Why this is important: Although there hasn’t been much groundbreaking 5G news in front of consumers for a long time, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work and innovation happening in another part of the 5G ecosystem: infrastructure. There is growing activity from traditional “compute” industry vendors eager to make an impact in the telco world. Everyone from chip companies like AMD, to hardware manufacturers like Dell, to software houses like Red Hat are redoubling their efforts to help disrupt the market.
Most of these developments aren’t exactly new, but in the run-up to this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, it’s clear that there’s more energy here than the industry has seen in a while. time
All the companies we just mentioned have already announced their telecom infrastructure news before the show. Meanwhile, a larger group of traditional companies in the technology industry are expected to reveal their news at the show.
The telco industry is in the midst of a game-changing transition to a virtualized, software-defined, open standards world when it comes to network infrastructure.
The reasons for such an explosion in the 5G infrastructure news are many. Key among them is that the telco industry is in the midst of a game-changing transition to a virtualized, software-defined, open world standards when it comes to network infrastructure. After decades of being dominated by a few specialized hardware vendors (notably Ericsson, Nokia and, more recently, Samsung Networks) the system is shocking.
As others have pointed out, this is similar to the large and challenging transition that many businesses faced when they first started virtualizing their server workloads and then moved some of them to the cloud many years ago. Not only does that require new ways of thinking, but there are also new types of software and software development models, a shift in operations from a hardware-centric world to one that is defined in the software. Additionally, there are higher expectations for reliability in the telco world because, while any major cloud computing service going down is bad, having an entire mobile network go down is even worse.
These higher reliability demands are also part of the reason why it took so long for the telco industry to start making these types of moves. Well, that, and the fact that carriers tend to have a more conservative, single-use mindset when it comes to integrating advanced technologies.
Simply put, installing, configuring, running, and automating all the elements needed to operate cellular networks today, it turns out, is hard, complex work. The task is especially daunting for 5G networks because of all the inherent changes required to modernize, virtualize and “cloudify” the different parts of a typical network, from RAN (radio access network) to the network core of the 5G world.
The complexity of the work also explains why many companies see opportunities. There are many tasks to be performed, software to be deployed, hardware to be managed, data to be facilitated, and processes to be automated in a geographically dispersed networks often consisting of hundreds of thousands of sites. After years of delay, there seems to be a burst of energy now focused on many challenges. Not only have we seen an increase in the variety and sophistication of product offerings, there is a large amount of news related to partnerships, joint development efforts and other collaborative works.
All this shows that building and modernizing 5G networks is extremely difficult and beyond the scope of any organization. It also highlights that even with standards like Open RAN (ORAN), it’s challenging to get all the necessary pieces to work together, let alone an intuitive approach that can easily be replicated across thousands of sites. Of course, there is also the practical reality that these types of transitions will take years to happen and many improvements, changes and changes to offerings will be needed along the way. Finally, you can’t ignore that not everyone has fully bought into ORAN’s vision as it stands, so there are philosophical hurdles to overcome as well.
Put it all together and you can see what a challenging task it really is to modernize the 5G network infrastructure. But as the virtualization and “cloudification” of the world of business computing has clearly shown us, it is possible to get there and, already, important steps are being taken.
Returning to the first vendor news, AMD announced the establishment of a Telco Solutions Testing Lab used to test and verify various telco-focused software not only on its CPUs and GPUs, but Adaptive SoCs , SmartNICs, FPGAs, DPUs and radios it acquired as part of its purchase of Xilinx and Pensando Systems. Interestingly, it also announced a partnership with Nokia, indicating that traditional network hardware vendors have all begun to adapt some of their solutions in the form of software to work with general purpose servers. They also debuted some new additions to its line of Zynq cellular radio platform chips.
For its part, Dell introduced several new PowerEdge servers specifically designed for telco applications and announced a new partnership with Red Hat. The goal of the deal is to release preconfigured systems that use Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat Advance Cluster Management for Kubernetes to allow carriers to prefer the Red Hat platform (versus, say, Wind River or others more options) to make cloud-native network functions run smoothly. of new hardware.
In the process, telcos using it can reduce their costs and increase the flexibility of their offerings. Interestingly, Dell announced an expanded version of the Open Telecom Ecosystem Lab that debuted last year to also help with the ongoing challenge of making all these pieces work together. Finally, Dell also unveiled a Private Wireless Program and a specific release of Airspan and Expeto to facilitate businesses to create their own private 4G and 5G networks.
It’s true that advances in network infrastructure aren’t as exciting as shiny new phones or groundbreaking 5G services, but they’re just as important. After all, that infrastructure ensures that exciting new devices can work, and whizbang new services can operate. It seems clear that 2023 will be a year where more of the 5G industry’s attention will be on the often “invisible” infrastructure than anything else. I’m willing to bet, though, that means we’ll see some very visible and exciting new developments in 2024.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and principal analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.