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IBM targets 5G revenue opportunities with new carrier platform

IBM Corp. is sharpening its focus on the telecommunications sector with the introduction of IBM Cloud for Telecommunications, a new platform designed to ease carriers’ shift to 5G.

IBM Cloud for Telecommunications was announced on Thursday.

Wireless carriers are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to the high-speed 5G standard, which promises far faster connectivity than current technology. To address this revenue opportunity, IBM and other major industry players have introduced several products for carriers over recent quarters. The increased competition over carriers’ technology spending also led to a few strategic acquisitions along the way.

The newly introduced IBM Cloud for Telecommunications is designed to serve as the software foundation of carriers’ 5G networks. It includes tools that carriers can use to centrally manage their infrastructure, as well as automation features to ease certain specific operational tasks.

The foundational component of the platform is IBM Cloud Satellite, which makes it possible to deploy instances of IBM’s public cloud on-premises. It’s similar to Amazon Web Services Inc.’s Outposts. Carriers can use IBM Cloud Satellite to power both infrastructure in their data centers and infrastructure running at the edge, such as servers deployed adjacent to 5G base stations to help process network traffic. Some carriers are also exploring the idea of making their edge systems available to enterprises as a way to create new revenue streams.

Beyond IBM Cloud Satellite, IBM Cloud for Telecommunications includes two other telecommunications-focused software products introduced this year. The first is Telco Network Cloud Manager, a virtual network function platform for managing the software applications that handle the flow of data on a carrier’s infrastructure. It’s joined by another management tool called Edge Application Manager that helps orchestrate a carrier’s edge infrastructure.

IBM’s strategy to drive adoption of the platform places a big emphasis on its partners. The company said that it has assembled an ecosystem of more than 35 partners to help carrier customers deploy the platform and customize it for their needs. Participants include hardware makers such as Dell Technologies Inc., software providers such as Palo Alto Networks Inc. and consultancies, among others.

“The breadth of our partners spans numerous categories, including network equipment providers, independent software vendors (ISVs), software-as-a-service providers and hardware partners,” IBM executives Howard Boville and Steve Canepa wrote in a blog post. “ This will give clients a wide range of ways they can tap into the power of the IBM Cloud for Telecommunications to build and deploy new offerings.”

To boost the ecosystem around the platform, IBM will provide access to a fund that will “support partners with funding, technical enablement, and creating proofs of concept,” the executives added. The company also plans to assist partners with optimizing their product configurations.

IBM Cloud for Telecommunications is the latest example of how the company’s $34 billion Redd Hat acquisition is paying dividends. The main building blocks of the new offering, Cloud Satellite, Telco Network Cloud Manager and Edge Application Manager, are all based on Red Hat’s OpenShift platform. OpenShift is emerging as a key component of IBM’s strategy to compete in the telecommunications market with the likes of Amazon Web Services Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which provide carrier-focused platform offerings of their own.