The spotlight is still on 5G, but the network transformation that is underway is much wider in scope and goes deep into all parts of our connectivity infrastructure, in which wireless and wireline are now converged. But it is only by a well-concerted evolution of the entire network infrastructure and services that CSPs can succeed in extracting the benefits that new technologies bring and in creating a compelling experience for their users.
This is where the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) comes into play. It is not quite the rockstar that 5G is, it is more like a beehive that thrives only when each bee brings its contribution for the common good. No single bee is essential, but a collaborative ethos is, both within the ODA community and with other complementary open-source initiatives that share the same vision for a radically new approach to build, operate, optimize and innovate wireless networks.
Taking open source to OSS/BSS
The open-source movement is very prolific in the creation of new initiatives, and there is a risk of fragmentation, which is at odds with the goal of opening up wireless networks.
ODA has carved a compelling focus area: creating an open-source path to digital transformation in OSS/BSS (operations/business support systems) using the TM Forum as its solid constituent base. OSS/BSS is one of the parts of wireless networks where digital transformation is most urgent because legacy solutions have become increasingly inadequate as new layers of customization and ad-hoc fixes have been applied incrementally using an approach that no longer works in 5G virtualized networks and cannot support the massive IoT and enterprise applications that are the main opportunity for growth for CSPs.
The TM Forum announced the ODA in 2018 to create a platform that expands the vision of the Open APIs launched in 2016. With the addition of Amdocs, Netcracker, Nokia and Oracle, plus BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Telenor as signatories in June 2020, ODA got a big boost in the industry support it needs to succeed. ODA now has more than 30 members, half of which are CSPs – including China Mobile, NTT, Orange, Vodafone (but, interestingly, not Verizon and AT&T).
Creating a marketplace for Open APIs
Open APIs make it possible for CPSs to combine the software modules they need from multiple vendors or other CSPs. This encourages a learn-to-fail culture and continuous innovation that will transform integration and customization from an expensive and time-consuming burden to an opportunity for CSPs to respond more quickly and effectively to customer needs and to extract more value from their networks.
ODA adds a framework around Open APIs that includes a software marketplace to make it easy for CSPs to find the ODA-compliant services they need and to know they can seamlessly add them to their networks. CSPs can try software modules and if they like them, they can deploy them where and when needed within their networks.
This is a fundamental shift from the traditionally lengthy and expensive procurement process that requires a large upfront financial commitment to a much more flexible software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, in which software costs are recurrent – i.e. they become OpEx items – and are based on adoption. Once a CSP no longer uses a module, the fees for the service would disappear.
The ambition of ODA is to move beyond OSS and BSS: it aims to erase the split between OSS and BSS solutions that often operate in isolation from each other, often with unnecessary overlap. An open platform such as ODA has a modular structure that is focused on services and microservices that CSP can selectively adopt to meet their needs. This will increase efficiency by promoting the exchange of resources and data across modules and functions and avoiding duplication of efforts.
A compelling transition
The transition to new, collaborative, dynamic and open platforms for OSS/BSS is needed due to the inability of the legacy systems to scale to our growing connectivity needs and technological capabilities, to create or enhance services with the flexibility and speed that the market demands. Upgrading the current systems is no longer a viable, efficient and cost-effective solution.
If they stick to legacy solutions, CSPs risk being marginalized, especially in the enterprise, IoT and IIoT markets. These are the market segments with the largest adoption and revenue growth opportunity with 5G, but also those where traditionally they have struggled the most to penetrate.
CSPs are aggressively trying to change this and expand their reach in the enterprise and the services they offer to the enterprise, and fend off the increasingly strong competition, increasingly coming not only from their peers but from new entrants, such as cloud players, system integrators, neutral hosts and even from enterprises that want to build and operate their own private networks.
The way forward
ODA is part of TM Forum’s Open Digital Framework (ODF), which includes the Open API initiative, a compliance certification program and tools to assist CSPs to move from their legacy systems to ODA-based solutions. This is all a work in progress, currently focused on trials and interoperability tests. The TM Forum expects compliance certification by 2021-2022 and wide commercial availability by 2023.
This is an aggressive timeline. Despite the high-level commitment from vendors and CSPs ODA, the transition from highly customized and proprietary solutions to an open software environment is bound to generate internal resistance in the silos-dominated culture that vendors and CSPs share, and that have proven hard to eradicate.
We should be ready to expect that commercial availability may expand gradually, as many vendors may resist the adoption of ODA because they see it as a threat to their current business model and an increase in the competition they see in the market. The commitment to openness and the ability to deliver high quality containerized, micro-service solutions will vary across vendors and may change the ecosystem balances and dynamics.
Adoption may also be slow, as CSPs may push for ODA-compliant solutions in their procurement, but they may face internal resistance and risk aversion. They also need to get used to a more dynamic adoption model which will give them more flexibility and scope for innovation, but requires a new approach to evaluating competing solutions.
The gradual adoption of ODA solutions, however, may be to the advantage of both vendors and CSPs. It will give vendors time to refine their solutions and learn from initial deployments of the technology. It will give CSPs the buffer they need to change their OSS/BSS and software culture and move beyond their silos as they go through evolution.
CSPs and vendors have to collaborate with each other to get a mature ecosystem, but they also have to start to work internally to flesh out their strategy now if they want to hit the ground running when the ODA marketplace will take off.
The wider context
ODA is one of the pieces that will accelerate CSPs’ digital transformation by contributing to a wider change in how software is designed, developed, sold, procured, integrated with legacy solutions, deployed, operated, maintained, and updated. To that end, it is crucial that ODA is adopted along with – and as a complement to – open source platforms such as ONAP and new approaches to software development such as DevOps and Agile. Only if embedded in a new collaborative approach to software development and adoption can ODA transform the OSS/BSS systems to meet our new, pervasive and crucial connectivity needs and accelerate the CSP digital transformation.