Timing, Technology, Culture: These Are Key to NaaS – How Can Telcos Get Them Right?
Telcos have tried to open up their networks in the past, but had little success. So will the latest drive towards Network-as-a-Service be different? Ari Banerjee, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Netcracker joined a panel at FutureNet World 2023 to explore the topic.
What happened to the telecoms 'easy button'?
This metaphorical button was supposed to be made available to enterprises a few years back, when mobile network operators (MNOs) first attempted to open up their networks to specialist partners.
This was the first iteration of Network-as-a-service (NaaS), and the idea was that by opening NaaS application programming interfaces (APIs), it would make it simple for partners to take advantage of MNO resources, such as connectivity plus, apps, SD RAN, security and more.
They would simply ‘press the button’ to access them.
But, according to Banerjee, NaaS v1 proved to be a false start. He said, "The idea was that enterprises would come in and get all these services via a marketplace and then be able to white label them to end enterprises. That was the promise. But as we know, the easy button didn't work very well."
Banerjee made his comments as part of a panel at the London edition of FutureNet World 2023 in May. The keynote session was titled: Network as a Service: Delivering on the promise. Participants included:
- Peter Jarich, Head of GSMA Intelligence, GSMA
- Ruza Sabanovic, EVP and Chief Technology Officer, Telenor
- Cayetano Carbajo, Global Director for Core, Transport and Service Platforms, Telefónica
- Ari Banerjee, Senior Vice President, Strategy, Netcracker
Why was NaaS such an important topic at FutureNet? The reason is simple, the telco industry is revisiting the idea.
Yes, NaaS is very much back on the agenda. MNOs are once again investigating the potential of opening up their networks, and pondering what challenges they must overcome to make a success of the concept this time around.
Just a few months ago, for example, the GSMA announced a new industry-wide initiative called GSMA Open Gateway. This is a framework of universal network APIs launched with the support of 21 MNOs. GSMA said "The move represents a paradigm shift in the way the telecoms industry designs and delivers services in an API economy world."
At FutureNet, the panel did a deep dive into the NaaS topic. Banerjee said, “The key is the internal network transformation, which is now taking place across multiple telcos – of the OSS, domain automation, transport automation etc. It means that the network is agile and that disaggregation between the network and IT is possible."
Cayetano Carbajo agreed with Banerjee's assessment. "It’s difficult to expose open APIs in an agile way without transforming the network first," he said. "I was at Telefonica when we tried this in the past – and it was a disaster. But I'm optimistic now. We are transforming the network and we are seeing a big demand from developers."
Ruza Sabanovic was a little more cautious. She believes migration to NaaS demands a change of internal culture within MNOs that goes beyond tech.
"NaaS is not a tech transformation, it's for the whole organization,” she explained. “And it is purely human. The people will deliver it. So we need the right competences, mindset and culture. We must acknowledge that we do not have them yet. We need to start now and accept it won't happen overnight. We need to have aspiration and fix the legacy that is holding us back."
Banerjee believes productive alliances can help with this challenge, and described how the emergence of a new spirit of collaboration is another reason to be positive about NaaS this time around. He said, "I think operators are becoming more partner centric. This was not the case in the past. It was often about protectionism. And that's changing now."