Virtualisation and the development of 5G will allow old dogs to learn new tricks, says Jeff Edlund, widely regarded as one of the industry’s leaders in thinking about the transformation that it is going through.
It’s not clear that telecoms operators would welcome being described as “old dogs”, but Edlund believes that network functions virtualisation (NFV) brings them new opportunities in their wish to create new markets and to compete against over-the-top (OTT) providers.
“If carriers play it right 5G will give them the opportunity to move out of the connectivity business and the data bandwidth business and take them into an era where they can monetise a whole set of services,” says Edlund, who is chief technology officer for the communications and media solutions division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
That doesn’t mean telecoms service providers will leave their current business models behind; nor does it mean that OTT providers will drop out of the market. “But we have the opportunity to teach old dogs new tricks” thanks to the arrival of NFV and 5G, he says.
How come? “In 5G one of the hot topics that people are talking about is network slicing,” he says. “That’s a way of – in essence – dividing a network up into slices with different characteristics in terms of quality of service and other features.”
Operators could sell those features, says Edlund. “For example, a carrier could set up a network slice specification designed for Facetime,” he says. The quality of service would be designed to give good performance for Apple’s video communications service.
“You could implement this as a two-sided revenue model,” he muses. The operator could go to Apple and ask it to pay for the service – giving iPad and iPhone users a better experience – and then could sell it to its own subscribers “for example, at $1.99 a month on top of their broadband deal”.
HPE was separated out in 2015 from the original Hewlett-Packard, which still makes computers and printers. “We are turning ourselves into a very highly focused company,” says Edlund, who has been there since the unified HP days. “We are turning the company into what our customers want it to be. We are more agile, and less oriented to selling boxes.”
Era of disruption
Echoing a theme that is familiar from many virtualisation advocates, Edlund says: “We’re in an unbelievable era of disruption. Four-and-a-half years ago everyone was talking about NFV. Last year the internet of things (IoT) was making an appearance, but people were still talking about NFV. Now, everyone is starting to connect and align the dots.” So, what is the benefit of virtualisation? “NFV gives us much more agility,” he says. “It releases innovation, and it is helping to ignite IoT.”
He returns to the idea of network slicing. “The opportunity to create slices to do different things that the network doesn’t do” is one of the significant characteristics that will be welcomed by the market, he suggests.
“For example, you could run a narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) service on low-power 5G. You can create a slice that is tuned for delivering those services, as a mobile virtual network. You wouldn’t have to build a separate network.”
There are other business models that the mobile industry is examining, he says, “in order to help monetise better 5G”. There’s a feature called service capability exposure function (SCEF) that will sit on top of the evolved packet core in order to exchange capacity between carriers, services and devices.
“A carrier could offer SCEF as a service in the cloud, charged per subscriber, at a rate per app, or in terms of compute time,” he suggests.
But HPE is also looking at edge computing, as a way of providing corporate enterprise mobile services without driving traffic on to the core. The flexibility of the latest mobile technology means that Wifi can be used where appropriate, or a mixture of cellular and Wifi. Authentication could be done on cellular with traffic moved to Wifi.
“There are opportunities for the service provider in exposing LTE to the enterprise, without this being a threat,” says Edlund. Enterprises could use a small-cell network on their campus for in-house communications, and moved on to a carrier’s network only where they are external. “This is a way of conserving resources for the carrier.”
HPE is already doing proofs of concepts for mobile edge computing, he says, without giving details. “I think 5G is going to happen on schedule. You’ll have early adopters, but then mass adoption a couple of years later.”