Networks in 2030:
Why an open future is essential
The year is 2030, eight years from now. An alert flashes up in the control center of an electricity provider in New Hampshire. A power line in a remote and mountainous area of the state has become shrouded in ice, threatening to disrupt supply to residents in the depths of winter.
This is a resilient energy grid, powered by new technologies. A vast network of sensors has already identified the sections affected and a swarm of de-icing drones has been automatically scrambled, working together to scrape ice from the wires. The alert to the control center includes streaming video from the drones, showing that the issue has been fixed – and an outage avoided.
This is just one small snapshot of how our world in 2030 will use advanced technologies to become more efficient, automated, and sustainable. It’s a world in which the metaverse will be well on the way to becoming reality: combining concepts like digital twins, extended reality (XR) and digital-physical fusion to allow us to create, collaborate and communicate in ways we’re only just starting to imagine.
Openness will drive network innovation as we move towards 2030
Underpinning everything in our technology vision of 2030 is the network. None of the benefits of the other technologies can be achieved without robust, secure and high-performance networks to connect people and things, and to transport vast volumes of data instantaneously.
As the operators of 5G-Advanced and future 6G networks, CSPs should find this an exciting prospect. But the surge of innovation needed to create value in the 6G world will mean making fundamental changes to the way networks are designed, built, operated, maintained and monetized. And as we’ve noted before, a more open and collaborative approach will be essential to success.
”Nobody can do this alone anymore,” says Jonne Soininen, Head of Open Source initiatives at Nokia, and a member of the Nokia Strategy and Technology organization responsible for producing our Technology Vision 2030. “You need ecosystems, you need partners, you need co-operation.”
Openness is crucial because of the way networks need to evolve to support new applications and business models. In our vision for 2030, the network has a number of critical characteristics that will require open collaboration at both the business and technology level.
Open standards will enable a new, ubiquitous network of networks
A “network of networks” will see fixed, mobile and satellite networks working seamlessly together to provide universal, high-speed, high-capacity coverage. Open standards play a key role here, requiring collaboration across and beyond the telecoms industry – especially as the current trend towards deglobalization creates the risk of standards fragmentation.
Luckily, this is an area where the sector already excels. “We have a great history in telecommunication of working on standardization and ensuring compatibility and interworking at a global scale,” says Chris Jones, VP of Strategic Partnerships in Nokia’s Strategy and Technology organization. “When that has been achieved, we’ve always had great successes.”
The network of networks will connect everyone and everything, ensuring nobody misses out on the benefits of the new, immersive, physical-digital world. CSPs will be called upon to extend coverage to underserved locations and communities, which can present new opportunities for those prepared to embrace openness.
Oi Brazil, for example, has opened up its mobile infrastructure to other CSPs, transforming its business from struggling mobile operator to flourishing neutral host. “We have a lot of infrastructure assets on the ground, and by allowing this neutral network to serve all of the operators in Brazil, we will maximize our return on those assets,” explains Rodrigo Abreu, Oi Brazil’s visionary new CEO.
Specialized solutions demand an open approach to innovation
One of the biggest evolutions required of the world’s networks – and of the CSPs who deliver them – will be the ability to support a huge variety of consumer and industrial use cases. The applications used by the utility provider we saw at the start will be very different from those required by an automated factory or a cloud gaming provider, for example.
Meeting those needs will require CSPs to work with webscalers, ISVs, hardware providers and others to develop specialist solutions. That means a big shift in operating model – from sole provider to ecosystem player. “CSPs are realistic enough to know they can’t be the sole delivery vehicle for all services,” says Jones. “But their role will have to change, otherwise they’ll be relegated to a utility-type model of connectivity, which many feel is not a role they want to play.”
According to Soininen, part of the challenge is that it’s not easy to foresee all of the areas where new solutions will be needed, so it’s essential to have a model that allows for on-the-fly collaboration. “It’s important to have a mindset of not determining beforehand what’s needed, but being open to new use cases that come through players that might not exist today,” he says.
New paths to profitability in the ecosystem
Nokia and Omdia discuss which 5G ecosystems offer the most potential for CSPs, and how CSPs can maximize their value in an ecosystem environment.
Open APIs and network-as-a-service delivery will be key
Building the innovative, network-centric services of the future won’t just require greater openness at the business and partnerships level. The network itself will need to be more open, so its functions and data can be easily incorporated into new solutions – not least, so that those solutions can deliver on business-critical promises of network reliability and performance.
This is ushering in a new world of network-as-a-service, where flexible components and open APIs will be the key to success. “If there isn’t openness in the network, it can’t fulfil the requirements of the changing era,” says Soininen. “Networks are not going to be as monolithic as they were before. Everything that can be offered as a service will be offered as a service.”
For Jones, open APIs are one way CSPs can look to deliver value in an ecosystem environment, and avoid being relegated to the plumbing layer. “Service providers will have to open up their networks as a platform for others to build on,” he says. “This is what the webscalers have done very well with the cloud, and it’s where network companies have to go as well.” Where CSPs have the advantage over webscalers, he says, is in their local connections into industry, government and community, which can open doors to opportunities that the webscalers are too big to address.
A key challenge will be effectively monetizing those open APIs, which will entail finding a revenue model that works for the CSP and for network users. “The last thing people want to do is pay another $10 per month for every device connected to the network,” says Jones. “The ability to scale up and down in real time, and only pay for what you use, is an innovation from cloud that we need to adopt more in the networking world.”
An internal culture shift will be essential
The need for ubiquitous high-performance networks and complex network-centric solutions will require large-scale collaboration, which means that every player in the industry must shake off the urge to build walls around its technology stack and customer relationships.
One of the most important aspects of that transition is achieving an organizational culture where openness is the default setting. For long-established players with an entrenched mindset, that may only be possible with a change of personnel or dedicated training and coaching.
“It’s a fundamental culture change, so a refresh is needed with respect to new thinking and new talent coming in,” says Jones. That can be a tough path to take, but the alternative is even more unthinkable: “If it doesn’t happen within what we traditionally call the telco sector, it will happen elsewhere and overtake the telco sector.”
Time to build the hyperconnected world of 2030 together
The possibilities of 2030 and beyond are starting to come into focus as we move towards 5G-Advanced and new, game-changing 6G networks. While we can’t imagine all of the ways the network will enable our lives in the next decade, what is clear is that no one player can go it alone.
The only way forward is for CSPs, vendors, webscalers, developers and customers to work together to innovate the applications and services of the future – from resilient energy grids to metaverse-style immersive experiences. That will require walls to come down and a new culture of openness to take their place. It may at times feel like an uncomfortable journey, but the reward will be worth it.