Network performance is the biggest barrier to new services and innovation, according to Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson, who opened the Broadband World Forum keynote on day two of the event.
Continuing a theme introduced by speakers on the previous day, where innovations largely driven by over the top services, such as Facebook, Google Maps and Netflix, were only made possible once network performance reached a critical level, Ewaldsson also noted a change in language and behaviour in the way networks are being used.
This is largely due to the fact that Ericsson is seeing a shift in its own customer base. Whereas attendees to a keynote presentation at a forum like Broadband World would traditionally expect references to tier one telcos as customers, now the presentations are peppered with mentions of Facebook and automotive manufacturers like BMW.
“Our customer base is changing a lot because new requirements are coming from other industries,” Ewaldsson told telecoms.com in an interview after the keynote. “Technology requirements used to come from the operators but now come from the operators’ customers and our challenge is to make networks as relevant as possible. Fortunately the CTO platform is a great platform to discuss the requirements from many different industries,” he said.
“The customers I deal with are not super techie, they are businessmen and we need to translate all this technology down to a level that these executives can understand.” It was a point picked up by KPN’s own group CTO Erik Hoving the previous day, when he commented that so many of the acronyms the industry uses to describe what it does fail to convey the meaning and capabilities of the technology in question.
Yet each industry, whether social media, car manufacturing, or windmill management, has its own thought leaders who must convey to the network builders what they require to mobilise their business.
“Each industry has its own visionaries and each industry can be enabled by digitalisation,” said Ewaldsson. ”And they will be more so enabled by increased network performance,” he said.
“The mobile component has a meaning to most industries – even those that you don’t initially think about such as a local company here in Amsterdam that manages windmills. They don’t have fibre to connect to the windmills so they must rely on wireless instead.”
More and more industries are becoming software centric and reliant on communications networks and the operators of those networks are becoming more and more different. In the heyday of analogue mobile telephony, when NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephony) was the standard used in Europe, Ewaldsson said the industry then was closer to a “McDonald’s model” of franchising – where the vendor would provide the same kit to all its customers and the operator would provide the same service as its competitors.
But Software Defined Networking (SDN), virtualisation and cloud are changing that and will in fact have the biggest impact the industry has ever seen. There is a return to centralisation of computing power and storage and the rise of the sentient network – self aware, self healing and scalable, pushing a move from subscriptions to sessions. But all these clouds will have to be connected and this increased network complexity is driving a need for simplification.
To this end Ericsson is talking about “network slices” where each ‘slice’ of the network from the processor compute on the endpoint all the way back to the datacentre in the core, can have its own QoS, managed by a dynamically created virtual machine in the cloud. But the discussion here is more about coverage than compute and Ericsson’s argument is that the network should be the biggest component in the cloud society.