Digital Transformation World predictions: 5G moves from hype to reality

Digital Transformation World is upon us, and as the telecoms industry meets in Nice, John English, director of Marketing, Service Provider Solutions, Netscout, shares his thoughts on some of the biggest trends expected to emerge from the show.

Last year TM Forum made the decision to rebrand its flagship event as “Digital Transformation World (DTW),” highlighting the growing importance of Digital Transformation (DX) to both the show’s agenda and the wider telecoms ecosystem. This year, as carriers race to deploy 5G networks, DX will again take centre stage, and attendees will come together to discuss both critical learnings from the initial 5G deployments, and the technologies that will prove instrumental in next generation networks.

5G drives discussion

Following years of hype, 5G is edging closer to the practical phase, and learnings from initial ventures will play a major role in Nice. Verizon, for example, will be sharing insights on 5G network design based on early deployments, with planning and design of 5G cells set to play an instrumental role in accelerating 5G.

As operators ramp up 5G propositions, usage of microservices and containers will increase significantly. While significant progress has been made on 5G roadmaps, one issue that hasn’t yet been crystallised is what form 5G software and innovations will take, and how these new services and applications will be deployed into the network.

Unlike 4G/LTE network infrastructure, the architectures that support 5G are virtualised and cloud-based, so the smart money is on application developers, mobile operators and equipment vendors using microservices, and in particular containers, to drive 5G evolution.

Mobile edge computing (MEC) will similarly drive discussions in Nice, as mobiles place increasing emphasis on delivering services and applications closer to the end user. With 5G delivering ultra-low latency and high-bandwidth requirements to support a host of use cases, such as manufacturing and healthcare, MEC and network slicing will become integral to network architectures.

However, it is critical that such architectures are flexible, to support this type of infrastructure throughout hybrid cloud and virtualised environments. As operators move network infrastructure to the edge and implement slices, the use of containers will become pivotal to supporting 5G applications.

Carriers rethink security strategies

John English

Despite the significant advantages posed by both virtualisation and containerisation, the new network architectures also pose challenges. Such technologies add new layers of complexity to already complex networks, making it far more difficult to identify and mitigate issues, and tackle security threats. Further compounding the challenge is the fact that the security landscape has changed dramatically.

In a 5G domain the attack surface is much greater, giving malicious actors far more opportunities to exploit potential vulnerabilities. In addition, when millions of (vulnerable) IoT devices are being directly connected to mobile networks, the security risks for operators have never been greater, causing them to rethink their security strategies.

Against this threat landscape, 5G security will play an enhanced role in this year’s DTW, and will take on a greater importance to service providers and the enterprises they serve. Such challenges will also underscore the need for visibility without borders into the entire infrastructure, spanning physical and virtual, as only through being able to see everything that’s happening on the network can carriers assure and secure services.

Big data gets smart

Visibility will also come to the fore as carriers look to leverage insights from analytics to monetise services both on their existing 4G networks and build the business cases for 5G. Only by being able to see what’s happening for each and every subscriber/device can operators quickly identify and rectify issues before negative consequences can be felt and be armed with the intelligence they need to launch new services.

However, both 5G and the IoT will generate unprecedented volumes of data, making identifying the right information quickly and efficiently, amidst all of the noise, highly challenging. In addition, this data is both structured and unstructured, from internal and external sources, creating further complexity. While operators rely on vital intelligence from that data to optimise the user experience, few can manage the data deluge with speed, quality, and fidelity.

This is driving uptake of smart data, which is prepared and organised at the collection point, and is ready and optimised for analytics at the highest quality and speed. It extracts the important information from all of the IP data that crosses the network, in real time, arming operators with actionable intelligence to identify issues, and enhance their infrastructure in line with traffic demands.

As each of these trends highlights, the telecoms landscape is changing rapidly, and operators have new and unprecedented challenges to deal with as they launch new services and progress 5G roadmaps. Fortunately, through events such as DTW, the ecosystem has an opportunity to come together to learn from one another and can collaborate to help with the industry’s widespread transformation.

The author is John English, director of Marketing, Service Provider Solutions, Netscout

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