In today’s digital economy, Communications Service Providers (CSP’s) are faced with many challenges. They are tasked with running highly capital intensive businesses, maximising the return of investments and remaining competitive with both existing incumbents and disruptive new start-ups. There is also pressure to be innovative, retain skilled staff and ensure the network is running in an optimal state, which often results in high operational costs. In the long term this leads to shrinking revenues and profits.
As such, many CSP’s are looking for a self-sustainable business model which multiplies and grows on its own, with less operational overhead. One of the propositions to assist with this is a platform-based business model such as a Wide Area Network or WAN-as-a-Service (WaaS).
The concept of WaaS is that the CSP becomes the enabler of the service(s) as opposed to being the provider. In other words, WaaS is a platform where a CSP opens its network assets and systems in such a controlled manner that it enables third parties to design, manage and operate network services from the WaaS platform, which is independent from the CSP involvement. The WaaS platform also facilitates the network-service-data, belonging to the customer through the use of APIs. This allows third parties to drive deep insights on the network services. It also enables the delivery of value-added services around monitoring, automation, artificial intelligence (AI) etc.
The WaaS platform can be considered analogous to an IT cloud platform such as AWS or Azure. In the IT cloud platform, the compute assets are facilitated to third parties to design, manage and operate application services. Whereas in WaaS it’s about facilitating network assets for network services as described above.
The underlying foundation technologies for a WaaS platform are certainly the Software Defined Network (SDN) and the Network Function Virtualisation (NFV). As by their coherent nature, both SDN and NFV facilitate self-service and dynamic on-demand capabilities, and these are the real crux for the WaaS platform.
At a high level, a WaaS platform has the following characteristics: on-demand self-service; API driven; tenant centric with sub-tenancy architecture; marketplace / catalogue of VNFs and network solutions; and operational toolsets to support the Network Operation Centre (NOC).
The consumers of the WaaS platform open many business channels for the CSP. These include enterprise customers, the wholesale market, System Integrators (who are motivated to sell network-services along with their IT solutions), Virtual Network Function (VNF) vendors (who sell VNFs on the platform) and SaaS providers – who use the explorative data available from the platform and provide innovative solutions in automation, billing, cost-control, AI, security, monitoring, alerting etc.
Business benefits of the WaaS platform are varied, including new channels for CSP’s revenue; innovative value-added services to the end-customer; self-sustainable growing business based on partnerships and enablement; manageable operational costs and skillsets.
Therefore, as the telecom industry goes through a major digital transformation, it’s pivotal for the CSP’s to start thinking along the same lines of the disruptive next-generation digital companies like the Netflix and Amazon’s of the world and work on innovative business models such as WaaS.
Chetan Narang is a Platform Architect at Colt Technology Services