Tao Wenqiang, Chief Planning Engineer at ZTE, discusses the new networking trends ushering a transformation revolution in the telecom industry

The age of the Internet of Everything (IoE) is upon us, and by 2020, everything will be on its way to being digitalised. IoE will radically change the way people live and work, inspiring operators to modernize their networks by optimizing or reforming their service flows and business models. From the aspect of network service operation, operators not only need to rebuild their service core and explore new fields but also need to provide customised and intelligent services to meet personalised user requirements.

To cope with the challenges this will bring, a transformation revolution has been brought forth by global operators. For example, in 2016, Softbank purchased ARM for £24 billion to break into the Internet of Things (IoT) market, Vodafone bought Cobra for €145 million to enter the automotive industry, Verizon purchased core assets of Yahoo for $4.83 billion, and in a particularly large acquisition, AT&T bought Time Warner for $85.4 billion.

The common link between these acquisition cases is that they were driven by connection. Connection is the core control point, and the one who controls connection controls the portal of huge users. Strategically speaking, enabling, connection and synergy are key capability elements. Introducing Software Defined Network (SDN) infrastructure and application modes is the top strategy trend of global operators.

Telecom operators need to re-architect network infrastructure, build dynamic and flexible digital infrastructure based on cloud and transform themselves from traffic operation to intelligent service providers to provide tailored solutions and experience for users.

Opening up to the shared economy

Based on the above trend, it’s clear that telcos must pay special attention to the emerging trends in the fields of openness, ecosystem and shared economy. Openness re-architects the R&D mode to accelerate innovation. Ecosystem re-architects industrial structure to blur enterprise borders and enhance cooperation. Shared economy re-architects value networks to make value creation penetrate into each other and form networks.

Infrastructure re-architecting and network function re-architecting with the goals of sharing and agility should be the focus of telcos worldwide

Leading telcos are basing their plans for new network architecture on these three trends by: re-architecting the single-pipe network to an ICT integrated network; constructing a cloud network with completely cloudified infrastructure, cloud native network functions and dynamic resource orchestration; providing intelligent and digital services such as smart city, smart industrial park and IoT services to meet enterprise requirements for digital transformation and IT hosting; and on this basis, implementing auto data connection, addressing the requirements for intelligent automation, fast response and elastic open interconnection of flows using intelligent big data analysis, and achieving network operation re-architecting.

It’s also important for telcos to further promote decoupling of software and hardware. Complete cloudification of network infrastructure should follow the three-layer decoupling process: decoupling of hardware, Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) and network application. At the same time, they need to fully consider the difference between IT services and CT services.

Major services of IT cloud include public cloud of operators and private cloud of network management systems and IT support systems. Major services of CT cloud are carrier-class network services (such as vBRAS, vEPC and vIMS). The technical requirements of IT cloud and CT cloud are different (see Figure 1). It is suggested that  CT cloud and IT cloud are deployed independently. NFVI needs to enhance CT cloud to meet the requirements of telecom operators.

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Figure 1: Comparison of IT Cloud and CT Cloud Requirements

Boosting network re-architecting can be considered from three aspects based on three-layer decoupling, namely, network adaptation to service development, service efficiency first and ICT deep integration. At the same time, network re-architecting is divided into three parts: backbone network re-architecting, local network re-architecting and operation re-architecting. Based on the above ideology, the target architecture of network re-architecting can be outlined as shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Target Architecture of Network re-architecting

The core ideology of this target architecture is “Network as Datacenter”. The target architecture is a new ICT basic service platform, extending the cloud network to user terminals. Each network user is a VPC tenant of the data centre. The users are authenticated and served in a unified way, fully demonstrating the ideology of “Network as Datacenter”. The plan is to provide network and ICT services based on this to get differentiated competitiveness in the competition with Internet corporations.

But how can operators evolve smoothly to the target architecture? Here is a three-step strategic plan based on practical experience, as shown in Figure 3.

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Figure 3: Three-Step Strategy of Network Cloudification and Operation Transformation

The first step is Version 1.0 with virtualisation and decoupling of software and hardware as the goal. The second step is Version 2.0 focusing on infrastructure re-architecting to reach the goals of sharing and agility. The third step is the final goal to achieve operation re-architecting with innovative eco-system, big data intelligent operation and open DevOps capability as basic features.

Infrastructure re-architecting and network function re-architecting with the goals of sharing and agility should be the focus of telcos worldwide. They need to develop platforms to support customer network transformation towards sharing and agility with the capability of evolving to operation re-architecting and building innovative ecosystems.

The industry needs to join together to conduct continuous research on new development trends of networks and the telecom industry and actively participate in the innovative tide of transformation revolution. Looking forward to 2020, we are confident a new intelligent network will completely promote the ICT integration transformation of the telecom industry.