As the worlds of cloud and telecommunications become increasingly intertwined, some big names from the tech world are making an impact on the next generation of infrastructure. Oracle has come a long way from its pure database roots to become a major cloud provider, and is now taking serious aim at a 5G-connected world on multiple fronts, from the 5G network core to future connected enterprise applications. With us today to talk about their approach is Andrew De La Torre, Group Vice President of Technology at Oracle Communications.
TR: What is your background and how did you come to be in your current role at Oracle?
ADLT: I’ve been with Oracle now for three years as the Group Vice President of Technology for Oracle Communications, and my role encompasses our strategy team, our product team, technical sales, consulting, product marketing, and cybersecurity. Prior to Oracle, I spent 21 years with Vodafone, so I guess you could say I was a career carrier guy. I previously held CTO positions with Vodafone including one based in Malta for their consumer business and then here in the US as Vodafone’s Enterprise CTO for the Americas.
TR: Where does Oracle fit into the telecommunications and internet infrastructure sector today?
ADLT: We have two dimensions to our approach. The first one, Oracle Communications, offers network infrastructure solutions. Recently, we’ve been building out our 5G core network portfolio. We have nearly a dozen network functions at the moment that we take to market, which is not the entire core. We have focused on the control plane, which we describe as the service engine of the core. But Oracle has a broader interest. The first part of that is what we’re doing in the cloud space. At the beginning of this year, we made some announcements around our cloud for telco solutions, which are a bespoke set of cloud offerings that are tailor made for communications workloads. Oracle has a definite drive to help the industry develop and adopt cloud as an underlying infrastructure component in 5G. But the other part, equally relevant and exciting, is on the industry application side of things. Oracle is one of the biggest enterprise application companies in the world. We have a number of vertical industry business units, and we’re actually working with those business units now to develop a new suite of connected applications. For me, really the whole raison d’être for 5G, is the whole Industry-4.0-connected-world that we’re all moving toward. Oracle has the ability to go from underlying infrastructure, to the network itself, and then to the actual services and applications that 5G is really designed to support, which I think is a really exciting and quite unique position for any company in the industry at the moment.
TR: Where does Oracle Communications’ 5G core network portfolio fit into today’s 5G deployment activities?
ADLT: When 5G was first nascent, we decided to get into the business of developing the network functions that constitute the standalone 5G core. From a standards perspective, there are anywhere from 15 to 20 different defined network functions that make up this core network. Right now, a lot of operators in the world have built the 5G new radio piece, but they’ve actually connected that to their 4G LTE core network. That’s a valid configuration, but 5G has a new core as well and that is what we are helping operators design and build.
We’ve zeroed in on the : the things that really define and shape the services and the way that the network is configured. We have a portfolio of network functions which range from policy itself to the network slicing function, and the analytics functions. We also do the Service Communications Proxy (SCP), which is an underlying routing entity that connects the core together. We have what we call a best-of-breed approach. Rather than be a full end-to-end provider like you might get from other vendors, we focus on very particular components and sell those to carriers.
TR: What kind of traction have you seen so far for this 5G core network technology?
ADLT: We’ve been pretty successful so far catching the tier-one wave of carriers. They always tend to take more of a best-of-breed approach. They break up their network and try and get the very best industry components and do multivendor integration. That’s always been a trend with those big carriers. We’ve sold into pretty much everybody who has gone to market so far with the 5G standalone core: all but one of the big North American operators and various multi-country group entities in Europe. In terms of customers we talk about publicly there are Dish, British Telecom, KT, Telenor, and others.
TR: At what stage are those big wireless customers in rolling out true 5G core networks? What challenges are they currently facing?
ADLT: think there are two challenges that we see our customers grappling with right now. One is to get the technology to market. Most of our customers are already two to three years into having a 5G radio network but building the standalone core has proven to be more of a challenge than maybe they anticipated. I think a large part of that is because it’s a big move to cloud native. Building another network is not something that’s new to them, they have built G after G after G. But it’s quite a technology shift to go away from the typical on-premises, appliance-based approach to building networks into cloud infrastructure. Most of them are sticking with an on-prem approach, but that requires them to get to grips with a whole heap of new technology challenges to build and operate a cloud environment. Additionally, I think a lot of them are working through how to adapt their internal processes. The industry has been very used to a relatively slow waterfall-type cycle of how you build and upgrade networks that is the antithesis of cloud technology. So even when they manage to get past the technical challenges, their culture and their business processes require their own changes for what it takes to really run an agile, flexible cloud network environment. The second challenge, which is probably weightier on their minds because they know they’ll get past the first one, is how to monetize it. That is the big question in the industry at the moment. What is the killer app? What is it that is going to make them money on 5G? Because, frankly, if anybody thought that they were just going to build this and just be profitable on the back of it from the consumer, then they’re going to be very disappointed. With the current maturation that we have in the consumer industry, there was no way that it was ever going to justify an entire new technology again.
TR: Monetization has always been the big question, and I think we all expected the path to be clearer at this point. Where do you think they’re going find it?
ADLT: I believe that maybe one of the mistakes that a lot of both industry players and spectators are making is that they’re looking for the one or two or three big things. We aren’t going to have anything quite as pervasive and universal as voice or SMS or mobile internet again. Those were in a very unique, large-scale category of services. This is going to be a long journey involving diverse services across multiple industries, customers, and different use cases that you’re trying to embrace and support. This is another big challenge for the industry because it’s moving from a very, very closed world in terms of both its ecosystem of suppliers and partners into a real technology ecosystem. The hyperscale cloud providers aren’t saying, “I’m going to make all of my money off hosting a medical app.” It’s about hundreds of thousands of different customers doing so many different things. That is one of the things that we need to come to terms with as an industry firstly. Because secondly, the next challenge becomes how do you position yourself to be able to be a part of and consume such a complex and broad ecosystem? Carriers in particular, and the IT systems that are their interfaces to the outside world, are not built for that kind of diversity. I think everybody’s very fixated at the moment on the 5G piece, but actually the ability to let partners and customers consume 5G is nonexistent at the moment. That’s the problem.
TR: You mentioned the other prong of Oracle’s approach is in enabling providers to move to a cloud native infrastructure. Why has that transition taken so long?
ADLT: There are a few reasons. First, and I hope this doesn’t sound too disingenuous, but I think there’s a lot of decision makers in our industry at the moment who like to stick with what they’re familiar with. That sounds like a bit of a sweeping statement and may not be the strongest argument as to why we see some of the trends we do, but I genuinely believe that there’s a lot of people for whom the concept of no longer having your core network — which is the fundamental lifeblood of your business — in your building, in your control, and managed by your people makes them really nervous. Secondly, if you start to chip away at the more kind of concrete arguments that are put forward, a lot of it is to do with perceptions around resilience and performance and whether the cloud is really suitable for telco. Third, there are also aspects of security and data sovereignty which always come into play as well. But I think those dimensions combined with the general nervousness all seem to orbit around the whole licensing structure of the industry as a whole. Every carrier is beholden to their communications license from the regulator, which has stipulations, conditions, and penalties all swirling around it, and therefore the risk appetite is typically very low.
TR: How are you addressing that low appetite for risk in the telco move toward cloud native?
ADLT: The way we’re trying to unpick some of these arguments is by actually taking a technical approach to solving the issues. For example, for the cloud for telco solution that we announced at the beginning of this year, we worked really closely with the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) team to develop those solutions. They designed optimized compute shapes in the underlying OCI infrastructure in order to make them work optimally for real-time communications workflows. It is an accurate statement that most general clouds have performance issues when you’re trying to run a real-time communications workload inside them. There are some very demanding requirements in order to be able to operate properly. So, our approach was take away the performance issue by redesigning the infrastructure from the ground up. From the resilience perspective, honestly, that is a little bit of a kind of false thing, because you can deal with that with your architecture by putting it in multiple regions etc. There are many ways to get the five nines the industry always wants. Having said that, one of the other things we do at Oracle is to declare an availability under a SLA, because we recognize the need for some basic comfort level that we have to provide the industry to be considered viable. None of the other hyper-scale cloud providers will give you an SLA on availability.
Regarding security, there are certain things that have always been in OCI’s Gen 2 architecture that we believe deal quite well with that. All of the general networking stuff that happens around the cloud is kept outside of the customer’s instance in order to keep the actual customer data secure. And for data sovereignty, the only way you can tackle that is to make sure you have a cloud where they need to be, which is the interesting thing about the cloud for telco solution. We are also making it possible for the carriers to take a managed cloud solution which can be on-prem. It is a fully managed cloud by Oracle in that we look after it just like we do within our public data centers. It has all the same capabilities, but we have a number of different sizing options. So, if an operator really wants it on-prem, then they can take that from Oracle and we will still take on the role of running the cloud infrastructure.
TR: How does this all lead into Oracle’s longer term goal of 5G enterprise applications?
ADLT: This is another way we’re trying to tackle the problem of having the solutions out there to allow the ecosystem to consume 5G. When we thought about what 5G’s purpose is going to be and what next phase of digital society it might unlock, we decided that Oracle needed to move its enterprise applications business into the connected application space. We’ve been working with a number of our vertical business units in different industries as diverse as construction, engineering, local government, food and beverage, and utilities to come up with new connected applications. Then as a comms business unit we’ve built an entirely new platform for them to be able to plug into the 5G world.
It is brand new, and the idea is that it enables abstraction of the communications environment, the device environment, etc. It’s integrated into carriers so that you can get out into the wide area networks. It can also manage and control private networks. It does all the device management, digital twinning, and all the business logic abstraction stuff. And it presents all of these capabilities up to the applications through published open APIs, making it super easy to basically consume all of these different assets in order to create a fully connected application.
TR: What kinds of applications are emerging from this initiative?
ADLT: We recently went public with the launch of the very first application we developed in this regard. The local government business unit has announced their Public Safety Services suite, which is amongst other capabilities includes a connected officer and a connected car solution. Basically, we are enabling real-time communications from officers and their vehicles. We’ve used our new platform to be able to provide real-time connectivity for that whole environment. The idea is to move them from the two-way radios and the non-real-time body cams they have today, into continuous voice and video streaming conferencing back to dispatch and other parties involved in a situational event. That gives everyone real-time situational awareness of what’s happening on the ground, etc., allowing them simultaneous access to data from multiple officers or vehicles. It’s a whole new solution, which I think is really going to move policing forward. This is the first example of a connected application that we’ve worked on using this platform that we’ve actually built.
TR: Who do you foresee doing most of the development with this platform? Is it aimed toward outside developers?
ADLT: Yes. I think there’s a couple of audiences. There are all of the rest of the enterprise application companies out there in the world. Since we built this platform to make it easier for all the parts of Oracle that make enterprise services, it can work just as well for anybody else in the world who makes enterprise services. The second one is integration partners, because I think there’s still going to be a function in the world for the integrators to be the one-stop shop for enterprise customers who have significant and complex digital transformation programs running in their business. I think these big integrators who are currently operating in the IoT space would also be able to make their job much simpler if they had access to this platform.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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