Kathy Gibson is at Mobile World Congress 2022 – Open software-defined technology is rapidly becoming the foundation on which telecommunications operators (telcos) are building modern networks that offer agile and flexible new services to customers.

Both traditional and new telcos are adopting VMware’s software solutions that allow them to offer new greenfield services.

Traditional telcos

For instance, BT was looking for technology that will allow it to continue to offer customers the predictability they expect, together with the ability to quickly launch new services.

“What we want to give our customers is predictable outcomes,” says Bas Burger, CEO: global at BT.

It is more important than ever for enterprises and consumers to be able to access their infrastructure 24/7, he adds. “Telco infrastructure is a commodity – except when it doesn’t work, when it becomes really important,” Burger quips.

“So we are doubling down to improve the predictability of our infrastructure’s performance. We do this mainly through the technology we implement, and also by mining data to do things like protecting against cybercrime.

“We do this with best-of-breed technology partners, which is easier today because of APIs and microservices in the multi-cloud environment.”

Burger explains that this environment makes it possible for each vendor to best utilise their applications anywhere, with data stored anywhere and virtual machines running anywhere.

“Our job is to connect all this in a predictable fashion.”

BT is partnering with VMware to offer multinational customers more choice and flexibility in how they embrace a cloud-first approach to networking, security, and edge computing.

Under the terms of the agreement, BT will offer its customers VMware Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) as a global managed service, combining BT’s extensive networking capabilities and in-depth security expertise with VMware technology.

The new managed service will help customers accelerate their digital transformation by providing employees wherever they are with flexible, more secure, and reliable access to cloud-based applications and services deployed in public and private clouds, SaaS, or at the enterprise edge. It will support the adoption of the latest digital technologies and workstyles, including IoT and hybrid working.

As part of the single-vendor ecosystem managed service, BT will provide full end-to-end support across networking and security, protecting access to applications and data across private, hybrid and multi-clouds. This will remove complexity for customers on adopting a full SASE approach and will be especially compelling for those looking to transform both networking and security operations.

VMware’s cloud-delivered SASE solution brings together the network performance benefits of SD-WAN, integrated security services delivered from the cloud, and the ability to support modern distributed applications, all of which will benefit from artificial intelligence for IT operations, or AIOps, for faster problem resolution.

These capabilities are delivered as a service from a global network of over 150 points of presence (PoPs) deployed by VMware and its SASE service provider partners. BT will peer its network PoPs with VMware PoPs, so customers have an enhanced end user experience on the VMware platform.

The new BT-managed VMware SASE service will launch with features including URL filtering; in-line cloud access security broker (CASB) to protect user activity; content filtering to reduce attack surfaces; and content inspection to protect against malware attacks.

For customers looking to adopt hybrid workstyles, BT will provide VMware Secure Access. This zero-trust network access service allows only trusted devices and remote workers to access enterprise applications hosted on premises or in the cloud.

New telcos

At the other side of the spectrum, Dish is a new telco setting up a US-wide cloud-based 5G network that will go live at the end of this year.

Marc Rouanne, executive vice-president and chief network officer at Dish, explains that the company is building its network in a completely different way from other operators.

“We are using all the technologies that everyone else has invested in developing over time,” he says.

Explaining the thinking behind Dish’s technology choices, Rouanne says: “When we started, we thought because we are new player, there is no way we could capture market share on the consumer side. So we decided to focus on the enterprise market, and our network is built completely for enterprise customers, with consumer almost a by-product.”

Enterprises tend to know exactly what their needs are, Rouanne points out. “They need to connect goods and assets; then once they have the data, they can come up with plenty of good ideas on how to use it. We need to help them to connect and share data, then let them run whatever they have.”

As a new company, Dish was able to decide how to run its own data centre operations, and opted to do everything in the cloud. “We only buy software, not hardware,” Rouanne says. “Everything else is the in the cloud with Kubernetes, powered by VMware.”

The benefits of this approach have been eye-opening, he says. “As an engineer I have been blown away by the ease of use we are seeing by being cloud-native. If you compare it to what we were doing in the past, an order of magnitude – two orders of magnitude – would still not do it justice.

“And the difference that we see in the field is dramatic. This sense of agility with programmability means we can simply shift containers digitally, and update them as required.”

Another greenfield site is Safaricom, which – as part of an international consortium named the Global Partnership for Ethiopia – was granted the second Unified Telecommunication Service License in July 2021.

Safaricom Ethiopia is building a telecom network for commercial launch and to contribute to Ethiopia’s digital transformation and inclusion objectives, with VMware as its Telco Cloud Platform partner.

VMware Telco Cloud Platform enables service providers to rapidly deploy and efficiently operate multi-vendor CNFs and VNFs with agility and scalability across 5G and other networks that span from the core and the edge, to the radio access network (RAN). Safaricom intends to deploy the platform across both its IT environments and telco network in Ethiopia.

Big telcos

Bharti Airtel is the largest operator in the world, with customers numbering 350-million consumers, 1-million SMEs and 4 000 enterprises.

Pradipt Kapoor, CIO of Bharti Airtel, explains that the region the telco operates in is behind on issuing 5G licences, so it has focused its attention on helping its enterprise customers to build private clouds.

“Enterprises are looking for reliability and performance, and we think we can help them to roll out private clouds.

“With VMware, we are able to deliver on that.”

The consumer market has its own challenges, but also a wealth of opportunities, Kapoor adds. “There is a lot more we could be doing with data analytics based on the volumes of data and customers.”

But, like any big project, Kapoor points out that the underlying foundation has to be sound. “And, thanks to our partnership with VMware, it is.”