Network as Code to drive programmable networks to accelerate monetization
In our October, 2022 blog we discussed “Network as code. 5G’s new currency?”. Let’s take that conversation to the next level. We were speaking about a way for the powerful capabilities within 5G-era networks to be accessed by application developers to enrich the experience of their customers. In principle, this is not a new concept. In fact, the Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) concept is already doing this. In this blog we are discussing a path to go beyond the initial capabilities enabled by CPaaS platforms, what additional values can be accessed within these modern networks and how to go about this.
An ecosystem marketplace needs to unfold.
In a word, we are talking about a marketplace where network providers supply capabilities from within their networks and developers access those capabilities to deliver value to their downstream customers and constituents. Commonly referred to as a digital ecosystem, a way for collaboration among participants.
This leads to two threads; what are these additional capabilities and, what is needed to make this happen. Let’s take those one at a time. The Telecom API Market is already underway with the values provided by CPaaS. Research by Arthur D. Little projects this market to grow an additional $26Bn yearly by 2030 based on the additional capabilities within these modern era networks. The original capabilities of CPaaS were Voice, Video and Messaging. By opening-up access to those capabilities, developers were able to integrate them into service chains relevant to their application purpose. Simple example, the ability for an Uber passenger to text or call to their driver directly via the Uber app.
For this next range of capabilities, we see two additional groupings above and beyond CPaaS: Advanced capabilities (available now beyond CPaaS), and 5G capabilities. And within each of these groupings, the capabilities are either network or user/device related. For example, the ability for an app to access network traffic and policy to affect service level qualities or, the ability for an app to access user/device information like location and device status. These Advanced capabilities can be accessed in modern-era networks now, while others are uniquely characteristic within 5G (e.g., 5G SA).
Now let’s look into what must be done to get a marketplace or digital ecosystem like this to work. Certainly, APIs play an important role as the method for participating systems to interface. And we see considerable movement among industry groups such as CAMARA, 3GPP and others making great strides to bring some order around the API subject including definitions, standards, conformity, etc.
For this ecosystem to be successful, there needs to be a way to tap into these complicated network capabilities and provide simplification for developers and that means more than just APIs. Let’s break the developer journey into two phases to illustrate this point: the development phase and the runtime phase. The runtime phase is simple, that means the development has been done, the application is up and running and the application triggers the required network capabilities through API calls. But how about the development phase, the developers need help to understand the essential capabilities that they can access from within these networks – capabilities never-before exposed for their use. A bit of a chicken and egg situation. Since these kinds of network capabilities have never previously been made available to 3rd party developers, they aren’t readily understood. They will need help to nurture their understanding of the capabilities, they will need sample code artifacts and sandboxes to test into. In other tech ecosystems such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the developers have working familiarity with the capabilities within the infrastructure that they are requesting. But to be effective with these emerging Advanced and 5G capabilities, they will need a lot of help.
What is Nokia doing about it?
Nokia has already been working with several network operators and application developers to establish working prototypes. Each one of these are tied to industry or consumer-related use cases with real world relevance. True to the spirit of a marketplace ecosystem vision, it is an iterative process of collaboration to get the first few use-cases to take shape with each member making technical and business contributions. We are working toward a centralized platform to energize this new paradigm, to provide the required simplification of technical network capabilities and to facilitate broad collaboration at scale. Here is a glimpse of some exciting examples at the Nokia Arena in Tampere, Finland.
Nokia is also working closely with open-source initiatives like CAMARA and other standards groups to support their efforts to bring more clarity and consistency to API constructs. Through Nokia’s innovation labs we apply our deep understanding of all network domains and cloud-native principals to provide testing and development assistance to these initiatives.
What’s the plan?
For network providers to successfully participate and benefit in a marketplace ecosystem like this they will need to have important parts of their architecture and their operations in place. The commercial monetization models for an ecosystem like this will be based upon various “as a Service” consumption models which may require new back-office methods. It’s also important to have their networks fully cloud-native and addressable through programmatic interfaces, and having their operations processes automated with modern, intent-based orchestration and assurance methods. Their use of AI/ML and network-specific analytics will be instrumental to providing easier access to these new Advanced and 5G capabilities and, since the principle of a marketplace ecosystem is for 3rd party automated interaction, a comprehensive security program will provide the controls for access and egress into their networks as responsible ecosystem players.