A new Weaveworks white paper lays down a blueprint for telcos looking to implement 5G while simultaneously cutting costs and complexity. 

In partnership with Robert Jones, CEO of telecoms consultancy BlueFire, we’ve put together a new white paper covering the changes afoot right now in the mobile network infrastructure space. Specifically, the white paper looks at the recent evolution from hardware-based infrastructure to virtualization and beyond, into containerization. 

Nowadays of course, the mere mention of containers is enough to turn the conversation to Kubernetes. An open source container orchestration platform originally developed at Google, it is now the most popular basis for developing and managing cloud native applications. 

The benefits of cloud native infrastructure

For telcos looking at developing the most appropriate infrastructure for 5G, Kubernetes is the obvious choice, as the white paper explains – but not before it explores the recent history of mobile network infrastructure, taking in the reasons so many telcos are still wrestling with 5G’s requirements. The key story, however, concerns the benefits of moving to a cloud native, containerized infrastructure, which include:

  • A reduction in hardware costs (CAPEX).
  • A reduction in both the costs and complexity associated with traditional software licensing models.
  • The ability to manage spikes in demand with truly elastic resources that can scale up and down on demand.
  • Ongoing network and service support cost reduction (OPEX).
  • A reduction in energy use, leading to a more favorable environmental impact. 
  • Support for a wider array of services, running on standard hardware and software platforms. 
  • An increase in vendor choice. 

Challenges facing telcos today

While the benefits of cloud native infrastructure are not lost on today’s network operators, the challenges can be significant. The white paper identifies the following:

  • Many software vendors in the telco space can move their applications to virtual network functions (VNF) fairly easily, yet find it harder to shift to container network functions (CNF) without redesigning their application architecture. 
  • Licencing models and enforcement schemes can similarly be incompatible with cloud native architecture. 
  • Today’s hyperscale platforms lack support for network functions such as signalling, virtual networks (VLAN), IPv4 to IPv6 translation and Identity and Access Management (IAM). 
  • Networks currently being adapted for 5G still need to co-exist with traditional networks, VNFs and CNFs.
  • Few current telco workflows include a mature, end-to-end DevOps culture or CI/CD capability. 

What does success look like?

As the white paper points out, without a cloud native infrastructure to drive growth, today’s telcos will not be able to compete, in terms of the services they can provide or the cost at which they can deliver them. So fundamental to future success is this Kubernetes-driven platform that it cannot be outsourced. Telcos need to build this capability in-house, with or without the assistance of an experienced partner like Weaveworks. 

Crucial to a provider’s success will be its ability to simplify its architecture. Gone are the days of complex, multi-vendor platforms of hardware, software and support packages. Telcos need to build everything around a single platform, designed from the outset for the 5G world. They need to leverage the potential of hybrid and multi-cloud architecture, without handing over the keys to third party vendors. Therefore, the way ahead is to rely on in-house orchestration of a multi-cluster Kubernetes environment, with the ability to draw on resources from a range of public cloud providers when demand spikes. With the floodgates of new 5G-enabled services about to open, now is the time to build the infrastructure of the future.

A partner with sector-specific experience

With new, open standards now in place for delivering cloud-based virtual networks, including 5G radio access network (RAN) aggregation, the time is right for network operators to transition away from the monolithic infrastructure on which 3G and 4G was built, and realize the benefits of cloud native. Weaveworks is well-placed to assist with this process, thanks to a number of recent engagements in the telco sector, not least a long partnership with Deutsche Telekom (a key Weaveworks investor). 

You can learn more about the solutions we offer mobile network providers here.

Download the full white paper now.