How open Network DevOps platforms can enable new revenue applications and services
The difficulty of developing applications to use LTE 3/4G network functions
Developing applications to use LTE 3/4G network functions has been a difficult task, limited by complex access to network services and features. We’re all familiar with applications like Uber which use network functions such as geo location and event notification services. With the advent of 5G networks which have open architectures, it is now possible to render and expose most of not all of the network functions making them easily available through API’s to application developers to create a vast array of new and exciting value generating services like Uber but better.
Future growth for CSP’s and MSO’s is in enabling value for enterprises through applications
To sustain and ensure future revenue growth, all network providers will need to quickly transform beyond selling just connectivity, to offering an open network application platform to allow enterprise customers to quickly, and easily develop, and connect applications to network functions and features, to seize sustainable market and revenue generating opportunities.
This open network application concept brings together and exposes the most powerful functions of 5G networks in an ecosystem Dev/Ops framework to tap into network access configuration and control such as slicing and private wireless to edge compute, AI/ML and IoT Sensors. This is a proven concept from the WEB2.0 world, which is now available to fully leverage network functions and infrastructure inside applications to deliver new use cases like VR/AR, Robotics, situationally aware intelligent services for all industry vertical sectors.
Why LTE based apps were difficult to develop and monetize
Up until 5G, networks and functions were not open or easily accessible, making rendering of these powerful functions difficult to expose or call from operational or commercial applications. Applications whether accessed from fixed or wireless networks have always been designed specifically with the access network in mind, and as such were limited and not easily portable and accessible from other network types.
Historically every network has its own separate and unique set of IT systems providing a common set of functions from access control AAA (Authorize, Authentication and Accounting), security, entitlement, device management, network feature control such as policy, speeds etc. Applications running on or using networks functions and services had to be developed around the specific network elements all based on the specific access network such as Wi-Fi, DOCSIS, 4G etc.
Often networks are rigid and have limited visibility. Networks were always designed and built to deliver new connectivity and bandwidth capabilities, and applications and use cases were then built based on the network design. This is the opposite of the way most infrastructure is built, where the applications and use cases are defined first, then the solution is designed developed to support them around the constraints of the network design, and purpose.
How 5G network functions and features can enable a new world of value chain applications
The value generation potential of 5G networks are not just in the new network features like slicing, Massive Broadband Speeds, narrow band IoT, converged cores, or private networks, but in the new open architecture standards for Core and RAN.
5G networks are designed and built to be open, extensible and consumable, allowing operators to have full access and control of network functions and data, and to dynamical customize the network in real-time which will empower new high value creation application capabilities.
This open architecture of cloud-native, and programmable 5G networks is enabling networks to be commoditized new ways, enabling CSP’s to sell access to network functions and features in the form of “Neutral networks”, “network as a service”. Or “Network as Code” which is allowing enterprise customers to quickly, cost effectively, and easily self-design and deploy their own solutions and services on the 5G networks (public sliced or Private, or hybrid) , while securing, assuring, and monetizing their differentiating experiences.
New applications can differentiate and create new revenue streams by leveraging network for individual services, allowing the different network characteristics such as ultra-low latency; high-bandwidth; and network slicing use cases to have different pricing, charging rules and service level agreements.
For example, an application managing a remote sensing device such on a Drone could then automatically switch to a prioritized network slice when it detects a potential event of concern such as a fire, or other emergency, then instruct the network to shift its experience with latency and bandwidth to industrial-grade resulting in a dynamically increased value creation opportunity.
Why this concept is a proven approach from the Web 2.0 world
CSP’s and MSO’s are poised to replicate the power of the Internet open development model which resulted in amazing un-anticipated applications like Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Amazon, Uber, etc.
Since 5G network architectures are now open and cloud-native, decoupled into micro services and available in a SaaS model, and callable via open API’s, the complexities required to build applications which can tap into the power of the network have been removed. This new openness combined with the power of programmability and automation built into 5G networks, a larger set of features can be exposed by building horizontal communications platform capabilities, which increase participation in distributed value chains.
This means that enterprise applications for networks can now be designed, developed leveraging CI/CD (continuous Innovation and Continuous delivery), operationalized to scale at Hyper speeds at a fraction of the historical cost.
The transformative architecture feature is in the agile open interoperability and scalability of cloud native 5G services monetized by new enterprise applications.
What are the new network features application developers could access to create new value
New 5G network functions and features which if made easily available to application developers could enable a wide range of new applications for 5G network operators to monetize from enterprise customers.
Some of the more powerful network features callable via API’s include access authentication and authorization, policy, real-time convergent charging, device management, security, slice and speed control, and service catalogues which can bridge 5G and IT business functions, and analytics making it much easier to “open up” and subsequently monetize the network.
Other features which can be tapped to build powerful network based applications in include the NEF (Network Exposure Function), (NFaaS) Network Function as a Service, and (NAC) Network as Code. Network operations applications could be smarter by tapping into a higher level of performance and service intelligence insights through the new real network data and analytics function (NWDAF). With this new depth of insight, CSPs can unlock further opportunities for monetization and make a proposition which relies on quality of service (QoS) as a reality.
What does a 5G Open Network Dev/Ops platform look like?
This open platform would sit on top of all networks fixed and wireless, the access services, and between applications, development, combined with the basic operational B/OSS management tools required to build, deploy, secure, and orchestrate, and monetize applications to access and utilize functions and features from multiple networks.
App developers will be able to easily plug network functions and features into their apps to create new value and capability, allowing them to easily create new mission-critical applications or distributed service chains that rely on network connectivity, edge cloud and network insights to develop new applications.
Calling network functions from applications can be further enhanced using the (NaC) Network-as-Code approach which is a new way to abstract the complexity of networks and their operations, exposing “use case ready” capabilities through simplified programmable methods such as business APIs and SDKs.
NAC Combined with other network features such as NEF (Network Exposure Function) can further facilitate B2B2X across multiple vectors by building a 5G-based value-creation platform, bringing a much-needed shift in our industry through the building of a new business and technology frameworks, and through elevating the concept of distributed service chains to the mainstream in telecoms. The NEF is a critical piece of the puzzle as it facilitates secure, developer-friendly access to exposed network services, opening networks up to third parties to generate revenue opportunities.
This open platform ecosystem approach will empower developers to easily create new mission-critical applications or distributed service chains that rely on network connectivity, edge cloud and network insights to develop new applications.
Securing and trusting customer data in the open ecosystem
This new open development concept can accelerate monetization for all parties participating on the ecosystem, with built in secure data exchange (block chain), charging and monetization. The most critical component in this new model is in secure trusted sharing of customer data, which can be achieved through an open data marketplace component based on block chain technology. This capability will ensure the required level of privacy, control and security of customer data, while creating new opportunities for all parties to share in remuneration opportunities.
Telecom will evolve to enable the creation of the “Killer” app
So just in the same way the most innovative killer web applications were conceived, designed, and developed around an open ecosystem of micro services, trusted data sources, device, and network features like geo location, the telecom networks of the near future will evolve to enable the creation of new distributed “Killer” value applications to use the networks in ways unforeseen by network designers and engineers. This transformation to create more sustainable new revenue streams will likely start at the edge through private enterprise networks which can be more easily managed, and controlled via integration APIs by applications, then migrate to the larger public networks through cloud based open network horizontal dev/ops ecosystem platforms.