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AWS extends a hand to telcos at a turbulent time

Amazon Web Services recently announced a cloud-based network automation service that will make it easier for telecom network operators to migrate their network and service planning, activation, and management functions to the cloud.

The offering comes at an interesting time, given that some visitors to this month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, came away with the growing sense that the telco sector is declining in significance and losing out on major revenue opportunities to the likes of hyperscale firms such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, as well as other companies and ecosystems.

As Chris Antlitz, principal analyst at TBR Consulting, wrote in a recent research note following MWC, “New market opportunities, such as private networks and edge computing, are increasingly developing outside the purview of CSPs [communications service providers]. TBR notes that an alternative ecosystem of players — including hyperscalers, pure play software companies, chipmakers, incumbent network and IT equipment providers, systems integrators, application developers, and non-telco enterprises — is emerging to capitalize on opportunities enabled by new technologies (e.g., private 5G networks, edge computing and AI). Even governments are participating in this disintermediation in the telecom sector via stimulus programs, regulation and the trend of spectrum democratization.”

As that happens, the massive investment that telecom network operators have put into their networks to support an explosion of new content and applications is not necessarily paying off for them.

Their best bet of emerging from this period of increasing disintermediation and evolving with the time may lie, ironically, with AWS pitching a model to help them reduce the complexity and cost involved in setting up and managing their infrastructures by moving these capabilities to the AWS cloud. AWS Telco Network Builder, announced late last month, assists them with infrastructure deployments involving hundreds of compute, storage, and networking components, while still supporting existing telecom industry standards and providing them with a management and monitoring dashboard through which they can continue to update their architectures.

AWS might be one of the few companies with the scale to help the world’s largest wireline and wireless network operators make the migration. It lays claim to having the world’s most extensive global infrastructure, and AWS told Fierce Electronics via email that its cloud “spans 99 Availability Zones within 31 geographic regions around the world, with announced plans for 12 more Availability Zones and 4 more AWS Regions in Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and Thailand. Over time, we will be in most of the large developed geographies with regions.”

The company said its approach–creating ‘Availability Zones” that promise reliability and low latency–has been recognized by research firm Gartner “as the recommended approach for running enterprise applications that require high availability.”

For now, however, Telco Network Builder is available in a limited number of markets, including Northern Virginia and Oregon in the U.S., and international locations like Paris, Frankfurt, and Sydney, but AWS pledged that broader availability is on the way.

One major question as the service expands is: Will telcos trust AWS to play such a major role in helping them operate their networks? To be clear, however, Telco Network Builder arrives after years of overtures AWS has been making to work more closely with the telco community. Some of the early adopters of Telco Network Builder, such as O2 Telefonica, have been working closely with AWS for several years. In Telefonica’s case, it moved its 5G core and network functions to the cloud with AWS, so in a sense Telco Network Builder productizes a new kind of working arrangement between AWS and telcos that already has proven viable.