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5G journey with cloud-native and automation: foundation for killer apps

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Through every generation of wireless networking, my discussions with communications service providers (CSPs) have all centered around the same question: what’s the “killer app” that will help them attract more customers and grow revenues? With past generations, that answer has included text messaging, bandwidth, app stores, streaming video and other innovations that changed the way people used their mobile devices. But with 5G, things are different. This blog examines learnings that can be applied to CSPs anywhere in the world.  

Because 5G opens so many new opportunities in previously untapped enterprise markets, no single killer app can possibly apply across all verticals. What the healthcare sector wants from its 5G services will be quite distinct from the needs of organizations in the transportation industry, for instance.

So, what do I tell CSPs now? For 5G, the killer app will be the network itself — because it will be an enabler for quickly building and launching tailor-made services to meet the needs of customers with many different use cases across many different market segments. That’s the key to generating real business value in the 5G era: getting to market faster with new services while optimizing the costs of doing so.

Achieving that kind of flexibility and agility will require some groundwork to be established first. Just like I tell my yoga students, you can accomplish any pose by doing it right with step by step approach with awareness. Yoga is a journey of mind, body and soul. We will discover its true benefits when we work on the foundation holistically – connect with your body while doing any pose & watching your breath. In 5G, those critical steps should include establishing a cloud-native network core and adopting automation-driven continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD).

1. Cloud-native network core

At Nokia, we define a “cloud-native” network core as one that exhibits characteristics such as  microservices-based architecture with containers, infrastructure-agnostic software, open interfaces and APIs.

While many CSPs have embraced the idea of going cloud-native, many are trying to determine whether the best approach is to go with containers over bare metal or containers on top of virtual machines (VMs).

To me, the answer is clear, especially when looking at the long-term implications. Containers over bare metal bring much-needed simplification to the network because there are fewer layers to manage, resulting in greater agility and flexibility. Plus, without that layer of virtualization between the hardware and software, CSPs benefit from improved efficiency as well optimized total cost of ownership (TCO) through reduced capital and operating expenses.

When working with CSPs across North America, we found that designing deployments of Nokia IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) as Cloud-native Network Functions (CNFs) using containers over bare metal will help reduce TCO by 20% to 30% when compared to Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) using Virtual Machines (VMs). These savings come largely from our platform-agnostic software functions, load-balancing capabilities and zero-touch services. That said, cost optimization will vary from CSP to CSP depending on their current use of VMs and whether extensive transformation is needed to deploy containers over bare metal.

diagram key principle

Figure 1: key principles

2. Continuous integration and continuous deployment

CI/CD is a methodology for streamlining and automating the way software is developed, tested, delivered and deployed. It's about building and releasing new applications and services faster and more frequently — and with 5G, this is especially important. The current mode of operations, where software releases are dropped twice a year, will not be able to meet the dynamic demands of today’s enterprises. CSPs must be able to quickly introduce new services, for any market segment or vertical.

With CI/CD, the process of taking software from availability to production deployment can be reduced from about 100 days down to just 4 or 5 days. This is possible because of extreme automation: with CI/CD, there are no manual steps for testing and deployment.

Nokia's real-world experience with a Tier 1 CSP in North America found that highly automated CI/CD helped improve time to market by up to 70% (after taking into account other commercial activities in addition to production deployment).

A holistic approach to 5G transformation

I’m working with several different CSPs to align their business strategy with the network and operations transformations required to succeed with 5G. Some CSPs have decided to start with cloud-native deployment and are now implementing automated CI/CD methodologies. Others began with CI/CD and are now looking to introduce cloud-native network functions. Similar to yoga, variations in pose are required depending on the stage of yogic journey that a person is in.

No matter which approach they take, to get the agility and flexibility needed for 5G, CSPs must do things right from the very beginning of the process. Again, much like yoga, it requires a holistic approach with harmony of body and mind, or network and automation. It means not searching for one killer app but instead looking at the network in total and how it can serve as an enabler of real business value.

In a subsequent blog, you’ll get a closer look at why a Tier 1 North American CSP chose a cloud-native core and CI/CD as part of their 5G journey. Meanwhile, learn more by exploring our 5G Core interactive infographic or reading our thoughts about 5G voice services.

Until then, you can share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using the hashtags #5G #cloudnative #automation.

Shweta Kapur

About Shweta Kapur

Shweta Kapur is a solution sales manager for Nokia Sofware’s core networks portfolio. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, starting her career as a network engineer before moving into technical sales and business development. She is known for proposing customer-centric solutions that perfectly align with the business strategies of service providers around the world. She brings rich experience from India & North America markets. A health and wellness coach, Shweta enjoys helping people discover themselves through yoga.

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