and drivers of growth vary by region

If we make a more meaningful comparison – between 2019 and the first three months of 2020 (including pending deployments), on the one hand, and 2018, on the other – we see that the number of deployments has continued to grow in each region, apart from North America, where the market is maturing and the pace of new deployment has subsided.

Regional deployment growth, with the exception of North America

Source: STL Partners

Overall, the Asia-Pacific region has accounted for the largest number of deployments across all years: 232 (33.7%) of the total – just ahead of Europe on 226 (32.8%). North America has generated 135 deployments (19.6%), followed by the Middle East with 57, Latin America on 30, and Africa with 15.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • About the NFV Deployment Tracker
    • Scope
    • Definitions
  • Introduction: NFV/SDN continues to grow – but at different speeds in different regions
    • NFV deployments continue to grow…
    • …but the rate and drivers of growth vary by region
  • In detail: understanding the growth
    • 5G ushers in Phase 2 NFV in developed markets…
    • …while Phase 1 core virtualisation spreads to other markets
    • SD-WAN also goes global
    • SDN was a critical component in longhaul network upgrades
    • vRAN and open RAN enter the stage
    • A second wave of telco cloud deployments is also underway
    • NFV MANO deployments were geared to supporting multi-vendor VNFs over telco clouds
  • In detail: deployments by operator
    • Vodafone, & Telefónica: telco cloud builders innovate at the core and edge
    • China, Japan (& Finland): leading cloud-native deployment
    • AT&T & Verizon: virtualisation programmes near completion
  • In detail: deployments by vendor
    • Cisco & Nokia: generalists leading overall and in 2019/20 respectively, boosted by 5G cores
    • VMware: thriving on telco cloud and SD-WAN
    • Ericsson: leading on 5G cores
    • Huawei: real position is unclear
  • Conclusion: NFV’s first phase has delivered, but tougher challenges lie ahead
    • NFV has become a more and more integral part of telcos’ service portfolios and infrastructure
    • NFV has proven its worth in addressing the challenges of today…
    • … while cloud-native NFV is also getting underway, and may help address the challenges of tomorrow
    • Phase 2 NFV: innovating our way out of the crisis
    • What next?
  • Appendix: Glossary of terms

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Open RAN: What should telcos do?

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Related webinar: Open RAN: What should telcos do?

In this webinar STL Partners addressed the three most important sub-components of Open RAN (open-RAN, vRAN and C-RAN) and how they interact to enable a new, virtualized, less vendor-dominated RAN ecosystem. The webinar covered:

* Why Open RAN matters – and why it will be about 4G (not 5G) in the short term
* Data-led overview of existing Open RAN initiatives and challenges
* Our recommended deployment strategies for operators
* What the vendors are up to – and how we expect that to change

Date: Tuesday 4th August 2020
Time: 4pm GMT

Access the video recording and presentation slides

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For the report chart pack download the additional file on the left

What is the open RAN and why does it matter?

The open RAN’ encompasses a group of technological approaches that are designed to make the radio access network (RAN) more cost effective and flexible. It involves a shift away from traditional, proprietary radio hardware and network architectures, driven by single vendors, towards new, virtualised platforms and a more open vendor ecosystem.

Legacy RAN: single-vendor and inflexible

The traditional, legacy radio access network (RAN) uses dedicated hardware to deliver the baseband function (modulation and management of the frequency range used for cellular network transmission), along with proprietary interfaces (typically based on the Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) standard) for the fronthaul from the baseband unit (BBU) to the remote radio unit (RRU) at the top of the transmitter mast.

Figure 1: Legacy RAN architecture

Source: STL Partners

This means that, typically, telcos have needed to buy the baseband and the radio from a single vendor, with the market presently dominated largely by the ‘big three’ (Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia), together with a smaller market share for Samsung and ZTE.

The architecture of the legacy RAN – with BBUs typically but not always at every cell site – has many limitations:

  • It is resource-intensive and energy-inefficient – employing a mass of redundant equipment operating at well below capacity most of the time, while consuming a lot of power
  • It is expensive, as telcos are obliged to purchase and operate a large inventory of physical kit from a limited number of suppliers, which keeps the prices high
  • It is inflexible, as telcos are unable to deploy to new and varied sites – e.g. macro-cells, small cells and micro-cells with different radios and frequency ranges – in an agile and cost-effective manner
  • It is more costly to manage and maintain, as there is less automation and more physical kit to support, requiring personnel to be sent out to remote sites
  • It is not very programmable to support the varied frequency, latency and bandwidth demands of different services.

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Moving to the open RAN: C-RAN, vRAN and open-RAN

There are now many distinct technologies and standards emerging in the radio access space that involve a shift away from traditional, proprietary radio hardware and network architectures, driven by single vendors, towards new, virtualised platforms and a more open vendor ecosystem.

We have adopted ‘the open RAN’ as an umbrella term which encompasses all of these technologies. Together, they are expected to make the RAN more cost effective and flexible. The three most important sub-components of the open RAN are C-RAN, vRAN and open-RAN.

Centralised RAN (C-RAN), also known as cloud RAN, involves distributing and centralising the baseband functionality across different telco edge, aggregation and core locations, and in the telco cloud, so that baseband processing for multiple sites can be carried out in different locations, nearer or further to the end user.

This enables more effective control and programming of capacity, latency, spectrum usage and service quality, including in support of 5G core-enabled technologies and services such as network slicing, URLLC, etc. In particular, baseband functionality can be split between more centralised sites (central baseband units – CU) and more distributed sites (distributed unit – DU) in much the same way, and for a similar purpose, as the split between centralised control planes and distributed user planes in the mobile core, as illustrated below:

Figure 2: Centralised RAN (C-RAN) architecture

Cloud RAN architecture

Source: STL Partners

Virtual RAN (vRAN) involves virtualising (and now also containerising) the BBU so that it is run as software on generic hardware (General Purpose Processing – GPP) platforms. This enables the baseband software and hardware, and even different components of them, to be supplied by different vendors.

Figure 3: Virtual RAN (vRAN) architecture

vRAN architecture

Source: STL Partners

Open-RANnote the hyphenation – involves replacing the vendor-proprietary interfaces between the BBU and the RRU with open standards. This enables BBUs (and parts thereof) from one or multiple vendors to interoperate with radios from other vendors, resulting in a fully disaggregated RAN:

Figure 4: Open-RAN architecture

Open-RAN architecture

Source: STL Partners

 

RAN terminology: clearing up confusion

You will have noticed that the technologies above have similar-sounding names and overlapping definitions. To add to potential confusion, they are often deployed together.

Figure 5: The open RAN Venn – How C-RAN, vRAN and open-RAN fit together

Open-RAN venn: open-RAN inside vRAN inside C-RAN

Source: STL Partners

As the above diagram illustrates, all forms of the open RAN involve C-RAN, but only a subset of C-RAN involves virtualisation of the baseband function (vRAN); and only a subset of vRAN involves disaggregation of the BBU and RRU (open-RAN).

To help eliminate ambiguity we are adopting the typographical convention ‘open-RAN’ to convey the narrower meaning: disaggregation of the BBU and RRU facilitated by open interfaces. Similarly, where we are dealing with deployments or architectures that involve vRAN and / or cloud RAN but not open-RAN in the narrower sense, we refer to those examples as ‘vRAN’ or ‘C-RAN’ as appropriate.

In the coming pages, we will investigate why open RAN matters, what telcos are doing about it – and what they should do next.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • What is the open RAN and why does it matter?
    • Legacy RAN: single-vendor and inflexible
    • The open RAN: disaggregated and flexible
    • Terminology, initiatives & standards: clearing up confusion
  • What are the opportunities for open RAN?
    • Deployment in macro networks
    • Deployment in greenfield networks
    • Deployment in geographically-dispersed/under-served areas
    • Deployment to support consolidation of radio generations
    • Deployment to support capacity and coverage build-out
    • Deployment to support private and neutral host networks
  • How have operators deployed open RAN?
    • What are the operators doing?
    • How successful have deployments been?
  • How are vendors approaching open RAN?
    • Challenger RAN vendors: pushing for a revolution
    • Incumbent RAN vendors: resisting the open RAN
    • Are incumbent vendors taking the right approach?
  • How should operators do open RAN?
    • Step 1: Define the roadmap
    • Step 2: Implement
    • Step 3: Measure success
  • Conclusions
    • What next?

5G: Bridging hype, reality and future promises

The 5G situation seems paradoxical

People in China and South Korea are buying 5G phones by the million, far more than initially expected, yet many western telcos are moving cautiously. Will your company also find demand? What’s the smart strategy while uncertainty remains? What actions are needed to lead in the 5G era? What questions must be answered?

New data requires new thinking. STL Partners 5G strategies: Lessons from the early movers presented the situation in late 2019, and in What will make or break 5G growth? we outlined the key drivers and inhibitors for 5G growth. This follow on report addresses what needs to happen next.

The report is informed by talks with executives of over three dozen companies and email contacts with many more, including 21 of the first 24 telcos who have deployed. This report covers considerations for the next three years (2020–2023) based on what we know today.

“Seize the 5G opportunity” says Ke Ruiwen, Chairman, China Telecom, and Chinese reports claimed 14 million sales by the end of 2019. Korea announced two million subscribers in July 2019 and by December 2019 approached five million. By early 2020, The Korean carriers were confident 30% of the market will be using 5G by the end of 2020. In the US, Verizon is selling 5G phones even in areas without 5G services,  With nine phone makers looking for market share, the price in China is US$285–$500 and falling, so the handset price barrier seems to be coming down fast.

Yet in many other markets, operators progress is significantly more tentative. So what is going on, and what should you do about it?

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5G technology works OK

22 of the first 24 operators to deploy are using mid-band radio frequencies.

Vodafone UK claims “5G will work at average speeds of 150–200 Mbps.” Speeds are typically 100 to 500 Mbps, rarely a gigabit. Latency is about 30 milliseconds, only about a third better than decent 4G. Mid-band reach is excellent. Sprint has demonstrated that simply upgrading existing base stations can provide substantial coverage.

5G has a draft business case now: people want to buy 5G phones. New use cases are mostly years away but the prospect of better mobile broadband is winning customers. The costs of radios, backhaul, and core are falling as five system vendors – Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE – fight for market share. They’ve shipped over 600,000 radios. Many newcomers are gaining traction, for example Altiostar won a large contract from Rakuten and Mavenir is in trials with DT.

The high cost of 5G networks is an outdated myth. DT, Orange, Verizon, and AT&T are building 5G while cutting or keeping capex flat. Sprint’s results suggest a smart build can quickly reach half the country without a large increase in capital spending. Instead, the issue for operators is that it requires new spending with uncertain returns.

The technology works, mostly. Mid-band is performing as expected, with typical speeds of 100–500Mbps outdoors, though indoor performance is less clear yet. mmWave indoor is badly degraded. Some SDN, NFV, and other tools for automation have reached the field. However, 5G upstream is in limited use. Many carriers are combining 5G downstream with 4G upstream for now. However, each base station currently requires much more power than 4G bases, which leads to high opex. Dynamic spectrum sharing, which allows 5G to share unneeded 4G spectrum, is still in test. Many features of SDN and NFV are not yet ready.

So what should companies do? The next sections review go-to-market lessons, status on forward-looking applications, and technical considerations.

Early go-to-market lessons

Don’t oversell 5G

The continuing publicity for 5G is proving powerful, but variable. Because some customers are already convinced they want 5G, marketing and advertising do not always need to emphasise the value of 5G. For those customers, make clear why your company’s offering is the best compared to rivals’. However, the draw of 5G is not universal. Many remain sceptical, especially if their past experience with 4G has been lacklustre. They – and also a minority swayed by alarmist anti-5G rhetoric – will need far more nuanced and persuasive marketing.

Operators should be wary of overclaiming. 5G speed, although impressive, currently has few practical applications that don’t already work well over decent 4G. Fixed home broadband is a possible exception here. As the objective advantages of 5G in the near future are likely to be limited, operators should not hype features that are unrealistic today, no matter how glamorous. If you don’t have concrete selling propositions, do image advertising or use happy customer testimonials.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • 5G technology works OK
  • Early go-to-market lessons
    • Don’t oversell 5G
    • Price to match the experience
    • Deliver a valuable product
    • Concerns about new competition
    • Prepare for possible demand increases
    • The interdependencies of edge and 5G
  • Potential new applications
    • Large now and likely to grow in the 5G era
    • Near-term applications with possible major impact for 5G
    • Mid- and long-term 5G demand drivers
  • Technology choices, in summary
    • Backhaul and transport networks
    • When will 5G SA cores be needed (or available)?
    • 5G security? Nothing is perfect
    • Telco cloud: NFV, SDN, cloud native cores, and beyond
    • AI and automation in 5G
    • Power and heat

NFV Deployment Tracker: Asia-Pacific points to the future of NFV

About the NFV Deployment Tracker

The NFV Deployment Tracker is a quarterly-updated database of commercial deployments of Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies by leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past four years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of nearly 600 individual deployments of NFV and SDN, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

Figure 1: The NFV Deployment Tracker

Overview of STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

Source: STL Partners

Each new release of the Tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in a given region. Previous analysis includes:

This report accompanies the seventh update of the NFV Deployment Tracker, providing an overview of global trends, and a deep-dive on what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific region.

Scope and definitions

The NFV Deployment Tracker covers verified, live deployments of NFV and SDN in commercial telco networks. We do not include proofs of concept, commercial trials or mere agreements to deploy, unless these eventually result in a full commercial deployment.

The data derives mainly from public-domain sources, such as press releases by operators and vendors, or reputable industry media. We also include undisclosed deployments that the operators concerned have informed us about on a confidential basis. These are subsumed within the aggregate data sets analysed in this report but are not itemised in the detailed information contained in the Excel spreadsheet.

We include only telecoms operators, and not other types of company that rely on communications infrastructure and services to deliver their own services (such as cloud providers, internet exchange and hub operators, vendors, systems integrators, etc.).

The telcos included are mainly Tier One providers: those that rely on their own national and international, end-to-end facilities to deliver B2C or B2B services. However, we also include information on incumbent or dominant operators for smaller countries – which are not big enough to be defined as Tier One – as well as particularly innovative deployments by smaller or start-up players in significant markets.

Data in this report covers deployments from 2011 until August 2019.

Global context: NFV is definitely not dead

Global NFV deployments still growing; Asia-Pacific in the lead

We have gathered data on 572 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN technology worldwide between January and August 2019. These deployments include 1,161 VNFs, software sub-components and infrastructure elements for which information is available. Overall, the volume of new deployments worldwide has increased every year since 2011.

Figure 2: NFV deployments are picking up speed

NFV deployments by region and year 2011-2019

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

The total of 132 deployments for 2019 in the above chart includes both completed and pending implementations (we define pending as ongoing deployments that have not yet been verified as completed, but which we expect to be concluded in 2019). In addition, the 2019 total shown here runs only up to the end of August 2019; so we are confident that the full-year total for 2019 will exceed the 147 deployments recorded in 2018.

In fact, the number of deployments in Europe and the Middle East in 2019 to date has already exceeded the total for each of these regions for 2018 as a whole. In Asia-Pacific, the volume for the first eight months of 2019 (38) is already around 80% of the 2018 total (49) – meaning that the region is likely to show growth overall by the end of 2019. It must be noted that, by contrast, deployments in North America have declined significantly.

When measured purely in terms of deployments, Europe led the world for the first time in the first eight months of this year. However, in the previous three years – and overall – the Asia-Pacific region has deployed more than any other. We have gathered data on 203 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN technology in the Asia-Pacific region between January 2012 and August 2019 – 35.5% of the global total. This means that Asia-Pacific is the largest market for NFV and SDN.

Figure 3: Asia-Pacific leads in total NFV deployments worldwide

Asia-Pacific leads in global NFV deploymentsSource: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • About the NFV Deployment Tracker
  • Scope and definitions
  • Global context
    • Global NFV deployments still growing; Asia-Pacific in the lead
    • Growth in 2019 driven by virtualised 5G mobile cores
    • Mobile core virtualisation is the dominant driver of NFV overall
    • SDN retains its dominant role in Asia-Pacific
    • Vendors of mobile network cores performing strongly
  • Asia-Pacific in focus: leading on innovatio
  • More Asia-Pacific operators are embracing NFV and SDN
  • Pushing the boundaries of mobile core architecture
  • Winning the race to operationalise the 5G standalone core
  • Innovating on SDN-based, on-demand networking services
  • Ambition to innovate for economic and social development
  • Conclusion: Asia-Pacific both leads on past deployments and points the way ahead
    • Asia-Pacific leads the NFV/SDN market in two main ways
    • The region also points the way ahead for the industry
  • Appendix: Glossary of terms

Predicting the future: Where next for SD-WAN?

Introduction

This document is the third in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing types of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The first two reports in the series are:

Future evolution of SD-WAN

Any decision made about SD-WAN aspects or management must be taken not just in context of enterprises’ current networking challenges, but also in context of how those challenges, as well as networking technology, are likely to evolve. This report assesses where we expect the industry to go next.

At STL Partners, we believe that SD-WAN under its current definition is not an end in itself. All indications are that enterprises are becoming increasingly cloud-centric, and we see no sign of this trend reversing. SD-WAN will no doubt be a key component of the multicloud ecosystem – but it will require an evolution beyond the confines of what is currently being packaged and sold.

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In short, existing SD-WAN services are just the first step on a longer journey towards integrated, software-driven WAN operations and networking on a broader scale. Enterprises and vendors planning SD-WAN rollout would do well to consider how that evolution could unfold.

As with any new technology, there are multiple pathways that this evolution could follow – none of which are yet well-understood. STL Partners has identified three emerging evolution pathways, which we explain in detail below. The options are:

  1. SD-WAN used as the first step towards SD-Branch: SD-WAN is deployed as a stepping stone technology towards more advanced, integrated management of enterprises’ LANs and branches alongside the WAN.
  2. SD-WAN sold “as a Service”: SD-WAN starts to be offered as a more fully cloud-based software service, free from vendor or hardware-based constraints.
  3. SD-WAN used as an enabling component of edge/IoT platforms: SD-WAN features and infrastructure are integrated with service providers’ edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, with sales focus on enterprise automation and process optimisation, rather than the SD-WAN component itself.

These options are of course not mutually exclusive and are likely in practice to be adopted in some combination of the different elements. It is quite feasible, for example, that some service providers will start to “upsell” their existing SD-WAN customers onto a more integrated “SD-Branch” offering (#1) – and to sell a flavour of this same offering as a cloud-based software option (#2). Indeed, we have already seen this happening in the marketplace.

In addition, all three options share two things in common:

  • A move towards cloud-centricity: Their focus is on the LAN and branch, WAN (delivered in an even more flexible, cloud-native way), the edge (and edge computing and IoT), respectively.
  • Increasing use of AI technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are pouring into all areas of technology and network infrastructure is no exception. The dynamic nature of traffic patterns over SD-WAN make it a prime candidate for this kind of tech to enable, say, security threat detection or traffic routing optimisation. Whichever direction SD-WAN takes, it is sure to make use of AI/ML.

In this report, we detail each of the three options, with particular reference to how they might benefit both enterprise customers, and those who will provide such SD-WAN services.

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Flavours of SD-WAN: What’s on offer and which work?

Introduction

This is the second in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing flavours of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The first and third reports in the series are:

This report examines the role that different types of SD-WAN solutions can play in helping digital enterprises address their growing networking challenges.

SD-WAN as a solution to the networking challenges of digital enterprises

In the first report, we discussed some of these challenges. These revolve around the need to carry a growing range and volume of mission-critical, application-specific data flows – reliably and securely – across a hybrid multi-cloud, multi-domain and distributed WAN environment. This includes different types and sizes of enterprise sites, branches, campuses and remote workers served by diverse access networks on a 24/7 basis.

We highlighted seven main networking challenges that SD-WAN products and services are designed to address, as follows:

  1. Managing the costs of WAN links
  2. Improving control of hybrid WAN and multi-cloud environments
  3. Assuring service and prioritising business-critical traffic
  4. Introducing new sites and capabilities
  5. Preventing attacks and mitigating security risks
  6. Managing different network domains and services across the whole enterprise
  7. Future-proofing enterprises’ advancing requirements while reducing complexity.

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In the present report, we look at SD-WAN in the context of the different flavours currently available on the market, and explore how current offers differ across several aspects:

  • Use of Customer Premises Equipment (dedicated appliance, uCPE or cloud?)
  • Networks used to deliver SD-WAN (overlay, hybrid or dedicated?)
  • Network topologies employed (hub and spoke, partial or full mesh?)
  • Security functions integrated
  • Extension across multiple geographies and domains

Throughout the report, we differentiate between these aspects of SD-WAN and the management requirements and features associated with them.

We also identify some of the leading vendor and service provider products and services that correspond to each of the types we discuss. This is intended for illustration and guidance only and does not constitute a recommendation.

What are the aspects of different SD-WAN deployments?

As set out in the introduction, we are differentiating in this report between aspects of SD-WAN and the management requirements and features associated with each aspect and with SD-WAN as a whole. These are:

Aspects of different SD-WAN deployments

aspects of SD-WAN deployments: CPE, networks, topology, security and extensions across geographies and domains

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report we highlight which management elements we regard as more specific to each individual aspect.

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Enterprise networking challenges: How can SD-WAN help?

Introduction

This document is the first in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing types of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The next two reports in the series are:

What networking challenges are faced by today’s digital enterprises?

Enterprises throughout the world are rapidly digitising their operations. Increasingly, the digital strategies they are adopting include the transition of business tools, applications and processes to a ‘multicloud’ environment: involving a hybrid combination of applications and data hosted in one or more public clouds alongside the company’s own private data centres.

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Digital enterprises require secure access to their applications and data from any location, at any time, via any device and over any network. At the same time, they need to ensure that their end users – both employees and customers – have the same application quality of experience as they did when the tools, applications and processes were hosted in the company’s own private data centre.

Unfortunately, existing WAN architecture models often do not provide the scale, flexibility or agility required to support this transition. These legacy WAN architectures typically leverage a hub and spoke network topology, where the hub is in the corporate data centre and static, point-to-point circuits that often require manual provisioning for deployment, moves, adds and changes connect the hub site to the branch offices. As these organisations transition to multicloud, the corporate data centre, hub site, becomes a bottle neck. Additionally, their static, manually provisioned circuits can’t keep pace with the dynamic nature of multicloud traffic flows.

Consequently, these businesses need to look for a new, simplified and automated approach to managing and transforming their WAN. Additionally, as enterprises look to leverage broadband internet to simplify and manage the cost of the WAN, they need to maintain the same SLA levels, ensure application quality of experience (QoE), and to be mindful of the security implications and risks in doing so.

SD-WAN platforms and services represent a response to these networking challenges that is being adopted more and more by enterprises of all sizes – from SMBs through to the largest multi-nationals – across all regions worldwide.

In this report, we highlight the main networking challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, and outline in brief some of the ways it does so.

In a subsequent report, we will discuss the main types of SD-WAN platforms and services available on the market today, along with the leading vendors and communications service providers that provide them. And in a third report, we discuss some of the ways in which we expect SD-WAN technology and services to develop over the next few years as it expands to encompass more and more aspects of enterprise information and communications technology, and to meet the needs of new applications and automated processes

Which networking challenges does SD-WAN address?

In this section, we discuss the main problems faced by network engineers and operations personnel managing the WAN, and evolving its architecture and functionality, in response to the rapidly changing, digital requirements of their enterprise. At the same time, network operations are under increasing pressure to reduce costs while maintaining, and indeed improving, quality of service and experience.

With these pressures in mind, we have identified seven key networking challenges faced by enterprises:

7 key enterprise networking challenges

7 enterprise networking challenges

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report, we explore each of these challenges in detail, and how SD-WAN helps to address them.

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Three new telco business models: Soft-net, Cloud-net, Compute-net

Introduction

This report outlines three new telecoms business models that builds on previous research where we have outlined our vision of an emerging third age of telecoms called the Coordination Age. This is based on a global need to improve the efficiency of resource utilisation is manifesting in industries and individuals as a desire to “make the world work better”. We discuss this concept in detail in the following reports:

We believe that three new business models for telcos are emerging as part of the Coordination Age.

  • The Soft-Net: the core business remains connectivity, but the softwarisation of the network through SDN / NFV enables the network to adapt and scale to support new, advanced connectivity services. This includes third-party digital and networked-compute services that depend on the physical network connectivity the Soft-Net provides.
  • The Cloud-Net: also connectivity-focused, but with the production, delivery and consumption of services increasingly effected via the cloud (i.e. cloud-native). SDN and virtualisation enable capacity and services to be spun up, managed and delivered on demand over any physical network and device.
  • The Compute-Net: the core business is to provide distributed, networked, compute- and software-based services, often for specific enterprise verticals. These depend on SDN and NFV to deliver the ultra-fast, low-latency compute, throughput and routing capabilities required.

The three new models represent distinct strategic options for telcos looking to either: optimise and evolve their existing connectivity business; create new value from cloud-based, ‘horizontal’ platforms; or expand into new vertical markets – or a combination of all three approaches. This is illustrated here:

Interdependence between the three future telco business models

Source: STL Partners

In other words:

  • The Soft-Net operates the physical and virtualised infrastructure that delivers flexible, advanced connectivity in support of Cloud-Net and Compute-Net services (as well as well as legacy communications and connectivity services, delivered in a more scalable and cost-effective way)
  • The Cloud-Net delivers flexible, on-demand connectivity over hybrid infrastructure (including that owned by multiple Soft-Nets) in support of the increasingly complex and variable networking requirements of globally distributed, digital enterprises
  • The Compute-Net delivers vertically focused, compute-enabled processes and outcomes across all areas of industry and society. In doing so, it relies on networking and cloud platform services supplied by the Soft-Net and Cloud-Net, which may or may not be vertically integrated as part of its own organisation.

The three telecoms business models link to NFV / SDN strategies

One of the distinguishing features of these models is the different modes of telco engagement in NFV and SDN they are potentially driven by. In previous analyses, we have identified three pathways towards NFV and SDN deployment. This is how they link to the three business models:

Figure 1: The three future telco business models and corresponding NFV pathways

Source: STL Partners, NFV / SDN deployment pathways: Three telco futures

In the rest of this report, we define these telecoms business models in more detail and illustrate how they present a pragmatic framework for telcos to focus their technology investments and develop valuable new Coordination Age services.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Three telco futures and Telco 2.0
  • Chapter 1: Three telecoms business models for the Coordination Age
  • Three new business models: but why ‘telco’?
  • Business model analysis: Telcos’ vs competitors’ strengths
  • Relationship between the Soft-Net, Cloud-Net and Compute-Net business models
  • Chapter 2: Roles of the Soft-Net, Cloud-Net and Compute-Net in a ‘driverless car-as-a-service’ ecosystem
  • A driverless car-as-a-service business involves coordination of data, processes and events across a broad supply chain
  • Soft-Nets provide the mainly wireless connectivity
  • Cloud-Nets provide the hybrid, on-demand wide-area networking
  • Compute-Nets design and coordinate the ecosystem
  • Conclusions
  • The Coordination Age: A new purpose for telecoms, and three models for realising it
  • Key takeaways for telcos

Figures:

  1. The three future telco business models and corresponding NFV pathways
  2. The Telco 2.0 infrastructure and service stack
  3. Interdependence between the three future telco business models
  4. Two examples of the three new business models
  5. The three new business models overview
  6. Telcos face some fierce competition as they move up the stack
  7. Telco expansion across the three business models
  8. Advantages and disadvantages of vertical integration
  9. Mapping the Soft-Net, Cloud-Net and Compute-Net roles in a driverless car environment
  10. Types of data and corresponding compute-based services in a driverless car-as-a-service ecosystem

NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe 2018 Update

Introduction

Welcome to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This is a brief extract from the report which is an accompaniment to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ Excel spreadsheet (to the end of September 2018). The update covers all of the global market data. However, the analytical report focuses more narrowly on European deployments, set in global context. We review the progress made over the past year and analyse the drivers of the deployments observed and the challenges faced by leading European telcos.

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

Detailed explanation of the scope of the information provided in the Tracker, definitions of terms (including how we define a live ‘deployment’ in general, and definitions of frequently used NFV / SDN acronyms) and an account of why we think it is important to track the progress of NFV / SDN are provided in the first analytical report of the series – so we will not repeat them here.[1]

We define ‘European’ deployments as those that take place in Europe, whether:

  1. in a single European market (e.g. a European incumbent deploying in its domestic market)
  2. across multiple, designated European markets (e.g. telcos with opcos in several European countries) or on a Pan-European basis; or
  3. on a global basis by telcos based in Europe.

Some of the deployments in category two may also extend to other global regions (e.g. Telefonica deployments across both its European and Latin American opcos) – in which case they are also included in the totals for those other regions. Conversely, some European deployments are undertaken by telcos based in other regions, e.g. operators with opcos in one or more European markets alongside their domestic market.

However, in this analysis we do not count global deployments by non-Europe-based telcos as ‘European’, even if they extend to parts of the European territory. We assign implementations of genuinely global NFV or SDN platforms to the telco’s region of origin, as this provides a more useful and verifiable way to track the development and commercialisation of NFV / SDN technology by telcos in each region of the world[2].

Analysis of the European data set

NFV deployments grow in volume but not depth

We have gathered data on 126 live, commercial deployments of SDN and NFV in Europe between 2012 and September 2018. These were completed by 30 telco groups in 30 countries in the continent, together with Pan-European or global deployments carried out by some of the same European operators. The data on the deployments includes information on 260 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments, i.e. an average of just over two components per deployment.

The volume of deployments has grown steadily year on year since 2012, as illustrated by the chart below:

Figure 4: Growth in the number of European SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to September 2018

Source: STL Partners

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: SDN / NFV deployments grow in breadth if not depth
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the European data set
  • NFV deployments grow in volume but not depth
  • Growth has been driven by proprietary vendor platforms and mobile cores
  • New operators enter the fray – but deployments by leading NFV pioneers slow down
  • Vendor trends: major players dominate the scene, with little impact as yet for open-source or telco self-builds
  • Conclusion: SDN / NFV deployments are getting broader but not deeper

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Growth in the number of European SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to September 2018
  • Figure 2: Growth in the number of SDN / NFV deployments worldwide, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 3: SDN / NFV deployments by region in the first nine months of 2018
  • Figure 4: European deployments by primary purpose, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 5: Deployments of leading VNFs and functional components in Europe, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 6: Leading operators by number of SDN / NFV deployments in Europe
  • Figure 7: Leading vendors by total number of deployments in Europe
  • Figure 8: Vendor vs open-source / operator self-build components, global, 2015 to September 2018

[1] NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017)

NFV Deployment Tracker: Global review and update

Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!

This report is the fourth analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the third update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (to the end of June 2018).

The update extends the coverage of the Tracker worldwide: adding a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the African, Latin American and Middle East markets to the existing data set on Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. In addition, the spreadsheet contains updated and expanded data on deployments in the latter regions.

The expansion of the Tracker’s coverage worldwide presents an opportunity to gain an overview of global SDN and NFV development and deployment trends, and to assess the prospects for the technologies, and the services based on them, going forward.

Previous editions and other NFV / SDN research

Scope of information provided by the Tracker

The data in the NFV Deployment Tracker is sourced primarily from public-domain information such as telco and vendor press releases and reliable press reports regarding successfully completed deployments and the launch of live, commercial services based on virtualised network functions (VNFs) or SDN. We have also obtained some confidential information direct from operators, which we are unable to present in the detailed break-down of deployments by operator. However, this information has been added to an aggregated data set, which is also provided in the spreadsheet.

The data is therefore limited to verified deployments: production implementations of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate and – as far as possible – up to date. We also include some information on deployments planned to be completed by the end of 2017 or by a date as yet unknown, where the information is in the public domain, and where the size and scope of the deployments merit their inclusion.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • The volume and pace of SDN / NFV deployments continues to grow…
  • …but some fundamental challenges remain
  • The focus of deployments varies region by region
  • Operator trends
  • Vendor trends
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the third update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the global data set
  • Constant growth – but SDN / NFV deployment is far from universal
  • Asia-Pacific ahead on number of deployments despite a slowdown in 2018
  • SD-WAN, SDN, core network functions and orchestration have driven the growth in 2018
  • Operator trends: Leading players rack up the deployments, leaving others lagging far behind
  • Vendor trends: a few major players dominate the scene – but telcos continue to look for alternatives
  • Conclusion 

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Growth in the number of SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 2: Breakdown of total deployments by region, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 3: Deployments by region, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: Global deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Deployments in Europe by leading category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 6: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 7: Deployments in North America by leading categories, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 8: Global deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 9: Total deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, Middle East
  • Figure 10: Leading VNFs and functional components, Latin America
  • 1Figure 11: Leading operators by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 12:  Leading vendors by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 13: Leading vendors by deployment category 25

Telco 2.0: Choose your future – while you still can

Introduction

Time to update Telco 2.0

Telcos are facing difficult choices about whether and how to invest in new technologies, how to cut costs, and how to create new services, either to pair with their core network services or to broaden their customer bases beyond connectivity users.

Through the Telco 2.0 vision (our shorthand for ‘what a future telco should look like’), STL Partners has long argued that telcos need to make fundamental changes to their business models in response to the commoditisation of connectivity and the ‘softwarisation’ of all industries, including telecoms. At the very least this means digitalising operations to become more data-centric and efficient in the way they deliver connectivity. But to generate significant new revenue growth, we still believe telcos need to look beyond connectivity and develop (or acquire) new product and service offerings.

The original Telco 2.0 two-sided business model

original telco 2.0

Source: STL Partners

Since 2011, a handful of telcos have made significant investments into areas beyond connectivity that fall into these categories. For example:

  • NTT Docomo has continued to expand its ‘dmarket’ consumer loyalty scheme, media and sports content and payment services, which accounted for nearly 20% of total revenues for FY2017.
  • Singtel acquired digital advertising provider Amobee in 2012, followed by several more acquisitions in the same area to build an end-to-end digital marketing platform. Its digital services accounted for more than 10% of quarterly revenues by December 2017, and was the fourth largest revenue segment, ahead of voice revenues.
  • TELUS first acquired a health IT company in 2008, and has since expanded its reach and range of services to become Canada’s largest provider of health IT solutions, such as a nation-wide e-prescription system. Based on a case study we did on TELUS, we estimate its health solutions accounted for at least 7% of total revenues by 2017.


However, these telcos are the exception rather than the rule. Over the last decade, most telcos have failed to build a significant revenue stream beyond their core services.

While many telcos remain cautious or even sceptical about their ability to generate significant revenue from non-connectivity based products and services, “digitalising” operations has become a widespread approach to sustain margins as revenue growth has slowed.

In Figure 3 we illustrate these as the two ‘digital dimensions’ along which telcos can drive change, where most telcos are prioritising an infrastructure play, but few are putting significant resources into product innovation, and only a small number with the ability to do both.

  • Digitalising telecoms operations: Reduction of capex and opex by reducing complexity and automating processes, and improving customer experience
  • Developing new services: This falls into two categories on the right-hand side of Figure 3
    • Product innovation: New services that are independent from the network, in which case digitalising telecoms operations is only moderately important
    • Platform (& product): New services that are strongly integrated with the network and therefore require the network to be opened up and digitalised

Few telcos are putting real resources into product & platform innovation

2 digital dimensions

Source: STL Partners

Four developments driving our Telco 2.0 update

  • AI and automation technology is ready to deploy at scale. AI is no longer an over-hyped ideal – machine and deep learning techniques are proven to deliver faster and more accurate decision-making for repetitive and data-intensive tasks, regardless of the type of data (numerical, audio, images, etc.). This has the potential to transform all areas of operators’ businesses.
  • We live and work in a world of ecosystems. Few services are completely self-sufficient and independent from everything else, but rather enable, complement and/or augment other services. Telcos must accept that they are not immune to this trend, just because connectivity is one of the key enablers of content, cloud and IoT ecosystems (see Figure 4).
  • Software-defined networks and 5G are coming. This is happening at a different pace in different markets, but over the next five to ten years these technologies will drastically change the ‘thing’ that telcos operate: the ‘network’ will become another cloud service, with many operational functions instantiated in near real-time in hardware at the network edge, so never even reaching a centralised cloud. So telcos need to become more proficient in software and computing, and they should think of themselves as cloud service providers that operate in partnership with many other players to deliver end-users a complete service.
  • As other industries go through their own digital transformations, the connectivity and IT needs of enterprises have become much more complex and industry specific. This means the one-size-fits-all approach does not apply for operators or for their enterprise customers in any sector.

Telcos and connectivity are not a central pillar, but an enabler in a much richer ecosystem

telco myth vs reality

Source: STL Partners

We are updating the Telco 2.0 Vision in light of these realities. Previously, we proposed six opportunity areas for new revenue growth, and expected large, proactive telcos to be able to address many of them. But telcos have been slow to change, margins are tighter now, implementing NFV/SDN is hard, and software skills are necessary for succeeding in any vertical. So telcos can no longer hope to do it all and must make choices of where to put their bets. As NTT Docomo, Singtel and TELUS show, it also takes time to succeed, so telcos need to choose and commit to a strategy now for long term success.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Time to update Telco 2.0
  • Four developments driving our Telco 2.0 update
  • Analysing the current market state
  • Options for the future
  • If connectivity won’t drive growth, do telcos’ network strategies matter?
  • Imagining the future telecoms stack
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The telco stack
  • Figure 2: The original Telco 2.0 two-sided business model
  • Figure 3: Few telcos are putting real resources into product & platform innovation
  • Figure 4: Telcos and connectivity are not a central pillar, but an enabler in a much richer ecosystem
  • Figure 5: The network cloud platform within the telco stack
  • Figure 6: Steps to becoming a cloud platform
  • Figure 7: Horizontal specialisation within the telco stack
  • Figure 8: Vertical specialisation within the telco stack
  • Figure 9: Enterprise verticals
  • Figure 10: Consumer services and applications
  • Figure 11: Network technology company versus lean network operator
  • Figure 12: Example of a fixed telco stack
  • Figure 13: Example of a telco IoT stack
  • Figure 14: Example of a lean network operator stack

NFV Deployment Tracker: Asia takes the lead

Introduction

Welcome to the second update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This report is the third analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the second update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (dated March 2018).

The update provides a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the Asia-Pacific market. Under ‘Asia-Pacific’, we include all of the countries of Central, Southern and South-East Asia, along with Oceania. In addition to the new set of data for Asia-Pacific, the spreadsheet contains updated and revised data on deployments in the European and North American regions.

In June 2018, the data set and analysis will be extended to all other regions worldwide, with the aim of providing the industry’s most comprehensive, authoritative source of information on live deployments of NFV and SDN.

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

Detailed explanation of the scope of the information provided in the Tracker, definitions of terms (including how we define a live ‘deployment’ and definitions of frequently used NFV / SDN acronyms) and an account of why we think it is important to track the progress of NFV / SDN are provided in the first analytical report of the series – so we will not repeat them here.

Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set

Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV

We have gathered data on 102 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in Asia-Pacific between 2012 and 2018. These were completed by 33 telcos, including all of the major operators in China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Deployments have been more limited in India: seven in total, including two global implementations by Tata Communications. Altogether, the data includes information on 203 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments.

This means that Asia-Pacific is the largest market for NFV and SDN, measured purely in terms of number of deployments. The Asia-Pacific totals outstrip the updated numbers for both Europe (89 deployments and 182 VNFs / functional components) and North America (62 deployments and 126 VNFs / functional components). The number of operators that have completed deployments is also higher than that in Europe or North America.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Asia-Pacific is the leading global SDN / NFV market
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the second update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set
  • Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV
  • SDN, SD-WAN and core network functions have driven the growth
  • Operator trends: Innovators lead the way, closely followed by the Chinese giants
  • Vendor trends: SD-WAN and vCPE vendors lead the way
  • Conclusion

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total NFV and SDN deployments in Asia-Pacific, 2012 to 2018
  • Figure 2: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 3: European deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: North American deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Leading VNFs and functional components deployed in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 6: Leading Asia-Pacific operators by number of NFV / SDN deployments
  • Figure 7: Leading vendors by number of deployments