DTT Section 4: Addressing Technological And Operational Challenges

TM Forum, the industry association driving digital transformation through collaboration, released the results from its third bi-annual Digital Transformation Tracker (DTT). Carried out from June to August 2018, the global survey of more than 200 communications service providers (CSPs) and their technology suppliers tracks the progress of the telecoms industry’s digital transformation. Here’s a summary of Section 4, which takes a closer look at the new relationship CSPs are developing with suppliers and how they’re addressing the operational challenges.

Section 3 of this report describes how operators deal with roadblocks for network transformation such as the impact of NFV and SDN on security. Read the full summary on our blog post DTT Section 3: Where are the Roadblocks for Network Transformation?

CSPs Embrace Software

TM Forum’s survey and conversations with CSPs indicate they are adopting a larger technology role. Large operator groups are building their own teams of software developers using open source technologies.

Most CSP respondents expect significant growth in the number of software developers employed by their organizations in the next three years. Seven respondents representing seven different CSPs said their companies already employ more than 5,000 developers, and six, who reported having fewer than 250 software developers in 2015, said they expect the number to increase to 1,000 to 2,000 by 2021.

Operational Challenges With Suppliers

For large operator groups, network transformation represents an opportunity to seize control of technology and roadmaps, and to transition from traditional vendor-buyer relationships with suppliers to true partnerships.

Whether this is also true for smaller communications service providers is debatable. Indeed, there is a strong likelihood that regarding the technology and services they provide, vendors will engage differently with CSPs that don’t have the expertise, resources or desire to bring technology and software know-how in-house.

New Methodologies

Developing software requires CSPs to acquire new skills and change the structure of their organizations. This means embracing Agile software development and DevOps practices, and creating small, cross-functional teams. Many operators are doing both.

TM  Forum’s survey indicates that CSPs are adopting DevOps within IT departments more than they are within network departments, which isn’t surprising given the slow deployment of NFV and SDN, but they are beginning to use DevOps for networks, sometimes referred to as NetOps.

Introducing DevOps into existing departments and functions is challenging, so most operators are starting in new parts of the business – for example, divisions focusing on the internet of Things (IoT). But this can result in islands of DevOps.

Investing in R&D

To expand their own software development leveraging open source technology, CSPs must invest significantly in research and development (R&D), but industry data shows this isn’t happening. Earlier this year, Light Reading analyzed R&D spending by six large CSPs (AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, and Telefónica), three network equipment providers (Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia) and two hyperscale providers (Facebook and Google) from 2013 to 2017. The results likely made for some uncomfortable reading in the service provider community.

While the operators’ collective spending on R&D declined by 12% over the four-year period, the vendors’ spending increased by 108%, and Google’s and Facebook’s increased by 185%. In 2017, for every dollar the CSPs spent collectively on R&D, Google spent $5.

CSPs could address the huge discrepancy in R&D spending by pooling their investments. Indeed, several are contributing software code into open source communities such as ONAP, and many collaborate on information and data models and application program interfaces within standards-development organizations such as TM Forum.

Is ONAP the Answer?

ONAP is emerging as the preferred platform for orchestration and automation of virtual network functions. Members of the group, which is a merger of two separate open source communities, include AT&T, China Mobile, China Telecom, Orange, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone. The companies are tailoring their in-house software capabilities so that they can leverage the work of groups like ONAP.

But open source is not a realistic option for most medium-sized and small operators.

A Radical Change For OSS/BSS

Operations cannot be an afterthought if CSPs hope to succeed at transformation. A new way of collaborating is required. As noted, CSPs and suppliers have been working together within TM Forum to develop the Open Digital Architecture, which is envisioned as a replacement for traditional OSS/BSS. ODA offers a standardized blueprint enabling vendors to participate in a marketplace for reusable solutions to common business challenges.

ODA is a collection of several artifacts or assets (architecture processes, best practices, standards, and tools) designed to help CSPs and their suppliers reimagine and evolve OSS/BSS to:

  • Exploit the flexibility of cloud
  • Lower operational costs through automation
  • Support flexible business models
  • Support multiple suppliers
  • Improve time to market with new services
  • Support digital ecosystems

To access the full report, refer to TM Forum web page.

If you would like to read a summary of each section of the report, go to:

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