Why Telecom Is Ripe for Open Source

Why Telecom Is Ripe for Open Source

By Special Guest
Hiro Yoshikawa, CEO, Treasure Data
  |  November 21, 2018

The telecommunications industry is ripe for continued disruption. With VoIP becoming mainstream over the past 10 years, and a new generation of software-based communications tools becoming available, customers are demanding increased flexibility in how and when they communicate.

This next wave of disruption has already begun with upstarts like Slack, Twilio (News - Alert), and RingCentral, which each have multibillion-dollar valuations. Now even Amazon and Facebook have stepped in in to offer voice and chat communication services. With young tech upstarts claiming the lower end of the market and giants like Facebook (News - Alert) and Amazon using their ubiquitous services to connect people all over the world, established telecommunications providers need to act fast to compete.

Even though telecom has been quicker to adopt new technology than have other mature industries, proprietary or legacy technology and long development cycles can make it hard to keep up with agile startups. But there is a solution: open source software.

What is Open Source Software?

Open source is software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance. It includes open standards, which are important because they lay the groundwork for user-driven innovation.

Open standards allow users to plug into PBX (News - Alert) network devices, which are currently running the same open protocols. They also allow new systems to be built and constructed with older equipment currently in use.

What Role Do Developers Play?

How did open source start to disrupt the telecom industry 10 years ago? Via the rise of developers. In the past, developers wielded little influence in making big infrastructure decisions, but that’s changed.

There were several approaches made by open source communities, such as the Asterisk (News - Alert) Project, an open source PBX software, and Carrier Grade Linux project, a set of Kernel specifications intended for accelerating the adoption of Linux in big telco companies. Then there is the case of Twilio. Twilio dramatically simplified how developers access telephony by creating developer-friendly APIs on top. Today, when developers think telephony, they think Twilio. It’s no coincidence that Twilio’s biggest customer, WhatsApp, is a major disruptor in the telco market.

Another reason why open source matters for telecom is industry consolidation. As more telco mergers and acquisitions take place, there will be many infrastructure consolidation and application remediation projects. How will telcos get through this? The answer is with great developers who love to tackle difficult technical challenges – as long as they get to choose how they approach the problem. Often, their approach is to build on existing open source software.

Developers are the engine for today’s software-led innovation, and a company’s involvement and attitude plays a key role in attracting and retaining good developers.

Why Is the Telecom Industry Ripe for Adoption?

Telecom was one of the first industries to adopt the private cloud and cloud computing, and is constantly testing new operational models. Industry members compete on the speed and security of transactions, which is a characteristic of open source software. 

Seeking a competitive edge, telecom companies have historically been early adopters of key innovative technologies. Because of this, it’s an easy transition to incorporate open source software into their existing ecosystems. 

While there is considerable pressure on telecom companies to provide more value to consumers, the space is rapidly commoditizing, thereby decreasing margins. Thus, carriers need to adjust their business models to become more consultative and act more like systems integrators.

Going beyond connectivity, carriers need to extend their expertise to support big data, application integration, network function virtualization, the Internet of Things, and edge computing. Additionally, equipment providers are building programs to certify and deliver open source software solutions directly to telecom carriers.

How are Some Telecom Companies Currently Using Open Source?

AT&T Labs has been making a push into software control of its network. According to Chris Rice, vice president for advanced technologies, platforms and architecture at AT&T Labs, the open source community is maturing enough to make it possible for the company to rely more on such platforms in support of the push. AT&T currently has about 100 developers working in the OpenDaylight area, has sponsored academic research, and is working on its network cloud and automation platform. 

Verizon supports the open source community by allowing users to visit the company’s OS portal, with free source code.

As part of T-Mobile’s (News - Alert) venture into open source software, the company signed onto the Open Handset Alliance, the group that will develop applications for Google’s new Android mobile phone platform.

How Can You Augment Your Existing Technology and Accelerate Business Growth with Open Source?

Enterprises are constantly putting pressure on traditional telecom companies to deliver not only connectivity, but also integration solutions at all layers.

Today’s enterprises are abandoning their traditional siloed approach to deploying software solutions, attempting instead to align departments for a more cohesive IT environment. This alignment has forced most IT professionals to focus more on the deployment of IT solutions and less on development. Additionally, telecom providers are being forced to adjust how they deliver services beyond just connectivity.

Open source software is founded on the idea that it is true to open standards and APIs, allowing for easier integrations and sharing of data. With traditional corporate models, there is a single source for support, bug/security fixes, or regular updates. This closed technology is designed to enable a vendor to lock in customers and protect license and maintenance revenues. It can also take longer to fix any problems, as no company can afford to have millions of programmers going over the code 24/7. Meanwhile, the open source community is mostly volunteer, from all over the world. That means millions of people are looking at the code at any given time to find problems and solutions.

Open source software can help established telecom companies innovate more quickly, deliver new functionality, identify and correct software issues faster, improve the speed and security of transactions, and integrate systems for greater efficiency. 

Hiro Yoshikawa is founder and CEO of Treasure Data.

Edited by Erik Linask


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