Paving the Way for Cloud-Native Mobile Networks

By: Anita Doehler, Klaus Moschner

At NGMN, we believe that appealing opportunities arise from the disaggregation of mobile networks. These include a more resilient ecosystem and supply chain, lower market entry barriers, increased competition and innovation, and greater flexibility. With disaggregation, mobile networks are ready to scale, gain agility, and—as expected today—deliver opportunities to significantly reduce overall costs. Operators will be better enabled to react to specific demand and to select only the functionalities needed to address such demand.

These benefits go together with expected challenges such as increasing complexities in interoperability, system integration, and efficient and resilient operation. All these aspects lead to the need for a significant transformation of the operating model. NGMN explores all such aspects in its strategic focus topic “Managing the Route to Disaggregation” with a focus on the end-to-end operating model.

Over the past years, mobile network operators have optimized their way of working, resulting in ease of integration, good performance, expected capacity, superior security, and resilience. New user demands and technologies like 5G necessitate and offer many use cases, and at the same time ask for a wide range of requirements to be flexibly implemented, near real-time. Disaggregation delivers the flexibility, for instance, for singular network component upgrades, supporting such requirements.

Network disaggregation gains momentum

In parallel, digital transformation has led to significant changes in the mainstream IT platforms moving to cloud-based technologies. This has resulted in a separation of functions from underlying hardware and even splitting of the functions and services into microservices with open APIs. By implementing these, network operators follow the general trends in IT. Expectations of reliability, security, resilience, speed, and low latency are very different for telecommunications networks than for IT networks in general. With the introduction of network slicing in 5G, a vast number of additional requirements surfaced that need to be considered.

Network disaggregation can be seen as both a consequence of digital transformation as well as an accelerator of this journey, and it can be observed broadly from two perspectives. The first is vertical disaggregation, in which network functions decouple software from hardware, allowing multiple combinations to be used. The second is horizontal disaggregation, in which established network functions are decomposed into more granular elements and new interfaces are designed and specified.

Ultimately, this creates more players able to develop specific components of the overall architecture, broadening the ecosystem and leading to an acceleration of innovation. The result is better, more cost-effective solutions.

Transformation factors and challenges

Consequently, networks are expected to become increasingly agile, flexible, and responsive. All these factors provide the means to deliver new communication services tailored to the user needs. This leads not only to new business opportunities but also many different services, which need to be managed and operated. Considering that those services are based on a multivendor ecosystem and on new self-caring technologies, it is evident that there is huge impact on operations. This in a broad sense involves people, processes, technologies, and the ecosystem.

As a response to the above-mentioned transformation factors and challenges, and to expand the ecosystem, the industry is driving network disaggregated solutions. Disaggregation is simultaneously one of the mobile telecommunication industry’s biggest current opportunities and most daunting challenges. The opportunities coming with network disaggregation are appealing: a healthier and more resilient ecosystem and supply chain, lower market entry barriers for new players, enabled increased competition and innovation, agility, and flexibility.


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