A report published by ABI Research finds that if service providers hope to gain any operational efficiency as they roll out 5G wireless services, they will need to embrace cloud-native technologies such as containers at both the network edge and in the core of the network services they provide.
Don Alusha, senior analyst for ABI Research, says carriers already are rushing to embrace containers alongside virtual machines as they move to deliver a broad range of virtual network services. However, many of them have already invested in virtual network functions (VNFs) to reduce costs by deploying them on top of a virtual machine, for example. However, in the middle of that transition, container network functions (CNFs) that are not only portable across multiple virtual machines but also can run on top of bare-metal servers emerged. Now carriers are trying to determine which virtual network services would perform best when deployed as containers versus relying on legacy VNFs as Kubernetes and other platforms continue to evolve and mature.
Right now, carriers are starting to roll out CNFs at the network edge in support of 5G, especially because they tend to be more efficient from a hardware perspective, notes Alusha, adding it’s also now only a matter of time before containers are employed more widely at the network core. Delivering 5G networking services at scale will require lighter-weight approaches to virtualization than legacy virtual machines can provide today, even lighter-weight container platforms than the ones being employed today, he says.
Alusha predicts the transition to 5G network services is likely to be a 15-year journey. While some carriers are far down the road to providing 5G services at scale, most are still in the early stages. In fact, many carriers are launching 5G services at the edge without having automated their backend systems using cloud-native platforms, he notes. Many carriers simply don’t have the skills to make this transition, especially when it comes to building and securing microservices-based applications built using container platforms.
However, the pressure to acquire those skills will substantially increase as web-scale companies continue to add communication and collaboration services delivered via the cloud. In most cases, these so-called “over-the-air” providers of services are leveraging public clouds and the network pipes carriers make available to build and deploy cloud-native services that replace services that carriers historically have provided. All told, ABI Research estimates the market for cloudified 4G and 5G network elements is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25% to reach $20 billion by 2024. The transition to cloud-native platforms is not all but inevitable, Alusha says.
It’s too early to say which IT vendors might benefit most from the transition to cloud-native computing platforms being made by service providers of all types. What is clear is the race to build, deploy and manage those platforms is well underway.