The Value Plane: How telcos can make 5G amazing

The Value Plane: How telcos can make 5G amazing

Becoming a mobile operator isn’t just about buying the spectrum. You must orchestrate many moving parts to make the business work, such as the subscribers, network, IT workload, and service delivery.

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David Hovey, Product Line Management Lead


11 Jan 2023

The Value Plane: How telcos can make 5G amazing

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Growing up, I always needed to take off one more layer to see how things worked. I wanted to see what was behind and inside everything.

Not surprisingly, I went on to study engineering at university. But it wasn’t just about the books — I love building with my hands. I became a semi-professional welder. I have a knack for figuring out how to figure things out.

I spent a year in the manufacturing industry during my student years when 2G and GSM were just starting (it was 1995, although it sounds like the 1800s!) It was my first exposure to how technologies worked in the real world.

I fought the establishment to bring computing into the manufacturing environment to do things differently — not just to keep doing the same things faster. I created a robotic system, used it as my thesis, and scored one of the best grades for it.

The conjunction between technology and the real world fascinates me, and bridging the gap is what I do. In fact, my division at Amdocs is doing this with our 5G strategy. The technology sounds great on paper, but where does the rubber meet the road? And when it does, what does it look like? And how does it contribute to our customers’ long-term vision?

The answer starts on the value plane

After 18 years at Cisco, I entered the startup scene in 2018 to return to what fascinates me the most. My company, Intelli-gens, focused on applications where operational technology meets the real world.

A few contacts and beers later, Intelli-gens took off and was later acquired by Amdocs. My next question was, how could I create value in this environment? After many discussions with leadership and marketing, we decided to call what we do with 5G and how we do it the “value plane.”

The concept of the value plane starts with what goes on behind technology stacks, which consist of different layers. When you perform a search on Google, you’re interacting with the very top layer. Meanwhile, data packets are pumped through all the layers underneath (e.g., the ethernet, your device) to show you the information.

Mobile networks work similarly. We have the physical user plane where interaction happens. Underneath, there’s a control plane that ensures users stay connected.

The value plane sits above the control layer and underneath the physical one. It’s where we put all the levers to generate value. To say it more practically, it answers the question: How do telcos make money from all these antennas and cell towers?

In this model, the infrastructure is a means to an end. The value plane is where monetization happens. Businesses and consumers don’t care about your antennas and cell towers. They care about the value-add services and applications you deliver through them.

But enabling the value plane isn’t just saying, “let’s make some money.” We need an IT infrastructure to support the strategy. The old way of running data centers isn’t cutting it, and we must revisit the foundation.

The cloud and microservices set the foundation

Becoming a mobile operator isn’t just about buying the spectrum. You must orchestrate many moving parts to make the business work, such as the subscribers, network, IT workload, and service delivery.

One of these parts involves how you move data across networks. Moving data is nothing abstract — you need data centers, which are big boxes with a ton of equipment. You can’t scale up hardware at the drop of a hat.

Yet, with most traffic going through the internet, which has become part of the pipe, telcos can’t scale the old way. You can’t be agile if you’re bogged down by a data center’s capacity or have monolithic software that runs into elasticity issues.

You can’t focus on service delivery, customer experience, and monetization if you keep worrying about how to scale your data center to keep up with demand.

This is where the cloud and microservices come in. Just like I did as a kid, we pulled everything apart. We broke every piece down to the smallest logical component and modularized everything by breaking a monolithic structure down into the right-sized composite parts.

Each part plays a well-defined role and can scale independently, creating a self-healing system that can morph based on demand.

Overcoming cloud and 5G adoption challenges

This complex web of atomized parts is where opportunities lie. You can assemble your cloud using different microservices, which allows you to flex your business model around shifting market demand. Moving applications to the cloud enables companies to gain economies of scale and agility while focusing on their core business.

So what must telcos focus on? Your long-term vision for the customer experience. Not how many servers you need next week to handle a possible spike in workload.

Applications such as gaming, streaming, and remote working require a lot of flexibility and agility along with low latency and high reliability — the cloud can solve that. That’s why 5G is on the cloud. That’s why even Nasdaq moved everything, including its sensitive information, to the cloud.

But adoption isn’t without its challenges.

First, many companies are still stuck with “how things were done” — people, processes, and pride from the past create resistance. We have to ask the tough questions and shake things up.

Then, we must tackle the more practical and physical aspect — data centers. The cloud is cost-effective because thousands of companies run their workloads in a small number of giant data centers, allowing providers to amortize the cost. But there are only around 30 available zones worldwide, leaving many countries with latency issues.

This is where mobile edge computing comes in. It reduces latency and makes 5G applications possible. In particular, mobile operators already invested in physical network assets have the infrastructure for placing compute capabilities close to the edge. They can even trade with public cloud providers or make their distributed cloud capabilities available for a fee.

The answer also ends on the value plane

How should telcos make sense of all the new capabilities, demands, and moving parts? Start from the customer experience. If you want to support VR, your cloud can’t live in a data center halfway around the world — the latency won’t allow for a satisfactory experience.

You have to work backward from what a happy customer wants. How can you put 5G in context and make it amazing for your customers?

I remember reading a book that says instead of a minimum value proposition, aim for a minimum lovable one. Telcos must work backward from customer scenarios, which brings us back to the concept of the value plane where the confluence happens.

5G is an efficient means to an end. It gives you more spectrum, backhaul, cell sites, and density. All these factors stack up to create a dramatically different user experience. Telco’s job is to deliver value where the rubber meets the road.

It’s a vast playing field, and you must identify what you can bring to the table. Make a conscious decision what applications to focus on and how you can become an active and valuable player in the ecosystem.

Telcos have the opportunity right now to put a stake in the ground and set the stage for future success. It’s time to plan for the long view.

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