Data is big business. As the saying goes, information is power, and this has never been truer than with traditionally hardware-focused companies shifting towards a software-based model.
This digital transformation is happening across the board and resulting in businesses the world over scrabbling to get a better grip on what’s happening on their networks. As a result of this transition, the last few years have seen the likes of IBM and Oracle hoovering up application and cloud-focused technology providers, driven by a need to offer end-to-end services to their customers.
Cisco’s $3.7 billion acquisition of AppDynamics is yet another example and has become the latest in a long line of major tech brands betting big on application and network management technology in the age of IP. It’s predominantly been a change we’re seeing in the enterprise space, but it’s holding big implications for the telecoms sector too, says John English, senior manager, Service Provider Solutions, NETSCOUT.
The current state of play
Underpinning digital transformation is the global conversion across all sectors towards an information-driven economy where data is the new currency and almost all aspects of business are rooted in software.
The shift experienced by the telco industry has included the move to 4G, which has supported and encouraged data-hungry applications and high-bandwidth traffic. This has been great for the end user who has been able to experience much faster speeds and better connectivity. For the operator, however, it’s posed a problem.
Faced with the dual challenge of slow business growth and on-going disruption to their core services by OTT players and new market entrants, managing mobile data explosion and network expansion, while providing a consistent subscriber experience, has created a disconnect between the significant investments operators have made into 4G LTE and the decline in revenues they’ve seen thereafter.
Fortunately there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the broader digital ecosystem and the new commercial opportunities that are opening up to operators, although this brings with it even greater expectations from the network.
The future will be virtualised
Yet proprietary hardware alone is simply not capable, or economic, when it comes to supporting 5G, meaning the deployment of this technology will only be possible via network functions virtualisation (NFV). It’s already recognised that NFV holds the key to simplified operations, increased automation, and the enhanced flexibility and agility of existing systems by creating a “quick to fail” environment where new business models can be set up and running in minutes rather than days or weeks.
All hail virtualisation then? Not exactly. While costs are reduced and capacity increased, network visibility is compromised. Operators have always relied on network monitoring and troubleshooting tools to identify issues affecting subscribers but it’s become all the more essential within a virtualised environment, particularly if operators are looking to introduce new digital services.
Addressing the problem
Its clear network performance and subscriber experience needs to be running at peak levels at all times. To ensure this, monitoring and service assurance also needs to be continuous, providing the operator with both real-time and historic network insights.
From a server in a data centre to a physical base station, all aspects of the network need to be accessible and capable of being monitored at a granular level to keep track of digital service performance. Everything is interconnected, and when 5G arrives and the IoT becomes ubiquitous, there will be no margin for error. These connections need to be faultless and operators must be able to track all the data crossing their networks at all times.
The challenge, therefore, is to get in front of network problems before they become major issues. This depends on having the right tools in place, and brings us back full circle to M&A activity we’ve seen in this past month and throughout 2016.
We can expect more of the same as we look towards this year’s MWC and beyond, with more players than ever looking to cross the divide between the enterprise and mobile sectors and address the network visibility challenges that are commonplace between them.
The author of this blog is John English, senior manager, Service Provider Solutions, NETSCOUT
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