Assessing network resiliency during the pandemic: How the telcos have held up

Erich Gerber is SVP EMEA & APJ at TIBCO Software.

Think about what has become a common scenario: you’re at home working throughout the day, probably connected to the internet for long stretches. Because you’re working remotely, you’re asking more of the broadband capacity than usual, running video conferencing sessions with different parts of the world, screen sharing and sending large files.

Maybe your partner is in the same boat, and it would be understandable were you both to be grabbing more network bits by listening to music on a smart speaker. Meanwhile, the kids are studying on Google Classroom, BBC Bitesize or some other virtual education medium. They have cabin fever so they’re also playing multiplayer games with other kids all over the world. At the end of the day you all deserve a break, so you sit down to watch Netflix or some other media streaming service. Oh, but first you need to check in on parents, so you reach for the mobile and make a video call because it’s good to see faces. And, ‘Oh 2.0’, you forgot that friends have set up an online quiz so you tune into that for an hour.

It’s just another day of working differently for you in the strange new world of the pandemic, but for the telecoms networks CTOs this is a worst-case scenario, testing capacity to the limits. Telecoms companies will engineer for peak-demand scenarios of course, but they’ve never had such a prolonged, worldwide demand for their capacity.

If you’ve been working at home for the past month or so, you might well have been surprised and impressed by your domestic internet performance, even if you haven’t given a lot of thought to the whys and wherefores of the phenomenon. That’s fine: not everyone is a telecoms geek, but the reasons behind the remarkable scalability and resilience of networks has much to tell us about the building blocks to modern digital businesses.

In large part, the telcos have managed to stay up through capacity planning, network function virtualisation (NFV) and excellent network management. But look at the broader picture and the enabling platform has been open systems and APIs, microservices, cloud, and the emerging world where everything is software-defined.

This has been the foundation for the ability to move quickly, despite running hugely complex operations serving millions of customers.
Where telcos were once highly proprietary, today their foundation is in openness and software to pull the levers that let companies ratchet demand up and down. That means adding capacity and intelligently anticipating demand can be done far faster than was previously possible because telcos can get a panoramic view with a ‘single pane of glass’ for their global operations, visualising demand and identifying trouble before it capsizes communications architecture.

This openness is also at the heart of how telcos are massively improving the customer experience, expanding their service offerings and generally behaving completely differently to the people who sold you fixed-line voice minutes and posted bulls on a monthly basis. Look how quickly the mobile carriers can develop offers and copy those that are working in a matter of days or hours: the product marketers can move even faster than DevOps teams because they have the most prized quality for managers everywhere – visibility.

This is what’s happening among corporate customers too. Telcos are at the point where they can offer highly individualised packages just as in the consumer sector buyers are tempted by personalised offerings based on their usage history and known preferences. Networks are becoming ‘customer-aware’ with intelligence built in to spot trends, prioritise critical activities, anticipate demand surges and address bugs or security threats before they wreak havoc.

Soon this sort of capability will underpin smart factories utilising the Internet of Things, driverless cars and more. The openness and software-centricity means we will be able to tap AI and improve the platforms continuously, making us all more efficient and safer.

Additionally, Twitter has already said that staff will be granted the ability to work from home even in the post-vaccination world. If others follow, we will again need telcos to recalibrate for a world where domestic WiFi connections are almost as important as the fat pipes entering offices. Networks will have to be re-routed, security reimagined and attractive new packages dreamed up.

The outstanding resilience of our telecommunications networks has provided the platform for us to keep talking and sharing throughout the current crisis. The way that the telcos have withstood incredible demand will be a business history lesson case study. Even when we have been injecting virtual cholesterol into our networks in the form of video conferencing, they have stayed up and provided us with the capacity to withstand everything thrown at them. They have allowed emergency services to continue, supported telemedicine, contact tracing efforts and kept dispersed families in touch. Their victory has been built on carrier-grade robustness but also the most valuable quality technology platforms have to offer – being open.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech ExpoBlockchain ExpoAI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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