The next-generation network is here. 5G, edge computing and cloud are opening up the world in new and unexpected ways, connecting consumers and enterprises as never before.

Those connections are going to happen on the cloud. But how many of those clouds are as open, responsive, resilient and smart as the new era they’re meant to usher in?

“The existing hyperscale cloud providers, offer a proprietary control plane and architecture,” Steve Canepa, global managing director for IBM Communications sector, told Industrious in a recent interview. “With a trillion-dollar-plus market out there for next-generation edge services and enterprise 5G, you need an open, hybrid approach. Open means partners. Open means platforms. Open means profits.”

For years, telecommunication providers have been pursuing consumer demand with increasingly challenging market conditions as the wireless domain has grown saturated and commodified. The promise for these carriers lies with an enterprise market for 5G and edge that could surpass $13 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum.

The partnerships and platforms for this new connected economy can only truly thrive on a cloud that is simultaneously open and secure, stable and agile, automated and customer-driven. They can only truly thrive when carriers and their partners can keep their data, without the data being cannibalized, capitalized or held back by their cloud provider. It’s what enterprises can only truly expect from the IBM Cloud for Telecommunications.

It’s an open, hybrid cloud that brings a secure and robust architecture that is built for business, supporting low latency at the edge, open-source standards and data sovereignty to allow workloads to be deployed wherever telcos need it most: on premises, at their client or in the cloud. It’s an open, hybrid cloud that’s home to more than 35 ecosystem partners pushing the bounds of what’s possible in telecommunications. It’s an open, hybrid cloud that carriers—and their customers—can count on anytime, anywhere, for anything, without sacrifice.

“We allow our clients to really build trust with an end user because we are not using the customer data,” Marisa S. Viveros, vice president for strategy and offerings for IBM Global Telecommunications, said. “We allow telcos to have full control of the data, because that data is their contract between themselves and their end users. We want to enable telcos to be entities of trust in this environment.”

Automation unleashes the network

As the world grows more open and connected, the cloud networks on which it relies must be open and connected, too.

Openness, trust and control are just a few of the key capabilities a cloud-based, 21st Century network will require. One of the most essential—truly the essence of the next-generation network—is automation and orchestration from the core to the edge.

Just consider the massive transformation that happened to networks earlier this year, in a matter of weeks and even days, when the pandemic hit. Business districts emptied out and demand absolutely surged at new and uncommon times in residential and even remote areas.

Telcos responded in valiant fashion, with engineers and programmers swinging into overdrive. Increasingly, though, service providers can overcome, and even anticipate, the growing demands on their networks in new ways, thanks to automated processes and virtualized hardware deployed on the cloud.

“We talk about flexibility being the number one benefit of cloud,” Viveros said. “Already this year, networks were able to change and very quickly provide the resources that we needed without a lot of failures, without too much engineering, without a lot of truck roles and hard engineering having to go on. That’s flexibility.”

Automation and virtualization on an open, hybrid cloud can turbocharge existing telco infrastructure.

With the billions of dollars telcos have already invested in network infrastructure, automation and virtualization on an open, hybrid cloud is proving to be among the best ways to gain exponential value from existing hardware. The orchestration cloud provides for edge computing is especially crucial, given the immense benefits customers experience from these lower latency environments.

With a single point of control and zero-touch service delivery—features that are central to IBM Cloud Satellite—automation can help mitigate risks and support compliance in addition to reducing costs. Cloud Satellite enables service providers and their customers to use edge computing to bring their applications to any environment where their data resides, with enhanced security throughout the system.

The benefits can be considerable: Gartner reports that organizations using edge see a 20% reduction in cost and 30% reduction in downtimes.

“It’s about moving to a software-based platform architecture that’s infused with automation so you can move services to where they need to be,” Canepa said. “That creates the kind of agility for telcos that’s necessary to provide not just a better experience today but more compelling new experiences going forward.”

The leading edge of an enterprise era

The enterprise potential for 5G and edge computing could surpass $13 billion.

Every day, more users are doing more things, and relying on more things, that are connected to the network. As these demands only continue to grow, they will need exponential levels of customer service to deal with any issues that might arise. This is another crucial role for AI built into the IBM Cloud. With watsonx Assistant, about three out of four inquiries can be regularly dealt with by intelligent chat bots that continue to learn and adapt as more queries are received.

These cloud-based, edge-empowered capabilities will put telco carries at the center of it all as never before, especially as enterprise users stream onto the platforms they will be developing. Rather than simply providing connections, telcos are poised to become necessary partners in enterprise work, so long as their networks remain open, flexible, secure and manageable.

Add to that the partnership ecosystem IBM is building with the likes of Samsung, Nokia, Cisco, Juniper Networks and Dell, and an open environment is coalescing where carriers can help their clients execute projects and achieve results they’d only dreamed of before.

“Since Morse and Bell, telecommunications has always been central to the economy,” Dr. Craig Farrell, chief technology officer for IBM Global Telecommunications, said. “With 5G and edge, carriers are going to take on an even bigger role, central to almost everything we do.”

Telemedicine is one area poised for a transformation thanks to telco cloud networks.

It’s networks that proactively manage slices of bandwidth, so when a surgeon has to do a rural operation, she’d be given priority during situations that could literally be life-and-death. It’s networks that could monitor edge-connected robots operating autonomously and out in the open of a factory floor; plant management then gains the confidence of both efficiency and safety that work is getting done without endangering anyone. Such networks can preemptively boost the signal in a local park, having detected an augmented-reality gaming meet-up that takes place there every week.

More than ever, telcos can be there—and be there with an unprecedented opportunity to shape, and not simply support, this connected world.

“When we all went to smartphones, and applications created much of that value, that value moved outside the telcos to other platforms,” Canepa points out. “In this next generation in the enterprise domain, we stand firmly with the telcos to help them transform the network into a hybrid cloud platform, one that can coalesce the power of a compelling, ever-growing ecosystem of partners.”

“That ecosystem,” he said, “is where and how we’ll all help firms in every industry embrace powerful, smart innovations together.”

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