Takeaways from MWC19: What’s industry collaboration all about?

via Flickr ©  Victor Castilla (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Victor Castilla (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • It crops up all the time: collaboration, partnerships and alliances
  • It all sounds logical, but what’s driving this phase in telecoms...
  • .. and is it the new killer app?

Why does the word ‘collaboration’ pepper so many of our TelecomTV interviews? That’s certainly been the case at MWC this year (and the year before, come to that). So we thought we’d sift through some of our videos to see if we can isolate ‘collaboration’ to find out why it’s become such a ‘thing’.

So what is it?

We’re talking here about collaboration across the piece between one vendor or OEM with another (or several of the same); between a vendor/OEM and a CSP,  and even between two or more CSPs (or any combination of the above.).

Time was, being a collaborator had an illicit and sometimes pejorative overtone (depending whose side you were on). These days, and in our industry especially, it’s usually a positive.  

It’s not so much that a willingness to collaborate can be advanced as a virtue (although there is a lot of that) but it’s more the way the technical challenge for everyone in the telecoms ecosystem has broadened. And that means collaboration is more of a necessity since no one company has the funds (or the inclination) to build everything itself.

But the next challenge is that the resulting systems don’t divide themselves up neatly into components with sharp well-defined edges and clear obligations. Pulling all the collaborative bits together surfaces a new complexity - new words and approaches must come into play.

According to Ian Hood of Red Hat in conversation with Bob Everson of Cisco (see - Why the Red Hat/Cisco partnership is going well) as virtualization has marched across the network it’s actually driven partners Red Hat and Cisco (in this case) closer together in terms of collaboration, he says.

“Now that we see the evolution to microservices, containers and distributed architectures, it’s really made our partnership tighter, because otherwise we couldn’t solve the problems that our customers want [solving] on these open platforms.”

“When we talk about transformation,” says Red Hat’s Mark Wohlfarth, “there’s obviously an important technology element, but to really transform networks and to bring open source to market requires joint innovation and joint collaboration to drive it.” (see - Collaboration is the killer app)

So no more of the old, ‘you tell me what you want and I’ll go back to base and make it for you.’  The new software world requires both buyer and seller (or multiple sellers) to put skin in the game and commit to an outcome - and to keep innovating and collaborating together until they get there.

“In our case it’s the collaboration that is the killer app,” says Affirmed Networks’ Amit Tiwari, “so if you think of virtualisation, and now the journey onto cloudification, it’s the ecosystem of committed partners like ourselves that help make real the best practices that come out of the technologies that each one of us creates.”

“We have to decide on joint road maps, platforms that work together and APIs that work together,” says Intel’s Eric Levander.

“Because vendors collaborate it enables telcos to launch faster, says Amit. “Now we have service providers actually embracing this continuous development model, where they are very agile and are actually launching new services at a pace that, in the past, was only possible for the web-scalers.”

The standout star of the global telco show this year has to be Rakuten. The company started in ecommerce in Japan and branched out into many verticals, going on to the MVNO business about four years ago and eventually deciding it needed to do the network piece itself. The Japanese government was happy to plant Rakuten as a challenger in the Japanese mobile market. (see - How Rakuten stole MWC’s thunder

And now the world’s first cloud native network will happen in Japan, and will happen because of global collaboration, says CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra (see - Global Collaboration for the Global 5G Business).

So how did Rakuten do it?  And how central was collaboration. “As a software-centric organisaton.” says Rakuten’s Tareq Amin, “we knew we were taking a calculated risk by going for a fully cloud native environment.” (see - Pioneering the world’s first Cloud Native network and the road ahead to 5G). They knew issues would arise but were also confident that they could code their way out of any trouble in an agile manner.  

It works remarkably well, he says. So how did Rakuten assemble its collaborators?

The discussions Rakuten had with prospective vendors were not necessarily about technology but about personality, he says. “Who had the right DNA -  we wanted to find like-minded organisations.”

So they didn’t ask how compliant potential partners were over things like 3GPP specifications. Rather they tried to determine organisational compatibility first.

Technology second.

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