The Role of' 'Softwareization' in Carrier Networks

In a commoditized carrier landscape of ever-increasing complexity it is important to simplify the customer experience

Implementing both SDN and automation together brings the industry much closer to the reality of bandwidth on demand, mirroring the nearly instant dial-up of compute, storage and network services and the pay-as-you-go business model of the cloud. 

New Capabilities Empower Carrier Customers and their End Users

Software- and hardware-driven automation, data analytics, AI and machine learning provide tremendous opportunities and untapped potential when applied to backbone networks. Collaborations among vendors, carriers, and hyperscalers are already delivering PoCs and practical use cases in these areas—with more coming.

Especially important are the many open source hardware and software projects that push multivendor collaboration, as network operators require diverse solutions but need the network’s disparate parts to work seamlessly together. With carriers providing open APIs and the larger vendor marketplace involved, these projects are rapidly delivering more complex and robust solutions, with simpler GUIs and lower costs than previously siloed environments. The projects also foster greater communications with carrier customers as enterprises, data center providers, cloud operators, and hyperscalers can ask for exactly what they want in their solutions.

The “Fail Fast” philosophy that works well for software development is unacceptable to carriers that need to maintain reliable broadband where a “No Fail” philosophy better serves clients and customers that demand 100 percent reliability to support their business. With all the benefits of softwareization, many of the greatest strides have been made on the hardware side. Despite all the hype, many elements of pure software-based solutions have yet to be fully proven in the carrier community while open source software-enabled hardware has been proven to work.

In one hardware-based example, Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project has an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Project Group (AI/ML) that is making great strides to enhance intelligence in network operations for improved optimization and planning. Working on capabilities such as predictive maintenance, dynamic resource allocation, and customer behavior-driven service optimization will enable carriers to enhance the overall customer experience. Another example is the Open ROADM Multi-Source Agreement which defines interoperability specifications for Reconfigurable Optical Add/Drop Multiplexers (ROADM). Included within it are software control of the ROADM switch as well as transponders and pluggable optics with specifications for both optical interoperability as well as YANG data models. This is driving open, standardized interfaces among ROADMs with faster innovation, choice and competition among vendors.

On the software side, new SDN-enabled capabilities such VXLAN and network slicing—a key element built into 5G’s architecture—and new data center fabrics coupled with software innovations among hardware vendors are enabling instant bandwidth or bandwidth-on-demand services. This is a critical link transforming today’s carrier networks by delivering cloud-like agility and flexibility, allowing customers and their end users to dial broadband services up and down as needed. These technologies are also enabling new business models that blur the lines between enterprises and service providers by enabling the enterprise to more easily offer connectivity solutions to its customers that add value to the usual software or service offerings.

A significant benefit of owning your own backbone is that you can share a lot more network information with customers. New data-enabled customer portals and websites make customers’ interactions easier, faster and more intuitive—and give them greater transparency and visibility into their networks. Customers have instant visibility into their services, invoices, and any ongoing incidents, and they can see what’s happening in their network and anything that may affect them.

In a commoditized carrier landscape of ever-increasing complexity, it is important to simplify the customer experience. This requires carriers to offer a balance of automated technology—putting the customer’s networks at their fingertips—and real people solving problems in real time. Getting this balance right means constantly updating the tools and services provided to clients. After all, even with the latest technology in-between us the end goal is still the same: connecting humanity and enabling its ongoing innovation.


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