Network transformation among operators 'lower than expected'

The rate of network transformation within the telecoms industry has been slower than expected, despite a general acknowledgement among communications service providers (CSPs) that virtualisation and other technologies are essential for Digital Transformation.

TM Forum’s Digital Transformation Tracker surveyed more than 200 CSPs and their suppliers and found that although awareness of the benefits of network transformation was prevalent, technical and business barriers to adoption are still present within the market.

Digital Transformation presents fixed and mobile operators the opportunity to become more agile and efficient through the transformation of network architecture and the rapid rollout of new services, increasing revenue and generating new sources of income.

Aside from new network technologies, many operators are digitising customer service operations and are overhauling their legacy IT systems.

Network transformation

Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) technologies are a key component of this shift, allowing operators to move functions around their networks using software, moving them from the core to the edge – closer to customers.

For mobile operators, this is essential for delivering the low latency promise of 5G.

However, nearly half of CSPs have still not developed a business case for virtualisation. Some struggle to define what Digital Transformation means for their organisation, while others are unable to reconcile the differing objectives of various projects or to develop relationships between the IT, network, consumer and enterprise divisions of the organisation.

There has been some progress, with 32 percent deploying NFV in their core networks and 36 per cent have either rolled it out at the edge or deployed virtual customer premise equipment (vCPE). Only 23 per cent have no time table for virtualisation, but experts did believe the industry would be further along at this stage.

“The telecoms industry first started to embrace the concepts of network virtualisation and software-defined networking eight or nine years ago,” said Mark Newman, chief analyst at TM Forum. “This progress is a positive thing, albeit a lot slower than expected. However, the deployment of these virtual network functions has not had the transformative impact that many CSPs were hoping for. As a result, many are now moving beyond virtualization to full network cloudification.”

However, should operators look towards cloud technologies to accelerate adoption, then it would be unwise to tackle network transformation in isolation and that other elements of Digital Transformation should also be considered.

“The benefits of network transformation can only be achieved by using cloud-native software that can be modified through DevOps practices and easily integrated with solutions from suppliers using open source. But it also requires CSPs to address network and operations transformation at the same time. If operators deploy new network capabilities without factoring in operational issues – for example OSS/BSS transformation – they risk complications further down the line.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.