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Mavenir, the telecom industry's only end-to-end cloud-native network software provider for Communication Service Providers, has done a lot of work in the MENA region with regards to transforming and redefining network economics. The company offers everything from 5G application to packet core and RAN and has been leading the way in cloud-native networking solutions and enabling innovation throughout the region, namely amongst the region’s most renowned telecom operators.

Telecom Review sat down with Mavenir’s VP for Sales MEA, Mark Charman, to talk about the latest trends facing the industry and the company’s latest work in the field of 5G.

Tell us about Mavenir’s latest work in 5G.

Mavenir recently announced that its fully virtualized 4G and 5G OpenRAN offering is commercially available to operators. The OpenRAN interface extends virtualization to the edge of the network and enables remote radio units from multiple sources to work with baseband software in the cloud over Ethernet fronthaul.

Mavenir’s portfolio is comprised of the application layer, IP multimedia subsystems (IMS), the packet core, and radio access network (RAN) equipment housed in white boxes - with a prevailing goal to reduce costs for operators by disaggregating hardware from software and making the ecosystem more open.

Voice over 5G new radio will be the next wave of wireless voice activity driving IMS deployments. Most current 5G activity is not on new radio but rather repurposes 4G radio with the goal of moving to 5G radio. The need for IMS does not go away with 5G. In both cases, there remains a requirement for IMS. With 4G radio, voice will run over the VoLTE network, and as operators move to 5G new radio, voice will continue to run over an IMS core.

Operators must shift to software-based networks using virtualization and cloud-native designs to become nimble and competitive with new service creation. For those operators moving to 5G, virtualization and cloud-native networks are a requirement. The risk in the future for those that don’t modernize their networks is the inability to compete with other operators and technology giants that are fighting for subscribers and service revenue.

Today, operators can utilize all the necessary IMS network elements available as virtualized software.  There is nothing from the technology enablement side that should be holding operators back from migrating to virtualized and cloud-native IMS.

For mobile operators, there is an urgency around network transformation to start planning and deploying 5G. For some operators that haven’t yet deployed VoLTE and feel the push to 5G, there is movement to get VoLTE up and running with 5G-enabled IMS as described above in order to utilize the same IMS core for both LTE and 5G.

The most efficient approach to 5G is to utilize the existing VoLTE network for voice while repurposing the network when an operator moves to 5G new radio. This migration entails moving to a microservices architecture built on virtualized software, which should allow operators to utilize the same IMS core for VoLTE and 5G voice while offering a more efficient deployment of new services.

As operators begin the move to 5G, IMS will remain more important than ever. With 5G, voice will run over the IMS core network—initially using 4G radio, and then operators will move to 5G new radio.  The 5G network will require a cloud-native core and edge to handle increasingly complex connectivity and service demands on the network.

What impacts have OTTs left on telecom operators and how might they overcome them?

As users are drawn to the feature-rich chat capabilities of Over-the-Top (OTT) messaging services, the once-lucrative carrier-based messaging incumbent services are quickly being challenged and displaced.

The growing OTT user-base is beginning to attract the attention of marketers. Historically, one of the most significant drawbacks to OTT message services was that users had to download the app, but in countries like Spain where WhatsApp has an 83.1% market penetration1 or Brazil where it has 120 million active users1 that download barrier no longer exists for one of world's most popular OTT apps. With the market going in a new direction, brands are taking notice – creating their own apps or advertising on others to reach their customers.

With RCS, there is no need to address users through varying OTT services or on several apps. Instead, RCS allows carriers to offer brands a native messaging service with the same set of rich features users have come to expect from OTT message services yet priced similarly to what they would pay for SMS interaction. Compared to WhatsApp for Business, which is expected to be much more expensive for the same capabilities2, RCS messaging offers a very appealing opportunity for brand and consumers alike. While the low cost to the consumer is most likely a contributing factor to the popularity of OTT message services, since RCS messaging is native to the handset without any additional effort to download, purchase expense, or buy-in needed from the consumer base, the service is expected to surpass both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp subscriptions by 2023. And with RCS network launches expected to double in 2019, carriers can evolve the messaging market by offering an innovative option to bring this traffic back from OTT services – all the while creating new revenue streams.

The Mavenir RCS Business Messaging (RBM) solution enables brands, aggregators, content providers, enterprises and MNOs to monetize RCS messaging technologies and provide rich, multimedia end-user experiences from the native messaging application on mobile devices. By transitioning to RCS and offering RCS Business Messaging services, carriers shift from selling merely by the number of messages they can provide, to selling both the quantity and the quality of the message experience - making their networks more appealing to paying subscribers. In fact, in a recent RBM implementation from a Tier 1 carrier, a lift of 7x in clickthrough's vs their legacy SMS content was reported4 by improving the user messaging experience with RCS services.

The opportunity presented by the benefits of RCS has been recognized by Google, who have announced their own RCS service. The Google service will cut carriers out of the loop if they do not already have RCS up and running5.

With Google’s OTT push and momentum clearly building behind RCS, now is the right time for carriers to implement. Mavenir’s RCS is currently leading the market by providing the framework to 39% of all deployed RCS installations. By offering RBM services through Mavenir’s RCS framework, carriers can reverse the flow of brands to OTT message services by creating the same impact on users for less cost on a secure and native platform. With 2 billion RCS users expected by 2021, it’s clear now is the time to build networks with quality solutions for both users and the brand marketers who want to talk to them!

What are some key considerations that Telcos should bear in mind when offering virtualization services in public, private and hybrid clouds?

Hardware and VM layers need to be truly open, SW that is tied to the underlining performance of the HW is a fail. Tradition vendors that are selling “snake oil” promises based on the lift and shift of traditional silo SW into the world of virtualization offer the operator a false promise. It’s all about the SW, it’s all about Cloud Native, the way the new telco vendors create their code and allow network functions to be made up of disaggregated SW functions consisting of virtual routers, front end and data bases need to be examine closely by operators for them to really discern who is truly bring value to their service creation businesses. 

Embrace the onset of Cloud computing and Virtualization to retraining and restructure your Organization. DeveOps is the new mantra that needs to become part and parcel of the telco operating model. Slicing, scaling and fail fast have been a part of the OTT play for years, if the telco want win in the new world of 5G and the Cloud which is all about “New Services” then a change is needed

Telco operations will undergo a profound change, no long are Telco ops team dealing with KPI review of large vertically integrated SW stack on made for purpose HW platforms. Virtualization and disaggregated SW stack means that the new Core network functions will be more numerous and shorter lived as automation platforms and tools allow instantiation of network functions as the network expands and contracts based on subscriber and traffic load. New cloud operation process that are fit for mission critical telco operation will need to be embrace and spread right across the organization.

What are cloud-native services and what are some of the major challenges that come with it (for Telcos)?

Mobile operators are struggling to keep up with the relentless growth of connected devices and consumer demands – the decisions they make today will ultimately affect their ability to compete, and even survive, in the 5G era.  Telcos adopting cloud-native platforms have much to gain – but what exactly is “cloud-native?” And why all the buzz?

According to James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst at Heavy Reading, “Cloud-native software is designed, developed and optimized to exploit cloud technology (i.e., distributed processing and data stores). Some aspects of cloud-native use ‘traditional’ software development patterns such as automation (infrastructure and systems), API integrations and service-oriented architectures. The new bits that are specific to cloud-native patterns are the microservices architecture, containerized services, and distributed management and orchestration.”

Crawshaw also stated that he believes that “Telcos have a large software estate and there is no magic switch to flip everything cloud-native. So the vanguards in cloud-native tend to be greenfield operators or challengers. Verizon's prepaid, bring-your-own-device brand Visible is a case in point.  By adopting the latest in cloud-native software they are able to change their service offering and pricing at will through software configuration, not expensive and lengthy code rewrites. Going cloud-first also allows them to grow their IT resources as the business grows.”

Mavenir’s cloud-native 5G core networking technology is architected to support virtually everything from the consumer, enterprise and industrial sectors. With network slicing capabilities it is possible to optimize 5G enabled applications, to support requirements as diverse as ultra-low latency and high-reliability industrial automation to high-density ultra-high-throughput required for mobile IoT and Over the Top content delivery, on the same network.

With numerous successful 5G demonstrations and trials in progress globally, Mavenir’s cloud-native infrastructure and open development approach are helping operators redefine their mobile network economics.

In your opinion, what future trends do you foresee for 2020 in the MENA region?

The MENA telecom sector is undergoing a key transformation in the form of readiness for 5G network to provide a platform for IoT and high-speed internet. The second big transformation will be related to changes in network infrastructure for making a seamless pathway to adapt to the needs of upcoming technologies like network slicing, edge computing capabilities to enhance customer experience. Rebuilding the enterprise market segment to capture new markets like rural areas which have remained untouched due to lack of digitalization is another key trend.

With the change in network economics, the operators in MENA have taken a shift towards software-based technology over virtualization platform which provides automated, faster to deploy, less expensive technology options along with reduction in capex and opex.

With introduction to 4G LTE, the telecom operators have realized the need for a cloud-centric approach to quickly adapt to market changing requirement and to offer services rapidly. Operators have taken a leap to migrate the network infrastructure towards cloud-centric deployment models which helped them to align themselves to upcoming 5G network requirement demanding network slicing and stateless architecture. By building a stronger network infrastructure supporting future network requirements the operators have started realizing the benefits of reduction in capex and opex along with shorter delivery time to new market opportunities.

With the shift in technology requirements, the industry has aligned towards readiness of existing infrastructure with the requirement of 5G network. Operators have started to explore cloud-centric products with flexibility of integration to NFV and SDN based technologies.

One of the biggest challenges for the industry is high capex requirement for preparing for 5G ecosystem since the radio density coverage needs to be expanded to provide faster speeds, shorter delays and increased connectivity. Mavenir’s contribution to the ecosystem has been immense in driving a software-based cloud-centric product which can help customers reap the benefits of virtualization in reduction of capex and opex along with shorter time to market for new business opportunities.

MENA telecom operators are expanding their network infrastructure to meet the needs of end-consumers related to high speed data along with struggling to generate revenues due to stiff competition. Our cloud-based core network architecture is targeted to transform mobile networks through a highly scalable and nimble virtualized evolved packet core (EPC) that can adapt to a range of emerging 4G LTE deployment use cases. Moreover, its visionary nature allows it to be natively extensible to emerging 5G standards. The resultant approach eliminates the expensive hardware, long upgrade cycles, over-provisioning, and years-in-advance budgeting that traditionally characterize mobile communications service providers (CSPs) networks. We, at Mavenir, strongly believe that Rich Communication Suite (RCS) will drastically change the enterprise market segment and open new channels of revenue streams for operators and channel partners.

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