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The Symbiotic Cloud-5G Series: Tata Elxsi bats for virtualization of network functions with cloud technologies
Symbiotic Cloud-5G Series
Globally telcos are facing rapid changes in business needs and quite obviously the pandemic has further compelled them to face newer changes. Thankfully, telcos these days are better prepared as most critical operations happen conveniently over the cloud and are delivered at the edge. It is also clear that 5G, cloud, and edge computing are three inextricably linked technologies that significantly improve the performance of telecom applications and enable huge amounts of data to be processed in real-time.
Several organizations have built an entire end-to-end architecture comprising public, private, hybrid, and edge cloud applications to service CSPs.
The Symbiotic Cloud-5G Series will explore and feature global organizations that are involved in supporting the telcos with cloud architecture.
Tata Elxsi at the helm of cloud technology deployment services
It is now a known fact that India is a market fuelled by rich, interactive digital media content and extensive use of technology in our day-to-day lives, leading to subscriber growth numbers going strong and steady. Ericsson’s Mobility Report has predicted smartphone subscriptions in India to clock 1 billion in 2024 and data traffic per smartphone per month is expected to increase at 14% CAGR to 15 GB in 2024.
The current National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) to increase broadband penetration will have the subscription numbers touching a billion. And the players in the Indian telecom sector are at price war, where data packages are being a key deciding factor for each other to capture these growing markets. To win and cater to this billion data-centric subscriber market, telecom operators have made huge investments.
Essentially, operators will have to reduce their new CAPEX investments and OPEX for existing infrastructure. Operators are also forced to monetize their data services to ensure sustainability by increasing ARPU.
The transition towards virtualized network operations will promote organizational skills and process changes that will reflect the move from physical network engineering to service-driven software and agile operations.
As India plans to roll out state-of-the-art 5G telecom services in the next four years, operators will be pushed to adopt new network architecture (centralized control with dynamic flexibility and programmability), and virtualization (hardware-free cost-effective) will be a critical aspect of networks.
As the demand for services in virtualization is magnifying, Cloud Computing has now emerged as the most influential technology to transform businesses and enable CSPs to manage their resources and service their customers with cloud technology support.
Rajagopalan Rajappa, Deputy CTO & Head of Network Transformation Technologies at Tata Elxsi in interaction with Voice&Data explains the versatility of cloud applications in the virtualization of telecom networks and on his company’s role in delivering the necessary services.
V&D: How are the three computing models cloud, edge, and hybrid relevant to the telecom industry ever since the pandemic struck the world?
Rajagopalan Rajappa: For telcos cloud as a converged platform to deliver communication and IT services over any network is the definitive way forward, as it brings in immense benefits to the current operations and opens up new revenue streams. Some of the key benefits include:
- Highly scalable and flexible infrastructure
- Efficiency and flexibility of resource management
- Accelerate service innovation
- Operational Cost Savings, Optimized total cost of ownership
COVID-19 has brought in unprecedented demand on the telco network:
- Businesses have adopted Work from home and digital engagements as the new norm. This has put a surge demand on secure connectivity and network availability.
- Education has also seen prominence with e-learning, online certifications, with universities, schools and even kindergartens – ushering a whole new generation of users and thereby increasing the demand for higher bandwidth and quality of service.
- The retail industry including the kirana stores have adopted digital delivery & payment mechanisms for business continuity & to ensure the health and safety aspects of their employees and customers.
- The media industry has seen a spike with OTT consumptions, and we also see production houses opting to premier their content primarily through OTT as the medium.
- The government has relied on smartphone connectivity to contain the pandemic spread and bring the ability to track, trace, and report information for emergency response.
All of the above has placed a great demand & expectations for reliable, rapidly scalable & secure connectivity on telcos.
As per a survey by E&Y, India has witnessed a 30% spike in Internet data usage amid the coronavirus pandemic which has pushed data consumption 2-3 years into the future. Also, 90% of the respondents in their survey are spending more time on digital activities such as content streaming, e-learning, infotainment, and social media.
Nearly 61% of consumers are streaming more content than they were before the lockdown with time spent on video streaming having surged 1.2 times to an average of 4.2 hours per user per week. This demand surge has forced telcos to gallop to 2- to 3-year capacity in a six-month period.
To enable rapid scaling telcos to need a robust cloud strategy that brings in agility and provides the much-needed shift towards software centricity. Operators have to place microservices-based cloud-native agile Digital Platforms at the center of their strategy. This enables them to transform their core & operations from being vendor locked network & systems, to software-centric cloud-native network functions and open systems.
The traditional telco revenue stream has suffered due to falling ARPU and stiff competition from OTT and cloud players. However, with a robust cloud strategy telcos can gain back the upper hand by focusing on B2B segment, enterprises, and ad-agencies, to build a telco led ecosystem.
Today, the likes of Lyft, Uber, and Zoom bring in significant revenue to the cloud provider like AWS. A telco cloud market place will help the telcos earn their fair share in similar use cases in the future especially with the ushering in of cloud.
The global situation, the cyber-attacks, ransomware episodes, and increased cases of data security breaches, have once again brought back into focus Trust, Legislation, and Compliance. Telcos are better positioned than Cloud Providers (who are seen as global providers & beyond the governmental regulatory control) as trustable entities when national and sovereign interests become a priority.\
For this telco needs to fine-tune their business processes to be able to build a broader portfolio of solution ecosystem built by partners and 3rd party to enable them to operate as a SaaS provider, to be able to engage with customer-centricity like a SaaS provider and in the process improving operational efficiencies across core telecom systems. Telcos will need to build a business delivery platform to deliver their transformational technologies.
Telcos need to quickly move beyond the role of connectivity providers and become business enablers for digital transformation, by rolling out industry-specific vertical solutions. Today, we see the emergence of a new ecosystem where the telco is at the center.
PaaS and SaaS providers are racing to be part of this ecosystem. The recent partnership announcements between Services providers and digital native hyper scalar companies (like Reliance & Microsoft, Airtel & Amazon) is indicative of this new world order.
The cloud ecosystem has also become complex and telco strategies should have the right focus on emphasis on achieving a balance between
- Public, Private and Hybrid clouds
- Core vs Edge
- Hierarchical vs Centralized cloud
- Homogeneous vs Multi-Vendor clouds
V&D: How do these models individually and in combination offer significant benefits to the telecom network provider?
Rajagopalan Rajappa: As part of the cloud strategy Telcos need to focus on:
- Public cloud strategy
This will help in enabling SaaS use cases enabled by telco market place
- Private cloud strategy
Providing & Maintaining the IaaS, Security and Connectivity support to Enterprise Private Cloud
This is essential for catering to Enterprise and B2B segments.
With the advent of 5G-SA uses cases like smart factory and smart airport will gain traction and they can prove to be significant revenue generators
- Hybrid cloud strategy
For B2B segment Industry-specific solutions can help to extend the offering from mere connectivity to vertical-specific solutions (e.g. Tele-healthcare platform)
Flexibility to operate in a hybrid model will help achieve the right balance between accessibility and protecting the data privacy
- Edge & hierarchical cloud strategy
Build a complete Edge Cloud Infrastructure for enabling M2M and MEC use cases of 5G
For time-sensitive use cases of the future like Autonomous driving a nationwide Edge network with provide the apt connectivity with necessary QoS and latency attributes needed for agile responses. Hierarchical cloud brings in better manage-ability with the help of orchestrators. Investing in open platforms & technologies and focusing on cloud-native solutions will help telcos maneuver workloads across public, hybrid, and private clouds.
V&D: Conserving resources is the new normal business mantra for the post COVID world. What is your take on cloud’s role in conserving resources and the mantra to be frugal in business?
Rajagopalan Rajappa: Traditional network capacity planning has been designed for peak load capacity. In a world & era of moderate consumption, this can be a good strategy. However, sustaining maintaining data centers leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. Some of the world’s largest data centers can each contain many tens of thousands of IT devices and require more than 100 megawatts (MW) of power capacity — enough to power around 80,000 U.S. households (U.S. DOE 2020).
In a post COVID world, the demand surges would be sharper and consumption patterns are expected to be non-uniform. Telcos should accelerate the migration towards a software-centric network, leveraging SDN, NFV, cloud technologies, and derive its benefits of auto-scaling, orchestration proactive auto-remediation at every layer of the technology stack combined with effective ways of sharing infrastructure to make the entire network greener and bring in sustainability.
In addition, multi-access edge cloud leverages heterogeneous connectivity technologies towards unified data aggregation and governance policies simplifying business and lowering the cost & energy consumption.
While observing our telco customers, we see that their spend on cloud and data-centric technologies is gradually increasing. In data-centric technologies like Cloud, IoT, AI & Big Data telcos are investing in acquiring skillsets by investing in niche technology players & building hyper-scale cloud platforms through in-sourcing and outsourcing.
V&D: As India slowly plans for 5G in the coming years, the application of cloud services can be of great advantage to the telcos. How do you justify this?
Rajagopalan Rajappa: Although the spectrum auction still a year away the telco preparation for 5G roll-out has already been set in motion. We see many telcos and greenfield players already investing in the 5G enabler technologies.
5G enables offering differentiated services with a focus on M2M and Edge & the cloud. 5G opens up opportunities in IoT space with massive connectivity of devices, enabling small businesses, people in transit, and in creating new emerging revenue from smart spaces like metros, airports, railway stations, and amusement parks.
Especially in India where connectivity reach in the past had many untouched zones Greenfield 5G also will accelerate telemedicine, smart farming, distant learning. The Stand Alone mode of 5G holds promise in bringing high-speed connectivity to smart zones (universities, hospitals) and thereby providing accelerated transformation
Cloud-native solutions will become service providers’ future, as these enable greater agility, platform independence, cost reduction and will avoid vendor lock-ins. We will also begin to see an overall change in software and business processes, as continuous integration and continuous deployment become part of regular operations activities.
From an India specific context, the increased focus on data privacy, especially Personal Data Protection Law will necessitate that critical data centers are operated in India and managed by entities who are governed by government regulations. Telcos being a regulated sector will be at an advantage here.
Also the government’s focus on the Digital India initiative as well the plan for accelerating the transition of cities to Smart Cities will need the Cloud & Data-centric technology providers who can operate at scale and telcos will be the frontrunners.
Initiatives like Aarogya Setu will need a robust and secure cloud in the back-end. Similarly, rural health can immensely benefit from 5G-edge offerings and bring more people under healthcare cover, especially that in-accessible terrain. Work toward these solutions will need the right prioritization, the right strategy, and a long-term blueprint and these needs to begin much before the roll-out to monetize 5G effectively.