Vodafone’s Journey to the Cloud Native Telco

Vodafone is embracing Cloud Native to transform from a Telco to a Techco and build a 5G and IoT digital ecosystem platform.

Speaking with Ankur Jain of Google and Jitin Bhandari of Nokia, Dr Lester Thomas, Head of New Technologies and Innovation for Vodafone, shares his views on the Cloud Native trend and it’s implementation for telcos.

Cloud Native Telco Roadmap

Vodafone has been on a journey from Virtualization to Cloud Native, adopting a Cloud Native approach to drive network automation and build a data platform on the Google Cloud.

This is headlined by a transformation from a Telco to a Techco, to develop a 5G and IoT platform business that realizes new revenue streams well beyond traditional telco services, and they have leveraged Kubernetes to achieve this.

Light Reading comments in 2020 on the practical challenges of advancing through this Cloud Native journey, at a time Lester was spearheading the development of the TMF’s Open Digital Architecture, an overall framework to guide and structure this evolution.

Multi-Cloud Telco as a Service: Telco PaaS

In this TelecomTV interview with Scott Petty, Vodafone’s Director of Digital & IT, they describe how Vodafone has revamped its internal digital development and IT operations to become more efficient, effective and Cloud Native.

This includes adding 7,000 additional software developers to its pan-European R&D team, and an approach called “OneSource,” which is built on open source concepts of open platforms, to which developers contribute capabilities, take capabilities from, and are able to contribute and build software that is used throughout their environment.

Vodafone has invested in a “common infrastructure platform – what they call TaaS, or Telco-as-a-Service – a common cloud-native infrastructure platform that all about developers use to build all of their infrastructure, automate their code, write feature capabilities and contribute that to a set of code repositories that can be used by other developers inside Vodafone.

This approach can be used across both private and public Clouds, the latter which they call upon to cater for large-scale traffic events, such as the iPhone launch day.

Furthermore this multi-cloud capability enables them to use other providers for different functions, they also use Azure and Google for services like analytics for example, and when regulatory or security requirements dictate they use their own internal Cloud. Their TaaS manages the interfaces between them.

It also enables accelerated digital service innovation. Standardizing and automating tooling capabilities like software testing has achieved a 40% increase in developer throughput and a 30% improvement in quality. They’ve built a set of shared and integrated services, a ‘network-as-a-platform’ model, enabling them to build new capabilities and services that sit on top of the common infrastructure layer which share common underlying components, exposed as a set of microservices and APIs.

Beyond the Smartphone – Building Digital Ecosystems

In the interview Lester highlights again that Vodafone’s vision goes well beyond humans and smartphones, providing new digital services to machine automate industries like Energy, Manufacturing, Agriculture and Healthcare, with great opportunity to innovate atop 5G.

This smart Internet of Things will connect everything from robots to medical diagnostics and introduce an expanded factor of complexity into already complex telco systems, compounded by the challenge that these markets will have very low margins.

So one of the key drivers for their Cloud Native strategy is to emulate the great cost efficiencies the hyper-scalers have achieved. In the immediate they have employed a Cloud Native approach to drive their own digital transformation, moving all of their own processes into digital channels, achieved through agile devops teams and use of Kubernetes.

In conclusion Jitin comments that the telco industry has not been as effective as the IT sector in using open APIs to build innovation ecosystems, and he asks what more the sector can be doing to accelerate these efforts.

Lester responds by describing how a key strategic benefit of the hyper-scalers is they have abstracted away the complexity of managing large-scale IT infrastructure, and enterprise customers would see the same value in telcos achieving the same effect, where via open APIs they can access services like digital twins and data analytics.

He envisages a digital ecosystem model where Vodafone will provide the building blocks of digital service components that industry partners in sectors like Healthcare can then leverage to create next generation digital healthcare solutions.

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