Typography

In order to know more about telcos’ digital transformation and the role of satellite operators in the 5G era, Telecom Review spoke to Karl Horne, VP, Telco/MNO Data Solutions, SES Networks at ConnecTechAsia 2019.

Horne explained how digitization started in enterprises and what needs to be done to achieve a complete transformation. He also highlighted the importance of partnering with cloud providers and how SES is looking at facing the industry’s challenges with new generation of satellite technology.

In your opinion, what elements make a successful digital transformation strategy for enterprises and operators?

Digital transformation is a transformation of IT. It’s when technology is applied on processes to streamline business. This is happening on the operators’ side and the end-users and enterprises side. In fact, the enterprise is the one that started to do it first: It started to cloudify its work flows and place its IT applications in hosted data centers so they don’t have to maintain the infrastructure themselves. More and more applications, such as CRM and email collaborations applications have become cloud-based services in enterprises.

The next step for enterprises to achieve digital transformation is to start to apply technologies like SDN and network virtualization.

As we move forward into Industry 4.0, enterprises in the manufacturing and industrial sector will start applying IoT technologies and a digital supply chain which is about automating the manufacturing processes and tying them in the back-end systems. Then, billing, ordering, customer management, supply chain, delivery and transport system are all linked together as one digital ecosystem.

From an operator’s perspective, digital transformation is about how to get more efficiency, more scale out of network reach and the services provided to the end-users, whether they were consumers, governments or enterprises. Virtualization and automation are key elements here.

Operators, including SES, are looking at how to automate a great part of the repetitive work flows that used to involve numerous people. It helps with correctness, speed and delivery to market. So it starts with automation, and then moves to leveraging things like virtualization through SDN technologies.

How would you describe the role of satellite operators in the 5G era?

One of the things about 5G is that it is architecturally pushing us towards virtualization and the distribution of functions. What used to be dedicated boxes linked together with a network and built by vendors, will become virtualized into a more software image and will be disaggregated in multiple locations with 5G. Because it’s virtualized, it lives now in data center environment or on top of computing platforms. The network will connect all computing points in a ubiquitous way and has to reach everywhere and be reliable, otherwise the whole system falls apart.

So, one of the assets of the satellites network is that they can go anywhere. Essentially, as we can start distributing some of the 5G ecosystem, we can create that fabric wherever that computing point might be. There are places where these computing points are set up that traditional terrestrial connectivity cannot reach. Therefore, ubiquity is something that a satellite solution will be able to insure for the 5G architecture.

Secondly, satellite operators will be able to deliver that capability to things that are on the move such as boats, planes and trains that can’t physically have a cable connected to it.

With 5G and other new technologies, huge amounts of data will be generated. How should telcos manage the high volumes of data?

The idea of distributed compute means that there will be several places along the chain where data can be collected in small, medium and large volumes, so the overall architecture will have certain places where data can be processed in the right amount of volume with the right scope.

So, telcos have to design these compute points to be able to handle the volume of data that will be generated by these new applications.

In addition, more information will be flowing so the connect fabric that underpins these compute points will have to carry more and more capacity, and we’re seeing that in all kinds of connect technologies whether it’s fiber, microwave or satellite.

SES is in partnership with several cloud providers such as IBM. Why did you choose to partner with cloud service providers?

It is all about what the end users want to do. There’s a large part of the world that is still unconnected and can’t even make a phone call. But there’s also a part of the world that is consuming remote data services which can enable IoT applications. Moving forward, more and more applications and services are going to be about cloud-based capabilities.

Two functions are key at this level: how to take these remote sides and connect them back into the cloud, and how to take a piece of the cloud and push it back out towards the remote sides. This is how we started working with IBM and other cloud solutions providers. Connecting that cloud entails KPIs, SLAs and performance specifications that define what it means to connect for an IBM cloud solution or any other cloud solution.

Part of our partnership has been about whether we can provide one of those connections to the specifications of the cloud providers’ needs and create vertically integrated solutions for the remote edge which is the connection plus the compute.

What is SES focusing on currently in terms of 5G and cloud enablement?

One of the things we’re focused on at SES is what the evolution of the satellite technology needs to look like to face the challenges of the industry, namely the demand for more capacity in light of big data. Cloud applications are consumed on demand which means the input on capacity will come and go much quicker so connectivity will be more dynamic.

We need more agile and programmable capacity. As we invest in the next generation of satellite technology, we have focused on this matter with our new system called mPower which is a middle earth orbit satellite constellation but it’s much more agile than previous technologies. I think this is the right fit as we head towards 5G and cloud services.