There is a bit of inequality between 5G and the cloud. 5G relies on the cloud and its capabilities to support a variety of new service and platform approaches, according to Ron Westfall, GlobalData's research director for Global Telecom Technology and Software.
Westfall, in the first of a two-part conversation with Telco Transformation, said that the cloud will thrive regardless of the fate of 5G. Conversely, 5G will rely on the cloud to help it traverse its coming evolution. In part two, Westfall speaks about how network slicing, edge computing, cloud-native development, unified cloud platforms and automation are keys to the integration of cloud and 5G.
Telco Transformation: What is the confluence, or the overlap, of 5G's evolution and cloud?
Ron Westfall: That's a great starting point, because 5G and cloud are joined at the hip. That is both from a technological perspective as well as from a business model perspective. In terms of the technology, 5G is predicated on the cloud technology becoming more evolved and mature and being able to handle not just the scaling of 5G services and applications, but also the immense amount of flexibility, built-in security and other technological inputs that will drive a cloud-based 5G world.
One area where the two meet very specifically is being able to elastically scale resources. We've seen emerging business cases where, for example, an agricultural interest or a utility can order a drone service using a cloud-based 5G capability.
TT: That takes a lot more capacity?
RW: It's also not just about bandwidth. 5G at its theoretical maximum throughput levels is tenfold what 4G and its evolutionary cousins can deliver today. What is also important is that the dramatic increase in scalability has to be accompanied by what can be understood as agility that only the cloud can offer for 5G technology and services. That is allowing, for example, digital customer enablement, which can be understood as omni-channel capability, the omni-channel journey. So a customer is not restricted to one device. You can, for example, start up an eBay auction on your mobile phone and continue that application on your personal computer and so forth. Another example is video, naturally. It is being able to support UltraHD or virtual reality applications through a 5G network.
TT: What you're describing is a deeply synergistic world, right?
RW: Yes. 5G without cloud would be inconceivable, quite simply. There wouldn't really be anything to distinguish it from today's 4G LTE world if it was not possible to leverage cloud computing resources in a more intelligent, flexible and highly scalable manner. On the other hand, the cloud world can carry on without 5G applications. We already understand that with the multitude of capabilities that are out there today.
Likewise, we've seen the cloud being built up on a private basis. More and more, organizations are using cloud computing techniques to improve the efficiency of their existing networking implementations. Moving away from file-bound, hardware implementations, where the software is predicated on the hardware implementation, and so forth.
It's literally being able to use the sprawl of the physical infrastructure network on a lot more flexible level in terms of not just accessing databases on distributed servers, but also being able to implement the services on a more flexible basis and allowing customers to use a lot more devices to access the service using custom APIs. I think you can take the 5G out of the cloud world and the cloud world will carry on fairly successfully. But if you take the cloud out of 5G, 5G is dead in the water.
TT: How will the infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service layers of the cloud platform enable service capabilities for 5G?
RW: These are the services that are being offered, both by public cloud providers as well as on a managed services basis, by the major top tier operators. The way that can be implemented in the 5G world is enabling agility layers that allow an operator or an enterprise to evolve their IT architectures. It's not forcing a radical cut over, which is unrealistic to begin with. We're hearing terms like "two-speed architecture" and so forth. The XaaS [anything-as-a-service] implementation, software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service and so forth are compatible with that. If I'm a large operator or enterprise, I can use software-as-a-service to try a cutting-edge 5G application before implementing it throughout the network.
What's important about XaaS capabilities is they enable a single point of control of the customer journey throughout the different steps, the different channels. That's something that's been lacking before because, again, the file-bound limitations of legacy networks. These cloud-enabled capabilities, like a platform-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service enable a customer to avoid having to spend significant amounts on premise hardware and so forth to get that perspective, that single point of control over the customer journey.
So now they know that it doesn't matter if they're on a mobile phone, on a personal computer, or whatever application they're using, all the information is stored and managed. It's also enabling cloud-based storefronts with customer and product management. That's important because, without these capabilities, you would not be able to do this again in a flexible, scalable manner.
TT: So 5G is added to what already is an evolved and powerful cloud-based infrastructure?
RW: Basically you can characterize it as 5G is joining that party. These capabilities are implemented today. Operators, enterprises and consumers are becoming smarter about using them, or are gaining more access to these capabilities. 5G will come along and put it on steroids.
TT: And that speaks to things like containers, DevOps, microservices and big data.
RW: There are many moving parts for what's enabling the 5G world. Certainly, one element of that is the ability of not just the enterprises, but the operators, to take advantage of a DevOps framework, to do software development on a more agile, dynamic basis and to get away from the pre-planned, highly manual software development techniques of the past. You have to be able to do a lot more cross-functional, cross-domain development.
In the DevOps and microservices worlds, it's about being able to pull together what were once domain-specific capabilities and being able to use them in a flexible manner. In telco organizations, for example, it is about allowing the marketing teams, the engineering teams and the IT teams to be on the same page and developing the software and the services and avoiding the delays of the past. What that is pointing to, is the fact that you have to be able to do a lot more cross-functional, cross-domain developments. It's no longer a world where one application is correlated to one set of software, that is strongly coordinated to one set of hardware, and so forth.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation