VMware wants to decouple the telco technology stack

VMware is trying to break the stranglehold of integrated technology stacks on telcos, but network equipment suppliers are not ceding ground

For years, telecoms network equipment suppliers such as Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia have courted telcos with integrated hardware and software offerings that are touted to offer better performance and manageability.

Building telecoms networks using these often proprietary “vertical stacks” can be expensive, slow and take specialised skills, which is why a breed of offerings from the IT industry have emerged to challenge the status quo.

Speaking at a VMworld 2020 virtual press briefing for Southeast Asian media, Sanjay Poonen, chief operating officer of VMware, claimed the company has had big success with its telco solutions aimed at carriers looking to decouple the conventional telco stack.

Calling it a “powerful phenomenon”, Poonen said the idea was to use commodity hardware and leverage software to change the cost economics of operating a “very expensive” technology stack.

The dawn of 5G networks, which depend on virtualisation to deliver on the promises of the technology, such as ultra-low latencies and throughputs of up to 10Gbps, make such opportunities ripe for the picking.

In early September 2020, VMware unveiled a 5G telco cloud platform that it claimed would offer a carrier-grade, high-performance cloud native infrastructure with intelligent automation.

The new platform includes Tanzu Kubernetes Grid – an embedded Kubernetes distribution – that will allow telcos to build, manage and run containerised workloads across private, telco, edge and public clouds.

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The 5G telco cloud platform follows VMware’s earlier tie-up with Intel to develop a pre-integrated software platform for virtualised radio access networks.

“We believe VMware has a great opportunity to become the operating system in the 5G world for telco service providers,” said Sanjay Deshmukh, vice-president and managing director for Southeast Asia and Korea at VMware.

“All the innovations we announced in this area are going to help us strengthen our partnership with our telco customers and help them accelerate their transformation,” he added.

Deshmukh said enabling 5G enterprise use cases has been driving telcos to adopt VMware’s telco offerings in a bid to address the inefficiencies of technology stacks from network equipment providers.

“With the telco cloud platform, they will have a very efficient infrastructure, which they can scale, and even scale to cloud, if there is a need to do so,” he said. “That’s why they are partnering with us, but more importantly, it will also help them drive specific use cases.”

A more efficient infrastructure also means cost savings. Poonen said that in some cases, telcos such as Vodafone have been able to reduce their cost by at least 50% while increasing their returns-on-investment through improvements in developer productivity.

“We also go the likes of Ericsson and Nokia that have virtual network functions on top of our network function virtualisation stack and get them to certify those on VMware,” he added.

Deep relationships

But telcos and network equipment suppliers have forged deep relationships over decades that can be difficult to untangle. Moreover, in response to the demands of 5G networks, the likes of Nokia have started baking cloud and virtualisation capabilities into their platforms.

In May 2020, Nokia announced that it is working with Japanese mobile operator KDDI in a proof-of-concept project aimed at delivering a fully cloud-based radio access network to support the diverse performance requirements of 5G networks.

“The 5G era will bring incredible opportunities for businesses and consumers alike, but it will place increasing demand on the networks as complexity increases and data traffic explodes,” said Ari Kynaslahti, head of mobile networks product management at Nokia.

“KDDI will be able to use virtualised networks to rapidly respond to its customers’ varied requirements. We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with them in the pursuit of virtualised network best practices and in preparing for a new decade of communication technology.”

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