Assessing the state of play in telecoms: a global network's perspective
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Assessing the state of play in telecoms: a global network's perspective

Michael Wheeler NTT.jpg
Michael Wheeler

Supply-chain challenges, security and automation are some of the big focuses in the global telecoms market at present. Michael Wheeler, executive vice president of the Global IP Network division at NTT, assesses the challenges and trends in the industry at this point in time.

What are the biggest challenges that the global telecoms industry faces right now?

I think many of the pandemic effects are over now, but the one lingering effect from that is the supply-chain issues that still exist. There has been an improvement, but it’s not back to where it was and our sense is that it’s probably going to be a good year before things are back to where they were pre-pandemic. Yet I think the industry has done very well with adapting to the situation on the whole.

Network security is also still a core issue that continues to persist. I think that cat-and-mouse game is always going to be something the industry has to contend with: as the bad actors find new tactics, we will respond to them and vice versa. From an IP-backbone-network point of view, we have to continue to address capacity around that, as well as tools and capabilities.

What other changes have you seen recently in the supply chain?

Vendors have worked hard to improve the situation, with everyone revising their supply-chain dynamics and where they’re going to source components from. Everyone’s looked at the idea that there needs to be more variety of sourcing and a broader geographic distribution – and I think over time, that creates better resiliency.

Pre-pandemic, it would typically take four to six weeks to get all the components delivered to assemble a router, but at the height of the pandemic some of those lead times were well over a year – which was a pretty dramatic shift in a very short time.

As a result, our own approach to planning and executing projects had to be adapted, as ordering needed to be done much earlier than it historically had been. We’ve also had to be creative in shifting things around on the network if there’s a sudden traffic increase in an area where additional capacity wasn’t necessarily planned. That’s kind of a good problem to have, but that four-to-six-week target is where we want the industry to get back to – and I think in a year from now, we’ll be close.

How does the picture currently look on the network security side?

The network security landscape isn’t dramatically different from six to 12 months ago, but we’ve seen more movements away from massive-scale attacks. What our data shows more every day is a large volume of very small, short attacks that are very precise in who they’re going after.

One of the problems with short-duration attacks is that by the time they’ve been identified, they’re over. We in the industry want to find ways to identify those and respond to them faster.

But our Global IP Network division has a variety of tools and tactics to deal with attacks, while many of the people in our network security team have many years of tenure, giving them lots of experience and a depth of knowledge on issues to successfully protect our network and our customers’ networks.

We also offer a whole set of DDoS Protection Services [DPS], including our DPS Max service, which is at the top end of the product stack and continues to be widely used by customers.

What is the latest on automation at NTT’s Global IP Network division and in the industry as a whole?

Automation’s always been part of our DNA and we remain very committed to it. We have a dedicated software, systems and applications team that develops and operates things for us on that front in-house. We’ve grown that team this past year by a large percentage, which shows how critical it is.

AI is clearly going to play a bigger and bigger role in not only what we do, but also how the industry manages networks and their use. Exactly what the long-term links between AI and automation are, I don’t think anybody knows yet.

However, I think AI could really help the industry with some of that resiliency, and infrastructure planning and operation. It’s something that over the next few years will most likely change things in ways we’ve not yet imagined.

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