Vodafone Business Provides a Glimpse of the Future of Networking

S. Soh

Summary Bullets:

• Vodafone is developing an intent-based infrastructure, which is an automated platform to deliver desired business outcomes.

• Enterprise customers should consider the trends related to the evolution of network solutions and include the evaluation of digital platforms and roadmap when sourcing a new WAN supplier.

Vodafone has articulated and shown how the right digital platforms and software-defined capabilities can enable the network of the future. As enterprises pursue digital transformation, they often think cloud first before worrying about whether the network can support the major shift in workloads. To support a hybrid, multi-cloud environment, the network needs to be flexible to deliver the right performance for different applications, in a dynamic fashion. And yet, customers often do not have full visibility into how their network and applications are performing. It can also be problematic to determine network issues without the tools that provide end-to-end visibility. This will likely get more complex when enterprises begin to adopt 5G, edge computing, and IoT.

Vodafone has outlined what it believes to be the network of the future; one that will incorporate AI and automation to deliver better business outcomes. The company has devised a three-layer “Intent Based Infrastructure” platform that will further enhance its network services. The first layer focuses on enabling multi-channel interaction with the network (i.e., bot, app, portal, and API) to give customers greater control of their network. Secondly, Vodafone is leveraging insights from its global network and using analytics, AI, and deep learning to identify trends and predict potential impact to business or user intent. This approach is important for developing areas such as self-configuration and self-healing. Finally, the company is looking at automated execution which includes application prioritization and routing; provisioning the WAN and LAN resources to meet changing demands; responding to security threats; scaling underlay resources to support business objectives; and instant control of cloud and IoT resources. While this is not something Vodafone can offer today, it highlights where the future of network needs to be to deliver speed with agility; consistency in end-user experience with security and compliance. The company has adopted some design thinking methodologies to building out its intent-based infrastructure; and it will involve customers at different stages to make sure it is on the right track.

A key aspect of the network service transformation is the supporting digital platforms. To deliver agile network services and improve customer experience, carriers have been undertaking digital transformation. This typically involves digitizing processes and putting in place cloud-native systems for different front-end and back-end functions. The goal is to remove manual processes and achieve faster turnaround for various types of customer interaction. From the network services perspective, this translates to faster quote-to-order process, shortened service provisioning timeframe and more self-service capabilities. Vodafone has undertaken its own digital transformation in recent years and it has achieved significant improvement in the customer journey from the sell stage through to the build and run stages. For example, it has improved quote turnaround times from four weeks to one day for network services such as IP VPN, cloud connect, Internet access, Ethernet, and SD-WAN; reduced average delivery time from 15 days to seven days; and expected to achieve self-serve 50% of changes by end of FY2020/21. With the digital foundation, Vodafone will be able to achieve its longer-term objectives around its intent based infrastructure program and to develop a virtual network function (VNF) marketplace; giving customers greater flexibility and control over how they want to configure the network. The challenge is also connecting the pockets of past project successes (e.g., billing, pricing automation tool, contract management, service management, and delivery) with a more holistic and integrated platform and hopefully one that extends deeper into the global OpCos, partners, and suppliers.

Other carriers are also at different stages of their digital transformation and they have slightly different approaches while mostly emphasizing on agility and automation. Enterprise customers should evaluate the digital platforms developed by carriers to assess the level of control, the turnaround times for various activities (e.g., quote, order and deliver) in procurement decisions. Enterprises going to market for a new WAN solution should look more closely at roadmap from potential carriers particularly around the ability to respond to potential traffic patterns and overnight shifts. In the SD-WAN context, more consideration should be given to the tradeoffs and underlay versus overlay. Enterprise 5G will also be topical (mostly in developed markets) as commercial offers and industry-specific capabilities get underway.

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