Why virtualization is a one-way, but challenging road for telecom operators

The virtualization of network functions and the integration of IT with operation technologies (OT), or the equipment of an operation itself, is seen as a one-way street by many telecommunications, software and integration providers, although not all companies are adopting at the same speed.

This also involves an important change in mindset on how to select, implement and manage a whole new technology platform, according to some companies.

“We’re trying to continue positioning the future of telecommunications companies as it should be, or how it should look,” Alejandro Raffaelle, head of telecoms, media and entertainment (TME) for Red Hat in Latin America, told BNamericas.

“On this path, many telcos still continue with the idea of incorporating vertical technology projects. For example, open RAN or edge computing. We insist on the possibility that they first consider clearly defining the platform, or the road, rather than defining the projects, or the cars,” he added.

According to the executive, looking ahead, open-shift technologies will be the main platform in telecommunications. But it is only when operators have them defined, installed, configured and in operation, with their own internal staff, that they should think about more specific projects, such as open RAN, edge, 5G core or virtualized network functions, he said. 

“What has happened so far, many times, is that an attempt has been made to set up a separate project. We believe that this isn’t the best way. The operator has had difficulties to carry it out precisely because the platform in those projects was one more component, while it should be the component.”

Despite these mishaps, Raffaelle said that some telcos in the region are no longer testing just one function, but rather the widespread implementation of these platforms and that this process is not a matter of if, but when, especially given the ecosystem that is being developed around 5G.

The executive declined to comment on specific cases, citing contractual reasons, but he did say that Red Hat is working on the open technology platform concept with a “major telco with regional operations.”

SECURITY

In addition to the adoption of open platforms, the virtualization of telcos’ operations, although seen in many cases as essential for business efficiency and the launch of new products, also raises important technical issues for carriers.

One of the main ones is security, which was the chief subject covered in the Telco Cybersecurity webinar, held on Tuesday.

Claudio Creo, chief information and security officer (CSIO) at Brazil’s TIM, said in the event that the integration of IT and OT networks will significantly increase the “contact surface” of telecommunications operations, increasing their exposure to external vulnerabilities. He added that operators are already feeling this.

Galeno Garbe, CSIO of Sky Brasil, pointed out that digital transformation through the internet of things creates “networks without perimeters”, which is a challenge from a security point of view.

He said that the industry’s products for 5G infrastructure, from equipment to user devices, need to come with “security-by-design”, that is, with security right from the manufacturing plant.

The importance of security-by-design was also highlighted by Jorge Mario Ochoa, global security operations center manager at Millicom.

According to Ochoa, security-by-design is already being embedded into the bulk of systems used by the telecom industry. However, he said, it is also necessary to think about protection of the supply chain as a whole, since attacks have been seen in that area too, said the executive.

Adrian Judzik, senior manager of cybersecurity at Telecom Argentina, stressed that cloud and edge are technologies that the industry simply cannot afford not to adopt. Telecom Argentina, he said, has a multi-cloud approach, using both public and private cloud with different providers.

He also said that the security approach is being built by the telco as needs emerge in the implementation processes. The executive also said that many of the security architectures are the same for a core datacenter and a decentralized datacenter (edge), “with just a few adjustments”.

Echoing that digital transformation had reached a point of no return, as mentioned by Judzik, Felipe Ruiz Rivillas, CSIO of Liberty Latin America, said that the internet of things is now a reality and no longer a theory and that, as such, it is key to erect as many security barriers as possible, but that certain risks are inherent.

“The starting point of everything is access control. It’s having control of accesses [in a network],” said Ruiz Rivillas.

https://www.bnamericas.com/en/features/why-virtualization-is-a-one-way-but-challenging-road-for-telecom-operators

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