Cloud computing and 5G is getting real Story-level
Looking forward: One of the most famous quotes about the value of networks came from Scott Gage of Sun Microsystems in 1984 when he declared that “the network is the computer.” That old Sun slogan was more about the value of connecting computers and the concept of thin clients connecting to a centralized computing infrastructure than cellular networks. Yet it remains a concise, prescient synopsis of where the worlds of computing and telecommunications have been headed over the past three decades.
As it turns out, that sentence seems to be a pretty good summary of a lot of the biggest news coming out of this year’s MWC trade show in Barcelona as well. While it’s not feasible to put all the multi-vendor announcements at a big trade show on a single topic, the idea that 5G networks around the world are essentially being transformed into a cloud-connected, general-purpose computing infrastructure running specialized applications seems to cover a lot of the news of the program.
For starters, the GSMA’s own surprising debut of the Open Gateway Initiative points strongly in this direction. An industry association of the world’s largest telecom operators, the GSMA is not usually seen as the organization that drives technical standards (that’s the job of 3GPP).
With this Open Gateway effort, they gained the support of 21 major world operatorsincluding AT&T, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile’s German parent), Verizon, China Mobile, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone, among others, to agree on a new set of open source APIs for key network services such as location, eSIM support, quality service and more.
In addition, they are starting to support the cloud computing businesses of AWS and Azure. Working together, if all goes to plan, these and related APIs open source camera The project essentially creates a global mobile platform, separate from mobile phone operating systems, upon which developers of all shapes and sizes can start building new apps. It’s still early days, but the potential impact of this, particularly for carriers to start monetizing services on their expensive 5G networks, could be huge. This is definitely a development worth watching.
Another way of interpreting the theme “the network is the computer” is through the increasingly important and popular concepts of virtualized RAN or vRAN, and Open RAN or O-RAN, which allow key network functions to run on traditional computing servers on-premises or in the cloud. Not only was there a lot of vRAN and O-RAN-specific product associations and news coming from the show, but there were also several interesting evolutions of concepts discussed by traditional network equipment vendors like Ericsson, the newly rebranded Nokia, and Samsung Networks among others.
This development is quite ironic in the sense that one of the original arguments for Open RAN was to break the limitations of the proprietary hardware systems that some of these companies sold. In reality, however, it reflects that even these companies have recognized the flexibility and economic value of putting some of the core network functions and other capabilities that their hardware used to do in software form. It is essentially a recognition that even in the world of Multi-vendor O-RAN, large network equipment vendors still have an important role to play
Samsung Networks, for example, has introduced several new software tools that can run on general-purpose hardware. of the company vRAN 3.0 enables up to 3x higher throughput on Massive MIMO radios and offers several power efficiency enhancements, including sleep mode for low-traffic situations and a power saving feature that intelligently analyzes data traffic and adjusts power usage. power automatically. These types of power usage reduction features are important to operators because telecommunications networks consume large amounts of electricity, making them eager to find ways to reduce that power consumption. Samsung Networks also announced updates to its Cloud Orchestrator, which is intended to help streamline and automate the deployment of its vRAN software and manage the hundreds of thousands of cell sites in which it is deployed. The latest update also adds support for private 5G networks and public networks.
From a computing perspective, Intel introduced a new iteration of its latest server chip (codenamed Sapphire Rapids) that specifically incorporates hardware acceleration for software and telecom-related workloads. Officially dubbed “4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors with Intel vRAN Boost,” Intel claims the new platform can deliver the same Tier 1 packet processing performance as the best pluggable accelerator cards with the added benefits of a lower power consumption and does not require software to be developed for the proprietary chip architectures used in those cards. Along with Samsung Networks, Intel put some meat behind those claims by demonstrating what it said was the first 1 Tbps throughput in a 5G User Plane Feature (UPF) that connects data packets from the RAN to the core of the network. 5G network.
Cisco also made several important announcements at MWC 2023, including the launch of its IoT Mobility Services Platform, aimed at enabling enterprises to more easily manage a wide variety of connected devices and sensors, regardless of the underlying types of wireless technologies used. to connect. them. The goal is to simplify this often confusing and frustrating process. Speaking of simplification, the company also announced several partnerships with companies like Intel, NTT, and NEC to make the process of installing private 5G networks as easy as possible.
While not directly related to the “network as computer” theme, some of the most intriguing news from Cisco was the debut of the new Meraki gateways for 5G enterprise networks. One of the key challenges early adopters of private 5G networks have faced has been the difficulty of managing the network with the staff and skills they have in-house. The release of the MG51 should go a long way towards helping to address that issue by bringing the ease of use that Meraki WiFi gateways/routers are known for to the less understood world of private 5G. Additionally, Cisco and T-Mobile for Business announced a partnership to bring these MG51 gateways to businesses alongside T-Mo’s managed services offering. This enables T-Mobile to offer a Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) cellular-based Internet connectivity solution to small and medium-sized businesses across the US.
Google Cloud had three network offerings that targeted the underlying network transformation trends inherent in the “network is the computer” theme and exemplify the growing role that large cloud providers are beginning to play in the world. of telecommunications. Telecom Network Automation addresses multi-site deployment, management and automation using cloud-native Kubernetes-based tools that are at the core of the company’s cloud operations. Telecom Data Fabric offers tools to help collect data usage information on the network, which can potentially be used to monetize services. Finally, as the name suggests, Telecom Subscriber Insights automates the collection of data about network users, with AI-powered analytics that telcos can use to promote services and improve engagement and retention.
In all, there was a lot of 5G network related news from MWC 2023, much of it demonstrating a clear mix of traditional IT “compute” vendors with those who have specialized in pure network infrastructure equipment in the past. past. Partnerships are enabling a more powerful, unified set of offerings that has the potential to combine the best of both worlds. When the 5G cellular network becomes the computer, interesting things are bound to happen.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and the professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.