The network transformation journey can lead to diverse destinations

The network transformation journey can lead to diverse destinations

Read about telecommunications these days, and you’ll find no shortage of predictions of the amazing things communication service providers (CSPs) can do with network transformation. Smart factories, remote surgery, drone-based delivery, a “metaverse” of augmented reality (AR) experiences… the list goes on. All these innovations, and many others, are legitimate possibilities. And the business models they represent are very much in play for operators building new cloud, edge and 5G capabilities into their networks.

At the same time, the sci-fi future these use-cases represent tells just one side of the story. You don’t have to live on the cutting edge to benefit from modern telco cloud innovations. In fact, plenty of service providers use these tools to deliver solutions that might not show up on Star Trek, but that drive tremendous value for CSPs and their customers today.

Let’s explore the transformation journeys of two CSPs: Airtel Africa and KDDI. I sat down recently with these service providers, which operate in very different markets, serving different types of customers. And while their goals and strategies couldn’t be more different, both report major benefits from network transformation.

KDDI – building new experiences with 5G edge innovation

If you want examples of the more cutting-edge possibilities of network transformation, look no further than KDDI, one of Japan’s premier mobile operators. KDDI leads the pack in telco cloud and edge innovation, and should be among the first places we look to when contemplating possibilities for 5G.

The broader telecom industry has been talking about digital transformation for years; KDDI has actually done it. It has adopted agile software methodologies and DevOps to quickly develop, test and bring to market new services on its cloud-based network platform. In fact, KDDI has become so expert in agile software that it now offers services to help with customers’ own digital transformations.

Building on new edge investments, KDDI also now offers a public cloud-connected edge compute service for enterprise customers. And it has launched multiple proof-of-concepts to show what enterprises can do with edge cloud capabilities, including some of the most advanced AR applications you’ll find deployed.

KDDI has shown even greater leadership, however, in advancing 5G innovation. KDDI leaders don’t claim to know exactly what the future holds for 5G or which use-cases will prove most valuable. But rather than using that as an excuse for stagnation, KDDI is working directly with third-party innovators and customers to find out. The company has established the 5G Business Co-Creation Alliance, complete with a 5G co-innovation lab. KDDI invites technology partners creating new 5G applications, and enterprises interested in using them, to work together to develop new ideas using their 5G and edge infrastructure. When those ideas prove successful, KDDI and its partners can jointly bring them to market as new service offerings. For example, one joint effort is now a live service that one enterprise customer uses to control automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) on its factory floors, over public 5G networks.

Airtel Africa: overcoming market challenges with edge cloud transformation

KDDI is blazing an exciting trail in telco innovation, but its path is far from the only one. Consider an operator working with a very different set of circumstances: Airtel Africa.

Airtel Africa stands at a different place in its network transformation journey. Its customers have less interest in exploring new 5G possibilities – and indeed, Airtel Africa’s 5G plans are still several years out. African enterprise and consumer customers care very much, however, about getting reliable, always-on data services everywhere they need them. Given the unique challenges of the African continent – vast distances to cover, extreme geographic and weather variation, lack of power grid availability in many places – delivering that is no simple task. At the same time, those challenges create opportunities to use new telco cloud and virtualisation technologies in innovative ways.

In many African markets, mobile handsets serve as the primary gateway for consumers to access the digital world. As a result, Africa has become a natural testbed for mobile-first innovations, such as mobile money, which is more advanced there than in most European markets. African enterprises are also hungry for new options for secure, reliable data connectivity – especially in mining, where companies operate billion-dollar operations in hard-to-reach locations far from traditional IT infrastructure.

Airtel Africa aims to lead the market in meeting these needs, and others, with new cloud and virtualised data centre capabilities that it’s building at the network edge. These network enhancements enable Airtel Africa to position content close to consumers to provide a better digital experience, while delivering highly available data services to enterprises. Airtel Africa can scale edge services up and down with demand, while managing its multinational footprint from a centralised operations centre. And, as the edge cloud infrastructure grows, Airtel Africa can use new edge computing capabilities to offer fully-featured IT services to mining sites and other remote enterprise locations.

All of these advances draw on modern telco cloud and virtualisation technologies, which help Airtel Africa overcome the unique challenges of its market. The ability to virtualise core network functions, for example, means it can extend reliable network coverage and new digital capabilities to more places, quicker, and inexpensively. This is critical, as it would be enormously costly to deploy and maintain specialised hardware in many parts of the market, if it’s even possible at all.

Airtel Africa also uses extensive network automation – including sophisticated AI- and machine learning-driven self-healing capabilities – to fix network issues that previously took hours in minutes. In other markets, that level of automation might be a useful cost-saving exercise. For Airtel Africa, which struggles to hire skilled engineering personnel, it’s a fundamental requirement for meeting customer needs.

Where will your network transformation take you?

KDDI and Airtel Africa are clearly following very different paths on their transformation journeys. So which approach is best? Both are, because the “right” network transformation strategy is the one that solves your unique business problems and benefits your customers.

That’s the great thing about embracing cloud, edge and overall network transformation. Whatever your business strategy, you now have a versatile platform to execute it quicker, reliably, and at a lower cost. And, unlike yesterday’s networks, this platform is built to continually change and evolve. So, no matter where you’re starting your transformation journey, you can continually build on your investments to bring new possibilities to your customers.

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Originally published on Business Reporter