Hyperscalers are reimagining how networks are built, owned and operated

Hyperscaler-built networks will look very different from traditional networks

Hyperscalers are building end-to-end networks that embody all the attributes and characteristics coveted by communication service providers (CSPs) as part of their digital transformations. The most significant differences are in the software stack and the access layer, where new technologies enable hyperscalers to build dense mesh networks in unlicensed and/or shared spectrum bands and build out low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite overlays for access and backhaul. Mesh networks will likely be used to provide low-cost, wireless-fiber-like connectivity in urban and suburban environments, while satellites will primarily be leveraged to provide connectivity to rural and remote environments.

Hyperscalers are starting from scratch, completely reimagining how networks should be built and operated. Their clouds, numerous network-related experiments over the past decade, plus the raft of new network-related technologies on the road map will enable hyperscalers to build asset-light, automated networks at a fraction of the cost of traditional networks.

Hyperscaler networks will cost a fraction of traditional networks

TBR estimates hyperscaler networks cost 50% to 80% less to build than traditional networks (excludes the cost of spectrum, which would make the cost differential even more pronounced because hyperscalers will primarily leverage unlicensed and shared spectrum, which is free to use). Most of the cost savings stems from innovations, such as mesh networking, carrier aggregation, LEO satellites and integrated access-backhaul, that enable significantly less wired infrastructure to be deployed in the access layer for backhaul and last-mile connection purposes.

For example, Meta’s Terragraph mesh access point can autonomously hop signals through multiple other access points before sending the data through the nearest available backhaul conduit. In the traditional architecture, some form of backhaul would need to connect to each access point to backhaul the traffic. Mesh signals could also be backhauled through LEO satellites, further limiting the need to deploy wired infrastructure in the access layer, which is one of the most significant costs of traditional networks.

Another key area of cost savings stems from cutting out certain aspects of the traditional value chain. By open-sourcing some innovations, such as hardware designs, hyperscalers can foster a vibrant ecosystem of ODMs to manufacture white boxes to compose the physical network. The white-boxing of ICT hardware can lead to cost savings of up to 50% compared to proprietary, purpose-built appliances.

Hyperscaler disruption portends structural changes to the telecom industry through this decade

The technological and business model disruption hyperscalers are bringing into the telecom industry portends significant challenges for incumbent vendors and CSPs. TBR sees the scope of disruption becoming acute in the second half of this decade, likely prompting waves of M&A that will reshape the global landscape. CSPs will engage in M&A to stay relevant and financially sound, while incumbent vendors scramble to evolve as their primary business model (selling proprietary hardware and/or software and attached services) is increasingly marginalized and eventually becomes obsolete as hyperscaler innovations spread through the industry.

Hyperscalers do not want to become telecom operators; they want to leverage networks to obtain data and drive their other digital businesses

Hyperscalers are in the data business; providing network connectivity is a means to that end

Hyperscalers are building large-scale networks to drive forward and support their big-picture strategies, which revolve around building out their respective metaverses and supporting a wide range of new digital business models that will be enabled by new technologies such as 5G, edge computing and AI.

To that end, hyperscalers have a vested interest in ensuring the entire world is blanketed with high-speed, unencumbered, intelligent, low-cost connectivity. The economic justification to build the network is driven by the need for hyperscalers to gather and process new types of data to drive these new digital business initiatives. TBR notes that this business case is completely different from CSPs’ business case, which monetizes the network access rather than the data that comes over the network. The hyperscaler model emphasizes giving away low-cost or free connectivity and monetizing the data that comes through the network. The hyperscaler model is far more valuable than the traditional connectivity model and will likely ultimately become the predominant business model for connectivity.

CSPs sit on vast data lakes and have for many years. These data lakes contain valuable information about subscribers, endpoint devices, real-time location and tracking, and other metrics that are of critical importance for some of the digital business ideas hyperscalers want to commercialize, such as drone package delivery and autonomous vehicles. Owning more of the physical network infrastructure and the core software stack puts hyperscalers in a prime position to capture and monetize this data.

TBR notes that this strategy is already in use in the telecom industry in various places in the world. For example, Reliance Jio and Rakuten are using this strategy in India and Japan, respectively. In both cases, connectivity is given away for free or at a significantly lower cost compared to rival offers, and the data generated by the connections indirectly feeds and monetizes each company’s respective digital businesses, such as advertising, financial services and e-commerce. There is significant evidence suggesting that Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta Platforms and Microsoft all have strategies that are similar but of a far greater magnitude.

Hyperscalers already own and operate the largest networks in the world; the next build-out phase is the mobile core, far edge and access domains

Over two-thirds of global internet traffic traverses hyperscaler-owned network infrastructure at some point in the data’s journey. The vast majority of that traffic travels over hyperscalers’ backbone networks, which primarily comprise optical transmission systems (submarine and terrestrial long-haul optical cables), content delivery networks, and cloud (including central, regional and metro) data centers.

The domains of the network where hyperscalers have yet to dominate at scale are the mobile core, far edge and access layers, but there is mounting evidence to suggest this is changing, thanks to technological advancement and regulatory breakthroughs (e.g., the democratization of spectrum).

TBR’s Hyperscaler Digital Ecosystem Market Landscape focuses on the five primary hyperscalers in the Western world that TBR believes will own the largest, most comprehensive end-to-end digital ecosystems in the digital era. Specifically, the five hyperscalers covered in this report are Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta Platforms, Amazon and Apple. Collectively, TBR refers to these five hyperscalers under the acronym MAMAA. TBR covers the totality of the largest hyperscalers’ businesses, with an emphasis on how they are disrupting the ICT sector. Gain access to this full report, as well as our entire Telecom research, with a 60-day free trial of TBR Insight Center™.

5G will push CSPs to accelerate and broaden their NFV/SDN-related initiatives

According to TBR’s 1Q19 NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape, leading operators will accelerate and broaden their network transformations en route to deploying 5G and becoming digital service providers (DSPs). Softwarization, virtualization and cloudification are foundational aspects of a DSP’s network.

5G is greatly enhanced when using virtualization, especially when enabling and maximizing the benefits of network slicing and achieving better radio access network (RAN) economics. Though most operators intend to initially deploy the non-stand-alone (NSA) standard of 5G, which tethers 5G radio with evolved packet core (EPC), an eventual upgrade to the stand-alone (SA) standard, which tethers 5G radio to a 5G core, will become a reality in the early 2020s.

5G core is inherently virtualized, and communication service providers (CSPs) will be keen to prepare their networks to maximize the benefits of utilizing a fully virtualized network architecture, which includes, but is not limited to, increasing agility, flexibility, visibility and cost efficiency.

In 2019 Rakuten will become the first fully virtualized DSP in the world. Should the company’s approach to network architecture work, it will legitimize and embolden other CSPs to double down on their network transformations and hasten their migration to white-box hardware and cloud-native architectures.

CSPs are under pressure to invest in NFV/SDN to reduce total capex and opex spend as well as introduce new services and stay competitive in the data-driven digital economy, which is increasingly dominated by webscale and over-the-top players. This pressure will prompt more CSPs to spend on NFV/SDN during the forecast period. TBR expects 27.5% of total CSP capex and external opex spend will be allocated to NFV/SDN by the end of 2022.

total global csp nfv/sdn spend

Telecom IoT and edge computing: Developing focus areas in the telecom industry

As we look to 2019, TBR’s Telecom team has completed some insightful brainstorming sessions where we discussed industry trends and topics. We identified two nascent areas about which we are receiving increased questions and will spend more time researching as we move into the new year: telecom IoT and telecom edge compute. We welcome input, ideas and discussion as we dive deeper into these focus areas in 2019.

Coverage of these markets will be global in nature and will include insights on both operator and vendor positioning and strategies. Additionally, TBR will examine where companies are making money and spending money in these markets. Research will focus on business models and how they are evolving for Internet of Things (IoT) and edge compute, operator and vendor sophistication, and traction of IoT and edge compute businesses. There will be particular emphasis on leading companies: how they are making money in the market and where they are investing to position for success. We will examine market use cases and verticals to identify areas of opportunity.

Telecom IoT

The IoT market will scale up over the next five years as module prices decrease, IoT-optimized networks are built, and businesses and consumers realize the benefits of connecting their “things.” Communications service providers (CSP) will play an integral role in the IoT ecosystem as it is built out, and their revenue from IoT will grow as they pursue traditional and new business models in this market.

Telecom edge compute

Edge computing has become a major area of interest and investment in the telecom industry, driven by the need to improve user experiences as well as enable and support new business models. CSPs are also keen to invest in edge computing as a cost-efficient solution, with 5G as well as the cloudification and virtualization of networks driving the build-out of edge compute environments.

5G drives network transformation

The shift from connecting people (pre-5G era) to connecting everything (5G era) will require an architectural overhaul of telecom networks. A true 5G network will not only leverage new radios but also be inherently cloud-native, virtualized, programmable and automated and provide near-limitless capacity at ultra-low latency. This will require transformation across the entire network, not just at the access layer.

Network transformation moves from industry buzz phrase to reality

The telecom industry has discussed network transformation for years, though its amorphous meaning is beginning to take shape and materialize. TBR is seeing communication service providers (CSPs) transform into digital service providers (DSPs) propelled by ICT convergence, NFV/SDN, cloud, 5G, big data and analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These trends and technologies are helping operators evolve their networks from being rigid, slow, static, reactive and closed to being flexible, fast, dynamic and open.

Some of the trends contributing to this shift include moving from on-premises/physical networks leveraging black boxes to cloudified/virtualized networks leveraging white boxes. Hardware-defined networks were capex-driven, whereas the future of the network is software-defined and opex-driven. This evolution allows operators to more quickly and easily launch offerings for new revenue streams and reduce network costs over time.

Though NFV and SDN adoption has been slow, some Tier 1 operators are progressing with their plans and reaping benefits. Integrating NFV and SDN capabilities will enable operators to more effectively support network technologies that will become prevalent in the 5G era, such as network slicing and edge computing, which will play a pivotal role in supporting 5G use cases such as advanced Internet of Things (IoT). Operators are under pressure to invest in NFV and SDN to reduce total capex and opex spend as well as introduce new services and stay competitive in the data-driven digital economy, which is increasingly dominated by webscale and over-the-top players.

5G is taking up greater mindshare as commercial deployments begin

Operator networks must ultimately be overhauled to fully realize the potential 5G has to offer, though it will take operators many years to evolve their networks end-to-end. In the meantime, the current focus, and 5G-related capex spend, will be on 5G radios. The potential cost savings offered by 5G is spurring operators to accelerate their deployment timelines, pulling them forward by as much as two years. Efficiency gains remain the main driver to deploy 5G, as a viable business case for operators to grow revenue from 5G has yet to materialize (with the exception of fixed wireless broadband). 5G, which is expected to provide between four- and 10-times greater efficiency on a cost-per-gigabyte basis compared to LTE, will enable operators to more cost-effectively add network capacity to support the prevalence of unlimited data plans as well as continued connected device additions.

There are myriad ideas for new network use cases that 5G could enable, but ROI remains suspect. The most economically viable use case thus far for net-new revenue generation from 5G is fixed wireless broadband. In 2020-2025, which TBR believes will represent the “renaissance” phase of 5G, there will be a plethora of new use cases for the network, particularly in the areas of augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), smart city, IoT and robotics.

Realizing the full benefits of 5G requires significant investment across the network, not just in the access layer. Operators will invest in fiber, spectrum, massive MIMO (multiple input and multiple output), carrier aggregation, NFV/SDN and cloud RAN (C-RAN), which will provide opportunity for vendors. Though positioned well in key early 5G markets, incumbent vendors are threatened with disruption from NFV/SDN-centric firms, particularly firms in the areas of virtual RAN and mobile core. TBR estimates over 85% of 5G capex spend through 2020 will be driven by operators in four countries: U.S., China, Japan and South Korea. Most Tier 1 operators in these countries have aggressive 5G rollout timetables and intend to leverage the technology for fixed wireless broadband and/or to support their mobile broadband densification initiatives.

TBR covers these topics in depth in its operator, vendor, 5G, NFV/SDN and webscale research streams.

Ready when you are: Nokia prepared to migrate customers to 5G

TBR perspective

At Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) 2018 Analyst Conference, held in Tokyo in August, the company emphasized that its end-to-end portfolio, supported by a robust R&D program, is ready and able to take its customers into the 5G era. The vendor also stressed that 5G is much more than just a radio upgrade and that realizing the full potential of 5G requires a fundamental change to the architecture of the network.

Given how much disruption is facing the telecom industry, it was refreshing to see that Nokia is being proactive in aligning with where the market is trying to go, even if that means disrupting itself. Though a part of the company will remain focused on servicing the legacy platforms of the past, the other part of the company will focus on realizing the future. Given that most operators are stuck in between both worlds as well, it is fitting that Nokia will be able to support the migrations of its customers toward the network of the future.

Event overview

Nokia hosted a select group of industry analysts in a two-part event. The first part of the event was a two-day workshop about the company’s global Fixed Networks business, and the second part of the event was a two-day Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) regional update to deep dive on specific trends occurring in those markets.

In addition to the usual market overview, strategy and portfolio updates, Nokia hosted several customers at the event, namely Infracapital, KDDI, NTT DOCOMO, SoftBank and Marubeni, to discuss their own businesses and share how Nokia is helping them achieve their goals. A representative from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was also present to provide an overview of Japan’s telecom industry and how policy is shaping that country as it transitions into the 5G era.

Hosting the event in Japan was pertinent and timely given the country’s history as an early technology adopter and its upcoming adoption of 5G. With the 2020 Summer Olympics less than two years away, Japan will showcase for the world cutting-edge use cases of telecom networks leveraging 5G technology. The country also symbolizes the monumental changes occurring in the telecom industry, namely that domestic operators are challenged to evolve into digital service providers to better compete against digital-native competitors in their home market, such as Rakuten, as well as realize new business models from the 5G era to grow.

NFV/SDN will account for over one-quarter of CSP capex and external opex spend in 2022

HAMPTON, N.H. — According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) latest NFV/SDN Telecom Market Forecast, covering 2017 to 2022, mainstream adoption of NFV/SDN is now set for the early 2020s due to operators encountering challenges with migration.

“Despite challenges, operators will push forward with NFV/SDN and will scale their investments in these technologies,” said TBR Telecom Senior Analyst Chris Antlitz. “Operators must transform to stay relevant and competitive in the digital era, and NFV/SDN is a critical component of that transformation.”

During the forecast period, 5G will also serve as an underlying catalyst for increased NFV/SDN spend. 5G will push operators to adopt a new network architecture, and virtualization will be a critical aspect of networks.

TBR’s annual NFV/SDN Telecom Market Forecast projects spend on NFV, SDN and related services across key segments globally and by region.

Additional research on the NFV and SDN markets can be found in TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape and Telecom Software Mediated Networks (NFV/SDN) Customer Adoption Study, which cover the operator and vendor landscapes and operator purchasing decisions regarding NFV and SDN, respectively.

For additional information about this research or to arrange a one-on-one analyst briefing, please contact Dan Demers at +1 603.929.1166 or [email protected].



Technology Business Research, Inc. is a leading independent technology market research and consulting firm specializing in the business and financial analyses of hardware, software, professional services, and telecom vendors and operators. Serving a global clientele, TBR provides timely and actionable market research and business intelligence in a format that is uniquely tailored to clients’ needs. Our analysts are available to address client-specific issues further or information needs on an inquiry or proprietary consulting basis.

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