Telco Cloud

Scoping Success Factors for Fixed Mobile Convergence

When talking with customers, we find communication service providers (CSP) in every region facing the same conundrum. To protect market share and (ideally) grow revenues in a fiercely competitive marketplace, they must deliver better connectivity experiences and more value to subscribers. Yet at the same time, to keep their balance sheets in the black, they must reduce operating expenses (OpEx). How CSPs are supposed to do both simultaneously is a riddle vexing even the biggest names in the industry. Increasingly, we find many zeroing in on the same strategy to solve it: fixed-mobile convergence (FMC). 

At first glance, converging wireline and wireless services onto a single infrastructure might seem like it would address only the OpEx side of the equation. In practice though, FMC affects a broad range of service provider imperatives—expanding mobile bandwidth, improving wired and wireless experiences, and increasing business agility—even as it streamlines network operations. The key to realizing these benefits, however, lies in how you implement FMC. Those taking a cloud-native, software-defined infrastructure approach to convergence—using a horizontal Telco Cloud with end-to-end automation and assurance—have a much smoother path to success. Let’s take a closer look at how this cloud-native approach can reduce FMC complexity, accelerate time to market, and set CSPs up for the future.

Business Drivers for FMC

According to Heavy Reading, 48 percent of service providers are currently deploying some form of FMC, and another 41 percent plan to begin deployment in the next 12-18 months. Why so much enthusiasm for convergence? Because it addresses the single biggest impediment to CSP efficiency and innovation: technical and operational silos. 

In most CSP environments today, different lines of service exist in largely separate worlds. Operators maintain one set of dedicated technologies, processes, and skillsets for wireline access networks, another for mobile, still another for Wi-Fi, along with other siloed technologies spanning domains. The result is a patchwork of interdependent, redundant operations that make running the network far more expensive and complex. 

By breaking down these silos—adopting a model where all services run on the same cloud-native infrastructure, supported by common tools, processes, and teams—CSPs can realize significant benefits. They can:

  • Reduce OpEx and improve efficiency by consolidating redundant operations
  • Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing a seamless, consistent subscriber experience, regardless of location or device
  • Optimize capital expenditures (CapEx) by gaining cross-silo visibility and the flexibility to move capacity where it’s needed
  • Increase innovation and competitiveness, and potentially generate new revenues, with the ability to quickly, continually update services in software

At the same time, transformation on this scale is a significant undertaking. Customers tell us that the biggest innovation challenge with FMC is balancing time-to-market, cost-efficiency, and user experience. Navigating these challenges would be difficult enough when modernizing a single network service. Addressing multiple access networks—and the various teams, tools, and processes underpinning them—is even harder.  

Going Cloud-Native

Because of this level of complexity, operators are prioritizing an approach to FMC that facilitates cloud-native principles such as agility, observability, and rapid experimentation. The good news is that they have a clear model for success: the software-defined infrastructure-as-code (IaC) model that’s been widely adopted among hyperscale cloud providers and enterprise IT.  

Rather than maintaining technology silos for each network domain, this model uses a common cloud platform, with different access networks running as software applications. This approach allows network teams to define networks and services in software, and automatically instantiate the right infrastructure to deliver them on demand, regardless of access. As a result, they can: 

  • Reduce complexity and costs by supporting all network services with common tools and processes 
  • Create new, differentiated subscriber experiences by stitching together services across domains, in real time, to enable seamless connectivity 
  • Continually expand and innovate services using modern DevOps software models and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) toolchains
  • Enable advanced automation by breaking down silos separating technologies and teams to achieve end-to-end visibility, assurance, and closed-loop remediation

Of course, the shift to cloud-native, software-defined IaC models represents a major change to traditional CSP operations. To succeed, you’ll need to approach network services development, network operations, and even overall business strategy in new ways.

Thinking Through Convergence Strategy

The FMC journey starts with defining the access networking strategy. Here, CSPs can go in several different directions, though all will benefit from a software-defined approach. 

An FMC strategy could include building new mobile networks or partnering with a mobile carrier to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Those building their own must decide on a connectivity strategy, whether using traditional cellular Radio Access Networks (RAN), small cell networks, fixed wireless access (FWA), or a combination. While outside the scope of this discussion, operators choosing any of these technologies have the advantage of being able to use a modern, software-defined architecture from the start. They can draw on open technologies and standards like Open RAN for software flexibility, programmability, and cost-savings. 

Alternatively, those partnering with a mobile carrier to become an MVNO gain the advantage of a ready-made mobile network, but at the cost of being able to control the user experience. For example, with little or no visibility into the mobile experience, subscribers may suffer from “sticky-Wi-Fi,” where their device stays connected to a slow or nonfunctional Wi-Fi network, even when better options are available. 

Some wireline operators are even pursuing a third, hybrid approach to adding mobile services by partnering with a wireless carrier for the access network, while building and managing their own 5G Core (5GC) control plane.

No single path is right for every CSP. You’ll need to weigh a range of considerations to determine the best approach for your business.

Converging Technologies

Whichever convergence strategy you choose, the second phase of the FMC journey focuses on the process of integrating access technologies. Generally, we think of communications infrastructure along the three broad lines of skills, processes, and technology. The greater the differences in these three dimensions—the higher the walls separating various access technology silos—the higher the integration cost and technical risk you should expect.

Within most CSP engineering teams pursuing FMC, best practice is to start by building the three foundational capabilities needed for successful convergence. These are:

  • Cross-domain operational agility, so you can provide a consistent, seamless experience to subscribers, no matter how they come onto the network
  • Unified visibility to inform operations across domains and enable holistic automation and assurance, which in turn accelerate deployments and troubleshooting 
  • Modern, cloud-smart operational support system/business support system (OSS/BSS), so you can easily and continually create new subscriber-facing packages and offers across domains

CSPs typically begin by identifying common elements of the technology stack that are repeated across domains (such as compute, storage, networking, security, databases, assurance), that can be consolidated onto a common platform serving all network applications. This universal platform can then be supported via common engineering and operational teams, bolstered by end-to-end automation and standardized lifecycle management. (According to Heavy Reading, service providers view this capability—running a common network, using common hardware, with unified security and monitoring—as an economic gamechanger.)

Here again though, the optimal convergence path for one CSP won’t necessarily apply to another. You’ll need to weigh a variety of tactical and strategic questions to prioritize different elements in this journey, including:

  • Where are the biggest opportunities for quick wins? Should you focus convergence efforts on enterprise customers? Consumers? Both?
  • As you break down silos and create common teams, which use cases should you prioritize? Consolidating onto common hardware? Implementing common authentication, security policy, network monitoring, or assurance? 
  • How will you determine when to deploy FMC? Should you wait until 5G Core is fully deployed? Or will competitive pressures demand more urgent action? 
  • Which container-as-a-service (CaaS) strategy should you choose for your cloud orchestration framework? Should you choose a hyperscaler, or are you better off deploying a platform that you fully control?

Let VMware Help You Succeed

Finding the best convergence path for your business will require some experimentation. However, the successful convergence projects we’ve seen almost invariably focus on building agility as a day-1 requirement. That means starting with cloud-native design principles (including defining abstractions), using a service-based approach, and incorporating a software-defined IaC framework to support multiple services. 

Here, VMware can offer significant benefits. Service providers using VMware Telco Cloud Platform gain several key advantages for their FMC journey, including:

  • Faster service velocity: How quickly you can implement convergence depends on how long it takes to build up the necessary operational skills to deploy and assure subscriber services across domains. If you’re using VMware’s Software Defined Data Center, the task is much easier. With SDDC, teams can apply their existing skillsets to the new cloud-native world. And, with the wide range of pretested and validated network functions (NFs) and applications in VMware’s Ready for Telco Cloud ecosystem, it’s now easier to assure consistent performance across network tiers and architectures. 
  • Lower total cost of ownership (TCO): By providing an open, horizontal platform for all network services, VMware Telco Cloud Platform makes FMC much simpler to implement and support. You gain a ready cloud-native framework for implementing a common, converged software stack, and developing common network monitoring and security teams. You also now have a single point of control for managing end-to-end observability, device lifecycle automation, and ongoing software updates. 
  • Agility at every layer of the stack: Even as it abstracts away the underlying network complexity, VMware Telco Cloud preserves openness and vendor choice across your environment. Whether choosing pretested best-of-breed NFs from multiple vendors, selecting hardware and cloud partners, or getting ongoing support, you retain full flexibility. You can also use VMware’s common service assurance layer or plug in your own observability tools.  

The journey to convergence presents many choices and many opportunities to take a wrong turn. Fortunately, we know the best way to guard against the unknown: preserve your ability to make changes along the way. By working with VMware, you can start tapping into the agility, improved quality, and lower TCO of convergence—more quickly, with less complexity and risk.