About FutureNet World
In its new virtual form and timing for 2020, does FutureNet World still deliver?
Over the last few years, the FutureNet World has established itself as a solid fixture on the telecom event calendar, attracting an impressive collection of senior operator and vendor speakers from around the world. In its new form and timing for 2020, does it still deliver?
The event now falls nicely in the calendar between MWCs, and TMForum’s Digital Transformation World, and as such offers a timely opportunity to assess the industry’s work-in-progress on a range of topics. “Work-in-progress” being one of our key takeaway phrases.
Appledore analysts joined the two-day, all on-line event to hear progress reports on a range of topics from AI and automation to Zero-touch Service Management. We share our takeaways below.
As a specialist telecom Analyst and Market Research firm, Appledore comes to FutureNet with a range of questions:
- Is real progress being made on key initiatives? Or are we ever just 2-3 years away from operational success?
- Who is truly challenging conventional modes of thought and operation?
- What new risks are emerging? Which ones have been overcome?
- How are operators and vendors resolving the competing agendas of change vs stability?
- Is the conventional standards process still fit for purpose?
- Which initiatives, approaches and technologies do operators and vendors most need to factor in to their strategies for the next few years?
Such questions are very well-aligned with FutureNet’s own agenda planning, and – spoiler alert – Appledore is happy to give a thumbs-up to this year’s event.
While the all-online 2020 event saw the return of conference circuit regulars from Telus, BT and Vodafone, less familiar names were also given space to share valuable experiences, notably Elisa and Telstra.
The format of 20-minute talks and 30-minute panels limited the depth of material to some extent. However, it also had the effect of encouraging speakers to stick to making only important points. As such, corporate advertising pitches were largely absent.
BT sees the threat of being relegated to dumb pipe utility provider with minimal growth prospects. But also said that avoiding that outcome requires a “massive shift” in how projects (and procurements) are run today.
Telia and Elisa, among others, highlighted a cautious, step-by-step approach to automation, with only incremental improvements driving programs, rather than a revolutionary agenda.
Telefonica O2 cautioned against interpreting automation simplistically as a zero-sum-game for jobs.
Others positioned the use of AI as just one candidate technology, along with simpler workflow automation, on the path to the faster, leaner network ops of the future.
Deutsche Telekom‘s SVP of Services and Platforms called for greater appetite for risk and experimentation from telcos: “Operators need to dare…”
And The Network of the Future is…?
So according to the presenters and panelists, what is the Network of the Future?
Everyone expects that it is one that customers aren’t really aware of. It’s one where repairs and changes happen in advance of failures. It’s one run by fewer, different (or at least, differently-skilled) people.
Whether today’s major equipment vendors will be relied on for kit and ongoing servicing of the network is not so certain. Speakers gave a full spectrum of views on this point, from expecting “open” intiatives to break the reliance on a tiny pool of vendors, to continuous collaboration with incumbent partners on new, largely software-based, offerings.
It’s one where telcos and their major enterprise customers collaborate to create new configurations of services, or whole new rich communication applications, to meet an unpredicted requirement. Telstra‘s Kim Andersen was particularly compelling on this topic.
It’s one where “Legacy IT” of OSS and BSS acts as a goldmine for funding incremental improvement projects, and becomes re-packaged as microservices.
And in the access network, both RAN and fixed, it’s one where mix-and-match of component hardware, software or functions doesn’t require a long and expensive integration effort.
Many speakers presented more data-centric, software-enabled architectures for network operations (and by extension, OSS) in general. Though the extent to which this was (as TMF’s Mark Newman put it): “vision or strategy?” was left somewhat vague.
Enabling the Network of the Future
So according to speakers at FutureNet World, what are the enablers of this wished-for future? And what are the obstacles?
- Real World Customer Problems. Most speakers reported positive-enough progress on technical proving. But operators reported a gap between this and a truly close relationship with their enterprise customers. Customer problem domain knowledge seems to be in short supply, yet CSPs see it as vital to uncovering the business value that more intelligent, automated networks and operations will be able to address.
- Skills. Hardly a new topic, and some progress reported, but getting to the network of the future still requires skill sets – and ways of working – that are not the norm in CSPs today. In particular, an understanding of what sort of problems AI can and can’t be used for, married with an understanding of what network data really means. Just for starters.
- Organisational change. Architecture slides are relatively easy to assemble and get heads nodding to. What’s still more of a problem is the resetting of organisational structures and established KPIs. CSPs reported a range of approaches in play today, from centralised units driving data science and AI outwards across the organisation, to network domain based transitions.
- New Interfaces. Not only the standardisation of previously closed interfaces, but also the interfaces between participants in the value chain of the future. Operator-to-operator (as championed by MEF and Colt/AT&T) as well as network-to-operations, and indeed operator-to-customer.
- Culture. Ah yes… almost every single speaker raised the topic of “culture”. In reality, this was a proxy for “resistance to change”. What was notable was a new willingness to unpack the word, and drill into what specific aspects of decades-old behaviour and attitudes need to be overturned.
Our key takeaways from the event:
- The potential for more intelligent, automated operations remains high with some promising initial proof points, though much work-in-progress.
- However, in these largely uncharted territories, all players must be willing to learn from new experiences, and from information sources both inside and outside conventional structures. And to actually adapt, not simply document.
- The most critical challenges are shifting from technical to business & commercial, organisational, cultural, behavioural. This may require a re-framing of plateauing innovation and automation programs.
- There remain many different opinions on the speed/relevance of standards; future role of traditional vendors; collaboration models; outsourcing policy…. What convergence exists is driven by pragmatism and clarifying the line-of-sight to real customer problems.
The questions we came with take time, insight and experience to answer, as well as information from the market. For Appledore’s research on AI, Automation, Edge and 5G, FutureNet World 2020 delivered on providing a window into telecom’s work-in-progress, good and not-so-good. Congratulations to Giles Cummings and his team for producing another focused, relevant, slickly-produced and worthwhile FutureNet. Appledore will certainly be returning.