The evolution of 5G infrastructure will not be homogenous. Operators will be deploying islands of 5G across a sea of 4G, and 3G. They will be faced with the challenges of developing, deploying and managing services across hybrid infrastructures that will be composed of a fragmented mix of the old and the new. In order to accelerate returns on 5G investments today, operators will need an extensible, integrated toolchain that allows them to scale operations and services across a mixed portfolio of technologies and operating environments.
5G is Not Just Another G
While some will assert that 5G is an incremental step in the evolution of the mobile network or simply more spectrum in the mmWave range, it is clear from the 3GPP standards and the roadmap that the scope of 5G will be much broader than what the telecommunications industry is familiar with. In particular, the introduction of MEC (Multi-Access Edge Computing) is introducing IT into the world of CT (Communications Technology) and the promise of URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications) is drawing OT (Operational Technology) into the 5G conversation. This industry-redefining dynamic of 5G will compel MNOs to consider IT-oriented practices and principles of webscale IT, DevSecOps and emerging AIOps in the development of new services as well as the delivery of those services over a 5G infrastructure.
Note that we don’t refer to the 5G infrastructure as simply a mobile network infrastructure, it is a digital service infrastructure. This means that traditional MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) need to think differently about the infrastructure they will be operating and the services that they will be monetizing in the 5G era and well into the next G.
Much of the skepticism about 5G today is rooted in a growing rebuke of over-baked hype over the last three years. It also stems from a subliminal recognition in the industry that 5G deployments will be deep-rooted, complicated transformations that will take time as operators grapple with the challenges of where to invest for customer value and short-term returns for themselves.
As we have learned from other Gs, 5G will be a gradual transformation of the mobile networks as we know them today and how we knew them in the past. Operators will have to deal with a continuous evolution of their infrastructure that will progressively increase the complexity of operating heterogeneous and constantly morphing portfolios of technologies, processes and networks for the foreseeable future.
5G also means hyperconverged IT, CT and OT connectivity and digital services across a mobile network. In other words, telecommunications is graduating from data to new breeds of applications and digital services that will need to be managed, orchestrated and scaled in a “cloud-native” manner. This paradigm shift in the nature of communications will be driven largely by emerging mobile edge computing. It is inevitable that meshes of edge clouds will coat the mobile network of tomorrow, but the burning question is how can these constellations of hyperconverged compute and network resources and the digital services that run on top of them be securely orchestrated, operated and managed at scale and with agility?
Business Agility & Velocity of Innovation – Keys to 5G Leadership
The cloud-native nature of 5G opens up new realms of possibility for how operators can engineer and realize business agility on top of the 5G digital service infrastructure. Furthermore, the software-defined nature of 5G from the radio to the core network will foster business model innovation that will accelerate returns on investment in the next generation multi-access network. With end-to-end (E2E) network slicing orchestrated and monetized via a new generation of OSS and BSS platforms and cloud management platforms will create new revenue opportunities in composable, hyperconverged digital services that were not possible before 5G technologies.
Unfortunately, with the flexibility and extensibility of cloud comes a great deal of complexity in terms of management and orchestration of the infrastructure, resources and the new digital services that will run on top of it all. In light of these increased complexities, operators need to reinvent their service delivery lifecycle to accommodate hybrid modes of operation (multi-modal instead of bi-modal) that apply Agile principles with traditional practices where and when it makes the most sense and fits purpose.
Given the tremendous opportunities and complexities that will accompany 5G, neXt Curve suggested in our research brief entitled, Market Insight – The Fight for 5G Superiority will be Fought in the Cloud, that communications service providers (CSPs) think deeply about their strategy for transforming themselves into a “digital service provider” and what that will mean organizationally, operationally and culturally. As with any transformation, there really isn’t a current and target state. There is only constant change.
For today’s operators, 5G will be a legacy-laden evolution of their networks. As 5G technology progresses and the operator’s infrastructure changes, so does the way that operators need to operate in order to become more innovative, agile and adaptive as a business in order to compete against players new and old in an industry destined for dramatic change as 5G plays out.
It is ever more important for operators to consider what it means to be competitive because 5G broadens the possibilities for market leading incumbents to reinvent themselves and for new players such as Rakuten to enter the market with unprecedented speed, new economics and impact with no legacy baggage to slow them down. Consequently, a key competency of any competitive operator, or any organization in any industry for that matter, will be the ability to deal with the progressively hybrid states of their business, their technologies, their processes and their people.
Closing the Loop with ALM and DevSecOps Processes for Agility
Operators and the new breed of digital service providers in the 5G era will be running a highly distributed, cloud-native infrastructure that will be hosted by a network of nano and micro data centers situated at base stations and central offices. This shift toward cloud-native infrastructure will be even more prominent as 5G deployments present and future begin implementing 5G Cores as they move to Standalone 5G NR (New Radio) later this year into 2021. The level of complexity of cost efficiently operating this infrastructure will transcend that seen in today’s hyperscale data centers.
Consequently, the engineering and operating models of the past will not be able to handle the complexity of the new 5G elements of the network infrastructure much less the complexity that stems from the generational heterogeneity of the operator’s technology portfolio. Much like the hyperscale cloud service providers, telecom operators need to move from the legacy engineering mindset toward a webscale way of operating and developing the next generation of hyperconverged services. This means abandoning reactive, swivel-chair management styles of the past and adopting the zero-touch operating modes of the hyperscalers through automation and operational optimization.
In order to realize the future mode of engineering needs to scale heterogenous infrastructure and operations, operators need to implement a closed-loop digital operating model based on the principles of customer intimacy, iterative development, continuous delivery and continuous improvement. Many of these principles are familiar to our friends in IT as Agile methods, DevSecOps, ITSM (IT Service Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management). The trick will be integrating these practices into processes from customer engagement through product / service development through service delivery and back in a virtuous cycle.
As part of their 5G transformation, operators will want to pay particular attention to developing their DevSecOps chops. DevSecOp will play a very important role in bridging the development lifecycle with the service delivery lifecycle which will be the key to operational agility and continuous innovation. Against a backdrop of increasing global concern for data security and personal data protection, DevSecOps will also promote the incorporation of security and privacy into design, build, test and release functions across closed-loop digital operating model processes.
It will also be important for operators to establish solid application lifecycle management (ALM) to support the closed-loop digital operating model through the holistic management of software / product development processes of legacy and new digital services from cradle to grave. However, achieving end-to-end ALM will be challenging across a heterogenous infrastructure and technology portfolio where components will have varying levels of “cloud-friendliness” and “software-definition”.
Operators will inevitably have to deal with the complexity of integrating a heterogenous portfolio of management and development tools as they transform their operations toward a digital operating model. Adaptable ALM processes that support various modes of infrastructure management and development lifecycles will need a wide range of legacy system and network management and development tools to work in concert with newer Agile development and DevSecOps tools to enable agile service development and continuous delivery.
Operators will also need cloud management and brokerage platforms to play nicely with other tools to support the development and delivery of new microservices-based applications across multi-cloud environments deployed between the edge of the network to the hyperscale data centers in the cloud. Without these capabilities that are critical in enabling a closed-loop operating model, operators will find it difficult to realize the operational agility needed to compete in a 5G world.
Scaling 5G Operations and Services with AIOps and Intelligent Automation
New digital services and operations will be challenging to scale given the complexities that 5G will introduce into the orchestration and management of fine-grained services that will deliver a blend of URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Connectivity, eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband) and mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications) service configurations in the form of network slices. Furthermore, operators will now need to provision, deploy, orchestrate and coordinate network slices that are bound to container-based applications and serverless app functions that will need to dynamically transverse meshes of edge clouds running across 5G mobile networks.
To achieve the business and operational agility desired and to deliver new digital services with a software-defined 5G infrastructure at scale, operators will have to take a holistic approach to applying analytics and intelligence to the automation, orchestration and optimization of virtualized networks and applications across emerging 5G edge clouds. What we can expect is a converged operating environment of AIOps with NetOps and DevSecOps to address the complexity of the new 5G infrastructure and service delivery.
Furthermore, new capabilities are required to scale the operation and management of heterogenous infrastructure over the course of 5G transformation. Operators need to institute a level of intelligent automation and management of the entire heterogenous infrastructure and technology portfolio to ensure quality of service and operational adaptability in support of a wide range of new consumer and business applications while somehow making the complexity of it all invisible and scalable.
As we suggest in our research brief, “Hybrid Approaches to AI for Realizing Intelligent Networks in the 5G Era”, operators will have to employ an evolving hybrid strategy for the application of AI in their operations in realizing scalable autonomous networks and digital infrastructure. In order to scale Agile operations and service development with intelligent automation and AIOps, operators need to develop the following capabilities:
- Contextual Awareness
- Closed-Loop Automation
- Real-Time Optimization
- Intelligent Orchestration
- Predictive Analytics
- Behavioral Analytics
By employing these capabilities across the ALM mega process to scale and secure operations, operators can realize intent-based networking and autonomous service delivery on top of their heterogenous infrastructure portfolio.
One Hub to Rule Them All and in the Cloud Bind Them
Agile and scalable infrastructure and operations needs Agile and integrated toolchains that support heterogenous modes of operation and service development and are able to handle the associated complexities of processes, workflows, governance and controls. Engineers will need a digital service operating platform that serves as an integration hub interconnecting the old and the new tools together as well as different flavors of ALM processes. Key features of this integration hub or digital service hub are:
- Communications & Collaboration
- Integration & Interoperability
- Orchestration & Automation
- Insights & Audit
- Security, Trust & Compliance
Intelligent automation of ALM processes will require the integration of tools as well as data. In a fashion very similar to middleware platforms, the digital service hub will provide the connectors to interface various tools whether they are IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), CMDBs (Configuration Management Databases), CMPs (Cloud Management Platforms) or project management apps to enable integrated workflows, data and communications across toolchains configured to support ALM function and process variations that will be the digital service operation of the 5G era.
By serving as an integration platform, the digital service hub can provide holistic traceability of all development, testing and configuration changes across applications, environments, networks and endpoint devices. Through audit functions a holistic set of operational data can be fed into KPI dashboards that can be shared across development and NetOps/DevOps teams to improve management of DevOps and production environments and foster continuous improvement.
The operator will now be able to capture rich data about its operations through an integrated view across its tools and enable end-to-end intelligent automation for operational processes and functions by providing AI models the comprehensive corpora of data needed for training. This then becomes the basis for many of the aforementioned capabilities such as contextually-aware applications and networks, closed-loop automation, predictive / behavioral analytics and more.
The digital service hub can also foster collaboration across operational and service development teams by interconnecting messaging and alerts across system management and development tools. It should also be able to support cross-tool policy controls that will enhance process governance, security and privacy compliance, and quality management across ALM processes, networks and environments.
Ultimately, a digital service hub will be the One Ring (reference to the Lord of The Rings) that brings the complexity of the heterogenous, software-defined infrastructure into an intelligent cloud-based platform that makes all of it scalable, flexible and agile. It will provide the integrated toolchains that will enable developers to innovate continuously and engineers to operate a heterogenous infrastructure and deliver new digital service with scale and agility. In this sense, the digital service hub will be the critical business and technology foundation of the digital service provider of the 5G era and beyond.
Implications for Business and Technology Leaders
5G is different. It will reshape the telecommunications industry landscape creating new opportunities for bold operators that recognize that the nature of communications is changing. It is not longer about voice and data, it is about digital services. That makes things quite different.
But, 5G will come with significant complexity. The pursuit of new revenue opportunities that are the elusive and obscure promises of 5G will undoubtedly require operators to be able to reign in the complexity and economically scale it through intelligent, closed-loop automation that should characterize the entire operating model of the digital service provider.
Digital service providers will need the tools and extensible, service-oriented systems and business architectures to quickly adapt to a constantly shifting and expanding industry landscape. A digital service hub will be a critical enabler to achieving tighter control of their application and digital service development and to integrate processes and controls across a heterogenous, hyperscale infrastructure.
Webscale tools and practices applied to the operation of the massively distributed mobile network and compute environment that is the 5G digital service infrastructure will be vital to realize the business agility and the velocity of innovation that operators today will need to compete in the 5G era and beyond into 6G.
For more insights on neXt Curve’s 5G Evolution and IT/CT Convergence research themes contact us for a detailed briefing with one of our analysts or to inquire about our 5G transformation consulting services.
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Managing Director, neXt Curve
Research Fellow & Analyst, neXt Curve
February 28, 2020
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