Blue skies for telecoms in the cloud

Blue skies for telecoms in the cloud

06 September 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Cover

The industry is moving to the cloud, says Adolfo Hernandez of AWS, which is working with a raft of operators to move away from traditional infrastructure. Interview by Alan Burkitt-Gray

The telecoms industry is following IT in moving services from in-house (or on-premise) equipment over to the cloud. Adolfo Hernandez, VP of the telco business unit at Amazon Web Services (AWS), believes this will bring new reliability and new services for the industry.

You remember that time, not so long ago, when your office IT relied on desktop machines with hard drives, with email coming off a server in a corner, or a basement? Every so often, your desktop PC would crash, losing all the data. More rarely, the Outlook server would crash and the whole company’s emails would vanish. Both of those have happened to me: it’s not just annoying, but frustrating and expensive.

Those days in IT are over. We use the cloud all the time. Without it, office work would pretty much have come to an end when the pandemic drove us from our premises in early 2020. Now, those same cloud people are trying to get the telecoms industry to learn the same lessons.

There are some early converts. Swisscom is one, for its 5G implementation plan. At Mobile World Congress (MWC), which took place in Barcelona at the end of June 2021 and in early July, Swisscom said it was using AWS’s infrastructure and cloud capabilities “to power its 5G network, increase operational efficiency, and
fuel innovation”.

It plans to use AWS Europe’s Zürich region to provide its customers greater choice in storing and processing their data in the country, “while enabling them to deliver real-time services with the lowest latency”.

At the moment this is for new services, but Swisscom said it “will also explore migrating from a 5G network built on current infrastructure to a new standalone 5G network”. A 5G network in the cloud.

Hernandez was at MWC working to announce AWS’s collaboration with Swisscom. He runs AWS’s global telecoms industry unit. He has been in this industry for many years, starting in IT with the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems before a stint at Alcatel-Lucent. He joined AWS only this year, at a time when the cloud company has a range of cloud telecoms projects to talk about: Swisscom “is not an isolated case”, he says, reeling off names such as Bell Canada, Telefónica Germany, Telstra in Australia, Dish and Verizon in the US, Vivo in Brazil plus Vodafone in Germany and the UK.

“The announcement we made with Swisscom was that they have selected us to be the cloud provider,” he says. They will work together “to get efficiencies, faster time to market and a lot of agility. We are working with Swisscom so we can use our infrastructure to explore how they can build a new set of 5G services using some on-premise equipment and the AWS cloud.”

But why? “There are a number of proof points,” says Hernandez. He starts with the basics: as telcos move to the cloud, “they get all the benefits that the cloud has been delivering to the IT world for 10-15 years”. These include pay per use, innovation, speed, plus tools that are on the cloud, he says. “You get all the benefits: simplifying operations, data centre consolidation, performance optimisation and eliminating unneeded assets.”

 

Network slicing in the cloud

As you take the 5G network to the cloud, you get features such as virtualised network functions (VNFs) and network slicing. “They are really well suited to move to the cloud,” says Hernandez. Operational support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS), the IT services infrastructure of the telecoms industry, can also be moved to the cloud – just as their equivalents in the non-telecoms world have successfully been moved.

“You can do OSS and BSS in the cloud. And you can use local zones to host the core and part of the RAN [radio access network],” he adds. “You get to cloudify the network.”

And there’s another advantage of cloud over a telco’s own infrastructure. In the old days, a decade or more ago, systems occasionally got overloaded when traffic peaked. It was part of the skill set of telecoms network designers to work out what the peak load might be.

“You had to buy this equipment for peak usage,” he says. Now it’s possible to use the cloud infrastructure and scale up and down how much you do actually use.

“Peaks are inherent in the way telecoms is used. And another benefit is that AI and machine learning means you can do it at speed.”

But is it resilient? One constant complaint by people in the telecoms industry is that they have high standards – five nines, meaning it works 99.999% of the time, which is less than a second a day of downtime, or just over five minutes a year.

“People have to look at what has been achieved over the years in the cloud.” In other words, the cloud providers do supply that sort of availability. “We supply governments and finance with our well-proven infrastructure capability,” he says. “Our job is to obsess about our customers – that’s what we are doing. If you look at the availability that we provide, we also have the benefit of scale when it comes to security and confidentiality.”

Is it a fear of change? “The old way always evolves into the new way,” he says. “There is a move to take the traditional industry into the cloud, to bring benefits that the cloud offers.”

And, he adds, “cloud offers a telco the opportunity to monetise new revenue streams – mobile edge computing, compute and storage, with extra-high performance and bandwidth really close to the edge,” he says. In cloud the elasticity allows you to provide storage, components in a particular area.”

We run through some of the examples of where AWS is working with telcos to provide services in the cloud.

Vodafone, for example. UK business customers and software developers can now use the ultra-low latency capabilities to do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, says AWS. A combination of multi-access edge compute (MEC) and Vodafone’s 5G network are set to enable the creation of novel services and use cases that would not be possible otherwise. There are customer trials going on in Germany, with general availability scheduled for later in 2021.

In the Americas, Dish is building a 5G service in the US, with open RAN technology, with infrastructure and services “that deliver consistent, cost-effective performance from core to the edge”. The first live city in what’s planned to be a nationwide network deployment will be Las Vegas, followed by – according to reports – Orlando and Washington DC.

The aim is to cover 20% of the US population with cloud-based open RAN 5G by June 2022. OSS and BSS will be in the cloud, says AWS.

AWS says in a background briefing: “Dish will use AWS Outposts and AWS Local Zones to build its network in the cloud, enabling customers to apply the breadth and depth of AWS capabilities to innovate low-latency 5G applications and services for a wide range of industries.”

Further south, Telefónica has said it has reached a clear milestone for cloud-native 5G plans in Brazil, with AWS Outposts as “an effective infrastructure option” to deploy core technology. Telefónica is looking to increase automation and drive new revenues with cloud-based 5G platforms. In Brazil, the work with AWS means the operator’s Vivo brand has a way to build out 5G more quickly and introduce new network processes.

Telefónica Germany wants to use its relationship with AWS to develop private networks, a new opportunity that it and other telcos are starting to seize. T-Mobile US is using the AWS cloud for its customer service agents, to give them context using AI and machine learning tools. “You don’t have to become an expert,” says Hernandez.

Innovation is key, says Hernandez, “but 90% of innovation is a direct result of working with customers and only 10% is things we think of – we will go innovate ourselves. We will engage and listen to see where we can get business value. We will innovate with customers. It is something different.”