BT's Neil McRae is bullish about 5G's prospects, but there are many elements in play to make it successful across all of the various stakeholders.
Among the items that will have an impact, numerous use cases for the distributed 5G-edge will transform the software architecture, according to McRae, managing director of architecture and technology, and chief architect at BT .
In the second part of this Q&A with McRae, he talks about how a transformation of the software architecture at the edge will improve the prospects of 5G and about the importance of being a 5G visionary. In part one, McRae spoke about some of the challenges and solutions for 5G deployments. See BT's McRae on Taking 5G to the Edge.)
Telco Transformation: In 2015, you expressed skepticism about OpenStack’s capabilities. Has it evolved enough since then to change your view? (See OpenStack Doubts Surface After BT Ultimatum.)
Neil McRae: OpenStack has done a great job in responding to our industries concerns and they have developed solutions to many challenges very rapidly. They have been responsive to the concerns about using OpenStack in a service provider environment including the diversity of its environment with multiple types of networks, applications and services. We felt that it was not tackling the continuous service delivery and operational requirements expected in multiple different locations from telecom service providers.
Much progress has been made since 2015; the performance has improved massively. In the 5G environment, OpenStack is ready for the current needs at the edge, but It needs to prepare for the expanding demand for a wide variety of use cases that are expected at the edge.
TT: Do you have specific reservations about cloud-native platforms and microservices that precludes confidence in the financial viability of 5G investments?
NM: For the early deployments, there are some application areas where microservices will work -- one example is the delivery of video which has momentum now and in fact we are using microservices with video delivery today. Microservices afford the ability to change things, to update them, add things in almost real-time without interruptions. For the delivery of video, microservices enable version changes of video from say HDR, 4K, to UHD, etc., without shutting down the network. It allows the continuous integration of features, scale and allows the distribution of features.
Microservices are indispensable to the 5G experience -- such as connected car and emergency service networks-- and the associated improvements in management and orchestration will happen. All the infrastructure systems, and many other systems, in BT have an architectural path to microservices. I can visualize how microservices will help in the operation of the RAN. Things like SON, beamforming and spectral efficiency need unprecedented levels of processing power and scale which will require microservices. Several vendors are working on the management and orchestration platforms which lead me to foresee a wide use of microservices in a distributed environment.
TT: What role do you see for multiple clouds in making 5G viable?
NM: The available clouds are centralized and will not serve the needs of a distributed environment. The network cloud will be different, but it is too early to tell fully. The progress of the network cloud is dependent on the success of the use cases such as connected cars or virtual reality which will increase the demand for infrastructure at many locations. Today we are using network cloud for content delivery, etc.
TT: In regards to 5G, distributed micro-data centers are expected to be a catalyst for an expansion of IOT-enabled data services. How will they impact the overall ROI from 5G investments?
NM: I think that micro-data centers will be the backbone of the network cloud. We are starting to invest in micro-data centers right now. We have had micro-data centers focused on video content for some time. We have a vision of as many as a thousand micro-data centers. When you have to deliver gigabit services to thousands of locations, you need micro-data centers. Smart homes, and sports stadiums, when such applications are successful, will need such services that will all need micro-data centers. At this stage, we don’t see enough momentum in such use cases to justify investment in too many micro-data centers. Much more simplification is needed for these use cases to be successful.
Micro-data centers forming the network cloud will be vital in many of the more challenging 5G use cases, particularly around low latency services and scaling billions of IoT devices. How many we build will depend highly on the success of those use cases. We need some now for cloud RAN, CDN and other video services.
TT: What are your words of wisdom for CIOs coping with the uncertainty and complexity involved with 5G?
NM: I think a very detailed plan on skills and knowledge is needed so that the people, in your organization are ready. Microservices, orchestration, cloud, programmable networks all need different thinking and different skill sets.
Building partnerships in open-source and with vendors is going to be more important than ever before, but it is vital that we own our product set within our industry. 5G will be a world where we experiment a lot and companies will need to create an environment for that to happen and let their engineers really use their creative talents.
Be the visionary for 5G! Gene Cernan, Commander, Apollo XVII, who was the last man to walk on the moon told me, "Neil, dream big and go out and make it happen." With the potential of 5G, dreaming big and making it happen will bring massive benefits to our customers and our communities.
— Kishore Jethanandani, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation