Read about telecommunications these days, and you’ll find that there is no shortage of predictions of the amazing things that communication service providers (CSPs) can do with network transformation. Smart factories, remote surgery, drone-based delivery, a “metaverse” of augmented reality (AR) experiences… the list goes on. All of these innovations, and many others, are legitimate possibilities. And the business models they represent are enormous for operators to build new cloud, edge and 5G capabilities into their networks.
Plus, the sci-fi future of these use-cases tells just one side of the story. You don’t have to be on the cutting edge to benefit from modern telco cloud innovation. In fact, many service providers use these tools to provide solutions that might not be visible on the star trek, but it offers tremendous value to CSPs and their customers today.
Let’s trace the transformation journey of two CSPs: Airtel Africa and KDDI. I recently sat down with these service providers who operate in very different markets, serving different types of customers. And while their goals and strategies couldn’t be more different, both networks report major benefits from the change.
KDDI – Creating New Experiences with 5G Edge Innovation
If you want examples of the more cutting-edge possibilities of network transformation, look no further than KDDI, one of Japan’s leading mobile operators. The KDDI telco leads the pack in cloud and edge innovation, and should be one of the first places we look to when considering the possibilities for 5G.
The wider telecom industry has been talking of digital transformation for years; KDDI has done exactly this. It has adopted agile software methodology and DevOps to rapidly develop, test and market new services on its cloud-based network platform. In fact, KDDI has become so expert in agile software that it now provides services to help customers in their digital transformations.
Building on new edge investments, KDDI now also offers a public cloud-connected edge compute service for enterprise customers. And it has launched several proof-of-concept to show what enterprises can do with edge cloud capabilities, including some of the most advanced AR applications you’ll deploy.
However, KDDI has shown even greater leadership in driving 5G innovation. KDDI’s leaders don’t claim to know what the future of 5G is or which use cases will prove most valuable. But instead of using this as an excuse to stagnate, KDDI is working directly with third-party innovators and customers to find out. The company has set up a 5G Business Co-Creation Alliance with a 5G Co-Innovation Lab. KDDI invites technology partners building new 5G applications and enterprises interested in using them to work together to develop new ideas using its 5G and edge infrastructure. When those ideas prove successful, KDDI and its partners can jointly market them as new service offerings. For example, a joint effort is now a live service that an enterprise customer uses to control automated guided vehicles (AGVs) on their factory floors over a public 5G network.
Airtel Africa: Overcoming Market Challenges With Edge Cloud Transformation
KDDI is embarking on an exciting path in telco innovation, but its path is far from the only one. Consider an operator operating in very different conditions: Airtel Africa.
Airtel Africa stands at a different place in its network transformation journey. Its customers have less interest in exploring new 5G possibilities – and in fact, Airtel Africa’s 5G plans are still several years old. However, African enterprise and consumer customers everywhere care much more about getting reliable, always-on data services. Given the unique challenges of the African continent – vast distances to cover, extreme geographic and weather variation, lack of availability of power grids at many locations – delivering it is no easy task. Plus, those challenges create opportunities to use new telco cloud and virtualization technologies in innovative ways.
In many African markets, mobile handsets serve as the primary gateway for consumers to access the digital world. As a result, Africa has become a natural test for mobile-first innovations, such as mobile money, which are more advanced there than in most European markets. African enterprises are also hungry for new options for secure, reliable data connectivity – particularly in mining, where companies operate billions of dollars of operations in far-flung locations far from traditional IT infrastructure.
Airtel Africa aims to lead the market in meeting these needs, and others, with new cloud and virtualized data center capabilities it is building on the network edge. These network enhancements enable Airtel Africa to position content closer to consumers to deliver a superior digital experience while providing highly available data services to enterprises. Airtel Africa can scale up and down edge services with demand, while managing its multinational footprint from a centralized operations hub. And, as edge cloud infrastructure grows, Airtel Africa can leverage new edge computing capabilities to offer fully featured IT services for mining sites and other remote enterprise locations.
All these advancements are based on state-of-the-art telco cloud and virtualization technologies, helping Airtel Africa overcome the unique challenges of its market. For example, the ability to virtualize core network functions means it can extend reliable network coverage and new digital capabilities to more locations, faster and cheaper. This is important, because deploying and maintaining specialized hardware in many parts of the market would be very expensive, if it were possible at all.
Airtel Africa also uses extensive network automation – including sophisticated AI- and machine learning-powered self-healing capabilities – to fix network issues that previously took minutes. In other markets, that level of automation can be a useful cost-saving exercise. For Airtel Africa, which struggles to hire skilled engineering personnel, this is a fundamental requirement to meet customer needs.
Where will your network change take you?
KDDI and Airtel Africa are clearly following very different paths on their transformation journey. So which approach is best? There are both, because the “right” network transformation strategy is the one that solves your unique business problems and benefits your customers.
That’s the great thing about the adoption of the cloud, edge and overall network transformation. Whatever your business strategy, you now have a versatile platform to execute it rapidly, reliably and at a low cost. And, unlike the networks of yesterday, this platform is built to constantly change and evolve. Therefore, no matter where you begin your transformation journey, you can continually build on your investments to bring new prospects to your customers.
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