What a great week it was at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I had the pleasure of meeting telco executives, network equipment providers (NEP) and several members of our Global Alliances ecosystem and exchange ideas on the fast-changing pace of our industry with them. One thing is clear: communication service providers (CSP) have a great future ahead of them, as 5G sets a new step in the journey of IT and telecoms convergence. I am convinced the entire ecosystem will benefit from this evolution.
It is no surprise that 5G again dominated the conversations at #MWC18. Plenty of press announcements around new use cases that are popping up and more companies pledging to use this new faster, smarter and more agile network in their applications. As a Swiss citizen, I was quite proud to hear that Swisscom is one of the very early birds, rolling out 5G as early as next October, in large cities and in some selected rural locations. Too soon for consumer applications, but I am certain that the enterprise sphere is where 5G will take off first.
New networking paradigm
With a throughput of 20 Gb/s and a latency closed to the millisecond 5G is having a huge impact on network architecture and is accelerating the rise of the concept of Edge Computing. Three years ago, we all believed there would be one big cloud, the hyperscale cloud, and devices communicating with that cloud. Today, the architecture has changed completely: apps demand real time and need to shift big amounts of data. Sending everything back and forth to this one cloud is impossible and undesirable, so we are setting up compute power on the edge. We now have a continuum of compute and storage across the cloud, the datacenter and the edge of the system.
Let me give you two examples of apps that demand this new paradigm, and that I also discussed during the Mobile World Congress. Imagine a tourist visiting a medieval town in Switzerland. Thanks to virtual reality, (s)he can participate in this medieval setting as if he were living in the middle ages, getting a tremendous experience. To achieve this, you need processing power close to the end-device itself, not in some über-cloud. The same applies to autonomous vehicles, the most impactful change our society will witness in the coming years. All data being processed cannot be sent from a car to a central location; security on the road demands low latency and high-bandwidth, therefor compute power close to the roadside. That’s why we saw tremendous interest from telcos at MWC for the Modular Data Center we demonstrated on our booth. Where other vendors are still trying to figure out how to account for Multi-Access Edge computing in their offering, Dell EMC can already propose mature and immediately applicable products that cater to the new architectural and infrastructural demands, products that operate from the edge, to the core, to the cloud.
True convergence, at last
CSP find themselves in a great position here: they have 5G coming up, they own pervasive networks and they increasingly also have the capacity to work as an IT services company. If you look at the financial results of European telcos, you will notice that their IT services activities are the strongest generators of growth. Thanks to 5G, the convergence between IT and telecoms is giving birth to a new area and to new applications: our imagination will be the only limit.
On the other hand, the CSPs also carry the burden of the extra investments. The vertically integrated, bulky network infrastructure that the NEP were selling them for the last few years, will no longer do. They now need a more open infrastructure, built for agility and flexibility as it is not yet clear how the use cases will evolve. Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) will be a key to the solution of 5G. Dell Technologies has developed a full range of NFVI solutions, with Ready Bundles and more… again, paying the necessary tribute to the convergence tide.
Top performers belong to a tech ecosystem
So then, do expanded opportunities for the CSP and their market leadership mean that systems integrators and other IT service providers will be wiped out? Most certainly not. I see the market of service providers as a huge ecosystem, where all members help and reinforce one another. I am convinced that telcos, IT service providers, advisory firms, systems integrators and outsourcers are uniquely positioned to collaborate to help the end customer along on his transformation journey. One party cannot dominate and crush the others without risking to go extinct themselves. Let’s remember what Gartner stated about successful companies last year: belonging to a digital ecosystem differentiates the top performers from the other enterprises.