Telenor leads the way in network virtualization

Partnerships and vendor collaboration played a key role in Telenor’s success in moving to a virtualized platform.

Global service provider Telenor is committed to transforming its mobile network by adopting an open, virtualized infrastructure that will not only allow it to innovate more quickly, but also make it more cost efficient.

The company’s goal is to have a cloud-native network that incorporates network functions and takes advantage of the cloud computing delivery model. By moving to a cloud-native architecture, Telenor hopes to be able to incorporate automation tools that allow it to be more open and agile, making it possible to quickly deploy new services and respond to changes in network traffic.

Leading the way

Three years ago, Telenor decided to begin its network transformation and today the company believes it is leading the way in network virtualization. In fact, Telenor currently carries more than 90% of all of its mobile data traffic over its virtualized platform.

“We have been strategic about building our network to support virtual functions and that has provided us with a lot of experience in automating and transforming our network. It has also equipped our network infrastructure and made it capable of supporting many different services,” said Terje Jensen, Telenor’s SVP and head of 5G, adding that although the company started on its network virtualization process later than some other global operators, it has been able to accelerate its efforts and has surpassed many of those companies.

One key to Telenor’s success is its close collaboration with its vendors, including Cisco Systems. Cisco and Telenor formed a joint innovation partnership and agreed to work together on several initiatives including cybersecurity, cloud, Open RAN and 5G. Jensen said that Telenor likes working with Cisco because of its stronghold in many technology domains. “We have a good relationship with Cisco and we also have a joint business ambition. It is good to work with companies that are clear and transparent in what they want to achieve,” he said.

Partnerships are a critical part of Telenor’s transition to a virtualized network. Rakesh Jain, Telenor’s SVP and head of global networking, said that Telenor’s vendor partners have helped the company implement its virtualization strategy and remove any roadblocks.

Transforming a network’s architecture “isn’t a straight-forward implementation,” Jain said. “It’s important that as the industry matures, we have support from our vendor partners.”

Jensen added that it’s important for the industry to work together and support the needs of customers. “None of us can solve the puzzle alone. We all need to work together,” he said. “To achieve our overall ambitions with 5G with new use cases, we need to collaborate. There are new roles for traditional vendors and that means we need to reach out and embrace these new ideas and solutions from others.”

But part of the challenge is preparing existing employees for a new way of working.

Jain noted that the telecom world isn’t accustomed to having an open ecosystem that incorporates continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) and DevOps practices.

“I think you need to have a global way to work,” Jain said. “You replicate faster, learn, and, if you fail, then you learn from your experience and you build competencies and on-the-ground experience,” he said.

Cloud-native evolution

Being able to work in this new environment where the underlying infrastructure supports a world of new applications, use cases and operators can innovate is important for any organization because it shows that the company can mobilize quickly, which is critical as it evolves to a cloud-native architecture.

And when it comes to making the move to cloud-native computing, Telenor has three areas of focus — automation, interoperability, security.

Interoperability, however, is perhaps the most crucial element. “We need to come together and resolve the interoperability issues,” Jensen said.

Jain added that multi-vendor interoperability is necessary, particularly as operators like Telenor move forward with 5G. “We believe both open networking and multivendor interoperability are critical for the industry,” he said. “There are a number of services that will require open interfaces. We have ambition to work with multiple partners on this.”

Open RAN ambitions

Not only does Telenor support multi-vendor interoperability, but it also believes that opening up the radio access network (Open RAN) is beneficial. “We are shifting to openness in the radio access networks (RAN),” Jain said. “We believe this has multiple benefits in terms of innovation.”

Jensen added that the company believe that Open RAN offers more diversity of vendors and also allows other companies, both small and large, to become part of the RAN ecosystem.

However, Jain adds that Open RAN is another area where the technology still needs to mature. “The foundation and fundamentals need to be in place to make it happen.”

Common transport is key

Telenor is a proponent of having a common transport network for its fixed and mobile network. “We have always advocated for building one transport network with one set of routers and switches and fiber ready to support multi-services, which means mobile, fixed, enterprise and consumers,” Jensen said.

Having this common transport network in place has prepared Telenor for its migration to 5G because the company was already using one transport network for multiple services and multiple use cases.

“Because Telenor already has experience with a common transport network, we believe that we are well prepared for supporting all the different 5G use cases and customers with one transport network. We already know how to do that,” Jensen said, adding that it’s also much easier to automate the transport network when you have just one common network to automate.

Plus having one transport network is also better for the customer. Jain said that it’s much easier to accommodate customers that way and provides a lot more value to the customer.

Next steps

Telenor is well on its way to transforming from a traditional telco into a cloud-native networking innovator that can quickly update its functions and rollout new services. Thanks to its openness to collaborations with vendors and other partners, the company is poised for growth and new opportunities.

“We see 5G as an opportunity for service providers to transform the way their networks are constructed and operated,” said Jonathan Davidson, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group. “Having a converged, common transport network is important for moving from legacy appliance-based architectures into cloud-native infrastructure. The possibilities for service providers to grow and innovate with this type of underlying network are endless.”