View from the top – latest digital transformation insights from executives at TM Forum Digital Transformation World 2018

In May 2018, TM Forum held their annual flagship conference, Digital Transformation World (DTW), in Nice, France. This leading industry event was a rich and inspiring gathering of industry experts and CIOs/CTOs exchanging visionary ideas and sharing experiences about the latest advancement in our industry.

Below are some key takeaways and indication of future direction for our industry.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is becoming a critical necessity to achieve two vital objectives for Communication Service Providers (CSPs):

  • Agile delivery of complex real-time on-demand digital services to grow revenues. The upside is massive, with an estimated 1 Trillion dollars opportunity from the digital economy. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that CSPs can generate this decade an additional 190B$ in operating profits from delivery of digital services to consumers and enterprises
  • Extreme automation in support of the above objective and a way to reduce Opex by an order of magnitude. Here again the WEF estimates that CSPs can generate this decade an additional 100B$ in operating profit from zero-touch networks

From Telefonica to China Mobile, every major CSP wants to re-organize its existing assets (physical network, OSS/BSS, CRM,..) and newer capabilities (cloud, SDN/NFV, big data/analytics, IoT platform, autonomic service assurance,..) and offer them in the form of a layered vertical digital platform (IaaS/PaaS/SaaS) with differentiated services for various industry verticals. Building cloud-based global platforms that can be exposed to customers (enterprises and industry verticals) is expected to become a leading business model for CSPs, as they transform into Digital Service Providers (DSPs). And to properly monetize these new business models, CSPs will need two key enablers (among others):

  • Ability to properly slice their network to deliver the right grade of service per use case and per customer
  • Ability to assure the end-to-end SLAs required by these various customer use cases, especially for latency sensitive services such as driverless cars or healthcare. This end-to-end assurance has to cover the service delivery chain across core and edge Telco/IT cloud.

Adoption of cloud

An essential component of digital transformation is transition to private and public cloud architectures with microservices, containers and open APIs. This provides telco and IT cloud capabilities to run NFV and SDN networks and deliver digital services in an agile way. The elastic scalability provided by the cloud is a pre-requisite to delivering digital services.

While telco cloud is mainly running in a private cloud environment, essentially powered by Openstack or VMware infrastructure, the IT cloud can run in a hybrid cloud environment. We are witnessing an increased interest from CSPs to turn to a public cloud-based SaaS model for some of their IT systems, including OSS, BSS, service assurance and analytics.

The SaaS and public cloud model provides key business benefits, such as reducing the risk and cost of procuring the infrastructure and having an elastic solution that can scale with digital service revenues. We have witnessed many examples of CSPs having deployed systems in AWS or Azure cloud and in this context we are proud to deliver the industry’s first scalable service assurance solution on AWS to Three in the UK, who are deploying the world’s first fully virtualized core network.

NFV: slowly but surely

NFV architecture deployment is still at a relatively early stage, with CSPs focusing for the moment on rolling out the telco cloud and certifying their first VNFs.  Large scale NFV deployment needs a solid business case, which is a struggle today given the high value of physical network assets deployed that haven’t depreciated. Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) is at the design stage with some RFPs out. TOSCA is garnering support as the de facto modelling language for network services. There is limited maturity of assurance/fulfilment closed loop integration and very limited information present in the descriptors exposed by service orchestrators. But with SDN the key business case gaining traction is Enterprise SD-WAN. CSPs want to offer this agile connectivity service and monetize it and in doing so, turning their attention to assuring SD-WAN SLAs as a key priority.

MYCOM OSI have already delivered a world class service assurance solution for hybrid (NFV/SDN/physical) networks covering and correlating the entire stack from NFVi, to VIM, VNF, NFV-O and network services. We co-presented this solution at DTW with Three UK.

Game changer: 5G and AI

The two game changers that the industry is betting on are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G. The combination of these two powerful technologies will enable a host of new real-time digital services, such as intelligent edge connectivity for Industry 4.0. Many CSPs announced their plans for starting 5G PoCs in the second half of this year, and the GSMA is expecting 5G to spur Capex investment totalling 500B$ in the coming 3 years.

With 5G enabling the connectivity of a great variety of IoT devices, appliances, industrial machines and vehicles, the network will have to instantly and dynamically cope and adapt itself to all those new devices that have unpredictable behavior, delivered via network slices with dedicated QoS. That is why AI is critical, as it will be constantly learning and building the corresponding intelligence rules. AI will therefore render the whole operation of the network predictive, ‘autonomic’ and truly zero-touch.

This is also why MYCOM OSI participated in two interesting TM Forum Catalyst proof of concept projects at DTW this year, displaying the AI-powered analytics and assurance of innovative digital services (IoT, broadcast and UHD video) over a 5G network and in particular closed loop assurance of dynamic on-demand 5G network slices.

Open ecosystem

CSP revenues will come from new complex digital services combining the CSP’s digital assets and their partners’ platforms. Some services will have a very short time span and be scrapped if the market doesn’t adopt them. In this context, CSPs are seeking open architectures, relying on open standards and common open source that give them the flexibility to reconfigure their network, systems and platforms instantly and at very low cost.

AT DTW, we witnessed the growing industry interest in the AT&T-backed ONAP project and the Telefonica-backed OSM. We also witnessed growing adoption of TM Forum’s Open APIs, included as part of ONAP. This is encouraging, as MYCOM OSI is a signatory to TM Forum’s Open API Manifesto and has been one of its contributors and early adopters.

In one of the Catalysts at DTW we demonstrated how our service assurance solution could integrate with ONAP’s policy manager in two ways. We previously demonstrated the integration with ONAP’s Virtual Entity Streaming, and in the future we are considering distributing some ONAP modules such as A&AI. We have also demonstrated integration with OSM’s catalogue for automated on-boarding, ingestion and assurance of network services and functions.

Partnership for innovation

One interesting theme that emerged in this conference and was discussed at the CTIO Summit, is the desire for a new relationship between CSPs and their suppliers. Instead of the traditional vendor-CSP relationship driven by RFP procurement processes that last months or years, CSPs are looking for a true partnership where both parties co-invest and collaborate in an agile way to bring innovations. This can take the form of proof of concepts where both parties contribute their inputs and review the progress of the development on a regular basis. This is what we have been doing for some time using DevOps agile development with customer input and development reviews and demos every two weeks. In addition, the DevOps process, coupled with a continuous integration and delivery platform, allows us to push innovations from our labs to the customer’s production environment in a fast, low cost and continuous manner.

Industry recognition: MYCOM OSI wins TM Forum Award for Operational Transformation and Agility

MYCOM OSI have anticipated and embraced the above trends and set about revolutionizing service assurance concepts that have stood for 30 years. We built an innovative cloud native architecture that complies with TM Forum’s excellent Open Digital Architecture (ODA) framework and collapsed the silos that have existed between network, service and customer dimensions. By augmenting service assurance with advanced analytics and automation, we have turned service assurance into a powerful “digital brain” that can govern and assure the digital services and network operations autonomously. The gains are considerable, from cutting digital services deployment time by 75% to automating up to 95% of operations. The use of AI enables an ‘autonomic service assurance’ platform that can be exposed to assure a host of complex value-added services such as Network as a Service and IoT.

In recognition of the above, we were honored to receive the TM Forum Excellence Award 2018 in Operational Transformation and Agility.  The jury commended us for transforming this sector faster than anyone else, and for delivering the first solution of its kind based on public cloud to Three UK.