It’s alliance time. All together now!
Analysts have been warning for some time now that if telcos are to make the most of 5G, and in particular crack the enterprise market, they will need to co-operate with one another on a massive scale. And it looks like they are finally doing it in spades, says freelance telecoms writer, Peter Dykes.
Talk about alliances? They’re like the proverbial London buses – you don’t see one for ages and then several come along together. In February, the bus stop was located in Barcelona at the Fira de Europa. Arriving almost simultaneously were ORAN, and the 5G Slicing Association, both of which already had a few passengers on board.
ORAN is an alliance that ‘combines and extends the efforts of the C-RAN Alliance and the xRAN Forum into a single operator-led effort’ and ‘drive new levels of openness in the radio access network of next generation wireless systems’. Founder members include Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO and Orange. As the alliance also includes AT&T and China Mobile, it could be interesting to watch how ORAN progresses given the current U.S. administration’s deep suspicion of Chinese telecoms tech.
Beyond the new radios
Unabashed, Andre Fuetsch, president AT&T Labs and CTO says, “To take full advantage of the flexibility of 5G, we have to go beyond the new radios and change the overall architecture of the end-to-end system. Open modularity, intelligent software-defined networks, and virtualisation will be essential to deliver agile services to our customers. ORAN will accelerate industry progress in these areas.”
China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom are also among founder members of other new multi-operator grouping announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC18) – the 5G Slicing Association. Taking a more cross-industry approach, the group also includes Digital Domain, Fraunhofer FOKUS, GE, Huawei, CEPRI of SGCC, Tencent, TIM and Volkswagen.
Zhang Tongxu, general manager of China Mobile’s Research Institute says, “As the fundamental feature of 5G, network slicing does not only help the vertical industries to achieve digital transformation vision, but also brings new opportunities for operators to engage with the vertical market.
We expect that, 5G Slicing Association will be the platform to connect the telecom industry with vertical industries. It will help to establish a common understanding of network slicing, establish an enriched industrial chain, incubate application innovation, and explore new business model of network slicing”.
Next gen German
On the subject of Deutsche Telekom and its alliances, the German giant has announced three new members to its Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance (ngena) in the form of A1 Telekom Austria Group, KPN, and VEON, which has operations in Russia and Eastern Europe. The alliance is aimed at continuing to expand Deutsche Telekom’s SD-WAN global network offerings for businesses.
Patrick Molck-Ude, who is responsible for network business for Deutsche Telekom’s corporate customers, says, “Corporate customers need strong and secure global lines that they can manage flexibly. And they want to connect new company sites quickly. That’s the new baseline for every international carrier.”
The graveyard of ambition is littered with alliances that have failed over the years, but to be fair some have prospered, particularly those based around a specific technology such as DECT and Wi-Fi. These have, however, tended to be vendor-driven with operators only coming on board when the technology is close to commercialisation. It seems though that among the operators there is a new spirit of co-operation abroad, albeit one driven by commercial necessity.
Despite this new-found willingness to co-operate with potential competitors, it remains to be seen if multi-operator alliances can really work, particularly as the market is changing rapidly and the main cash-cow enterprises will require connectivity services with an international reach.
By Peter Dykes, freelance telecoms writer