Over the past three decades, the telecommunications industry has revolutionised the way we communicate. However, through this innovation, the industry has simultaneously baked in layers of complexity and inefficient, closed-silo network systems into every new network generation, hampering its ability to build an open ecosystem.
Enter Network-as-Code, a concept to simplify complex networks and bring openness and programmability to 5G.
For communication service providers (CSPs), vendors, and the telecoms industry to remain relevant, we must participate in the digital application ecosystem by building open networks. A software-centric 5G network that embraces cloud-native and openness principles offers a unique opportunity to rethink new inclusive models and engage with new ecosystem players such as enterprise application partners and developers.
Learnings from an adjacent market: programmability and value creation in CPaaS
Before diving deeper into Network-as-Code, it’s important to reflect on and learn from an adjacent market: Communications-Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS). Predicted to have a CAGR of 34.30% – from about $6 billion to $26 billion across 2021-2026, the CPaaS market emerged during the 4G era with the transition of voice and messaging services from circuit-switched to packet-switched using IP networks.
The existing class of vendors, such as Twilio, MessageBird, Vonage and Plum Voice, facilitate the programmability of real-time communications for enterprise and web 2.0 markets. While leveraging traditional CSP networks, these vendors expose the four traditional sectors: voice, video, messaging and email. Enterprise IT and Web 2.0 applications leverage CPaaS-enabled application programming interfaces (APIs) in business processes or customer-facing applications.
Over the years, CPaaS vendors have established a rich ecosystem of independent software developer communities and a well-versed technology application partner ecosystem exposing cloud communication APIs and software development kits (SDKs).
Network-as-Code: in more detail – and why now?
Network-as-Code abstracts the complexity of networks and their operations, exposing capabilities through simplified programmable methods such as business APIs and SDKs. It focusses on the ecosystem application from the developers’ perspective, allowing them to easily create new mission-critical applications or distributed service chains that rely on network connectivity, edge cloud and network insights to develop new applications.
Network-as-Code connects CSPs and enterprises to the digital application development ecosystem by joining multiple disruptive technology drivers such as distributed service chains, and by supporting openness through cloud-native, and programmable open 5G networks.
Let’s take an example of using Network-as-Code: a third-party developer implementing an operational technology (OT) application with extreme low latency and high bandwidth wants to bundle a prioritised network capability. It can achieve this simply with:
The resulting OT application could then automatically switch to a prioritised network slice to shift its experience with latency and bandwidth to industrial-grade – making the network much more accessible and monetisable.
Cloud-native 5G and the need to build horizontal communications platforms and extreme programmability
The CPaaS market shows that a multi-billion-dollar business and market capitalisation can be built on the exposure and abstraction of simple communications capabilities for developer ecosystems.
As a Service and the programmability of Network-as-Code build on horizontal platforms and support distributed services chains for specific OT applications. With the power of programmability and automation built over 5G networks, a larger set of features can be exposed by building horizontal communications platform capabilities, which increase participation in distributed value chains. Since 5G offers 10 times more powerful ecosystems, compared with CPaaS, there is enormous potential to create value, if built right.
But we should take note: network capability exposure to application developers hasn’t been a big success in the telecoms industry. For CSPs who migrate their network towards a cloud-native and service-based architecture in the context of 5G, the objective should be to make their network capabilities part of distributed service chains that monetise the network.
While the value proposition of Network-as-Code is enticing in its simplicity, exposing and abstracting diverse network capabilities is a complex undertaking.
The Network-as-Code cloud service that connects as-code SDKs through APIs to network-side capabilities needs rich API management platforms that provide a secure, monetisable marketplace.
Network-as-Code can facilitate B2B2X across multiple vectors by building a 5G-based value-creation platform. It brings a much-needed shift in our industry through the building of a new business and technology frameworks, and through elevating the concept of distributed service chains to the mainstream in telecoms. This facilitates the inclusion of developers and the vertical technology partner ecosystem that is foundational for 5G cloud-native adoption, openness, and the programmability momentum of today’s telecommunications domain.
The design thinking of all sub-systems across network assets must be built with open network horizontal platforms to create a unified value creation platform that unlocks value for telcos, CSPs, and industry verticals.