Dell takes telcos to the next level
Eric van Vliet, head of telecom market development for EMEA at Dell Technologies, talks to Natalie Bannerman about how the hardware firm is developing 5G and cloud-based networks for service providers.
Like all major tech companies, 5G and supporting the operators rolling out these next-generation networks rank high on the list of priorities – Dell Technologies is no exception.
According to Eric van Vliet, head of telecom market development EMEA at Dell Technologies, the firm is “looking at 5G from a maturity perspective”.
“There’s some confusion when you talk about 5G: that if you have a 5G signal, that there’s a 5G network. But 5G means much more than just the connectivity or the radio aspects – those are only a small portion of it. So, when we work on 5G, there’s a few aspects to it.”
One aspect, he says, is the challenges operators face in building this infrastructure, particularly Open RAN.
“There are a lot of challenges in going from a single-vendor network, where you might look to the incumbents like Huawei, Nokia or Ericsson, to an open infrastructure built on top of cloud technology,” adds Vliet.
In addition to this, Dell also partners with telcos, operating and deploying the networks, all the way to developing new applications for companies that require a larger economy of scale.
In recognition of the technology’s advantages, Vliet believes that open networks are the clear frontrunner.
“Looking at it from the perspective of dealing with the pressures of lower revenue per user and the pace of innovation, openness, in my opinion, is the only real choice you have,” he says.
But using open networks is not all about capex, it’s also about power – or rather the efficient use of it. Vliet says that “being green is very important” and open networks reduce “the amount of equipment that’s working at full capacity 24/7, which due to the nature of radio, does happen”.
Using open network technology also means that a service provider does not have to rely on a single vendor’s roadmap, according to Vliet, allowing them to “introduce new services from other vendors on that open cloud infrastructure more quickly”.
Cloud technology is important across the entire network, says Vliet, as it provides openness, agility and flexibility to service providers. But, he says, it’s edge that “is a way for the service provider to monetise their footprint”.
Specifically, he says that the ability to have strategically positioned buildings enables customers to place equipment to offload workloads that they do not wish to run inside their home, office or on their mobile phone.
“That’s really where edge becomes really important for service providers,” he says. “Because it gives them the ability to provide services better than if they were sitting in a public cloud far away from the user.”
The added openness of a 5G network brings with it new challenges. The first being the complexity of having so many players involved in its deployment.
“Designing the network is not that difficult, because the community has solved much of that problem through interoperability testing. But turning it into a commercially deployable solution requires a lift that is less technical, but more business-oriented,” explains Vliet.
Beyond this, there is also the challenge of applications that will no longer run within a contained environment, traditionally set by the application, but in an open one. This “can create more impact from other applications and other uncontrollable elements, for that application”, warns Vliet.
The next challenge he identifies is power. “Moving from dedicated equipment to a cloud infrastructure means there’s quite some processing power needed,” says Vliet. “It’s a huge challenge for service providers who are often encouraged by local governments to go green and become sustainable.”
With the industry abuzz with talk about the latest innovations in quantum, Vliet is more excited by the applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“The technology of AI is very mature. But the application of AI is still at an early stage,” he explains.
He adds that telcos do not use AI and machine learning enough to automate their operations and reduce their maintenance costs, but use of these technologies is increasing.
As for security, aside from partnering with companies that support Dell in helping service providers protect their networks, Vliet says it begins with the device which then extends to other parts of the infrastructure stack.
“Dell spends a lot of effort in making sure that we can deliver servers that offer a full secure solution that can be trusted. Then that security can pass on to the next layer and the next layer. We approach our work with mindset of security. We build it into everything.”
Vliet’s priorities for the year ahead are to continue doing what Dell is doing today. This includes supporting telcos in their Open RAN journeys, meeting their needs for speedy deployments, and hosting solutions to help services providers to “get to that next level”.