How AWS works with mobile operators

A Q&A with Ishwar Parulkar, Chief Technologist, Telco, Amazon Web Services.

This interview with Ishwar Parulkar, Chief Technologist, Telco, Amazon Web Services, was first published in TMN’s Telco Cloud Report. The interview is one of a series carried out with developers and vendors in the telco cloud space. To see all these and to read the whole report, head here to download a copy.

In the interview, Parulkar lays out how AWS seeks to engage in the telco space, which network functions are suitable for AWS (hint – it’s all of them), and how AWS environments can be utilised within a network architecture. “We are deeply invested in the telco vertical,” Parulkar adds, pointing out, “Carriers are challenged in monetising over-provisioned infrastructure.”

Parulkar states that he thinks that, in time, moving network functions onto AWS infrastructure will become “the standard way to build new telecommunications networks.”

TMN: Can AWS break down how it sees its relationship with mobile network operators?

Parulkar: AWS sees its infrastructure assets and portfolio of services as key enablers to transforming telecommunications providers, as well as mobile operators, businesses and operations. Specifically, we help them:

  1. Build virtualised networks with cloud infrastructure to gain benefits of scale, reliability, utilisation and agility
  2. Simplify their operations via network automation and CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) of software
  3. Reimagine their customer engagement experiences
  4. Unlock business growth using their existing assets

As such, we are deeply invested in the telco vertical, helping mobile network operators evolve how networks are built and operated to be more flexible, agile, and cost-effective.

Multiple major telecommunications companies rely on AWS to power their infrastructure and accelerate new service launches. Examples include DISH, which is building its 5G network from scratch on top of AWS; Telefonica Vivo, a Brazilian carrier architecting a cloud-native 5G standalone core; and Swisscom, which is exploring the migration of its 5G network to a hybrid cloud architecture, utilising Swisscom assets, AWS Outposts, and the new AWS Region in Switzerland (launching in the second half of 2022).

We also work with network operators to build multi-tenant, low-latency applications that leverage the inherent advantages of 5G (low latency, enhanced throughput, and increased density) with AWS Wavelength. AWS Wavelength embeds AWS storage and compute services at the edge of telco providers’ 5G networks.

The combination of AWS Wavelength and carriers’ 5G networks minimises the latency and network hops required to connect from an application hosted on AWS to the end user’s device. AWS Wavelength Zones are now generally available on carriers’ 5G networks in the US (Verizon), UK & Germany (Vodafone), Korea (SK Telecom), and Japan (KDDI), with more expansion planned in Canada (Bell Canada) and Europe.

TMN :  Does AWS see all AWS environments as suitable locations for all network functions – how would that break down between Outposts, Local Zones, etc?

Parulkar: The overall benefit of how we’ve built AWS Regions, AWS Outposts, and AWS Local Zones is that they provide the same APIs, tools, and foundational services such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). This enables carriers to mix and match what infrastructure customers use, such as using AWS Outposts for their own data centres and AWS Local Zones to get the pay-as-you-go benefits of the cloud in other locations.

For example, DISH uses AWS Regions to run OSS/BSS and most of the control plane functions of the 5G core, and AWS Local Zones to host 5G core components that need to be at a region/metro level (for example, the user plane of 5G core). AWS has also designed 1RU/2RU versions of AWS Outposts which can be installed in remote edge sites such as cell towers to run RAN workloads.

It’s worth mentioning that increasing numbers of telco independent software vendors (ISVs) such as Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, Mavenir and others have migrated their network functions to containers so that they can run on different hardware platforms. AWS provides a fully managed container platform for these virtualised network functions on hardware that is managed by AWS through integration of Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS) with AWS Outposts and AWS Local Zones.

TMN : Does AWS see mobile operators siting network functions in shared tenant environments?

Parulkar: Yes, AWS has seen interest from carrier customers exploring and deploying network functions in shared tenant environments. DISH Networks, which is building an end-to-end 5G network on AWS, is a prime example of a carrier using multi-tenanted environments as it uses AWS Regions and AWS Local Zones to host network functions, both of which are multi-tenanted infrastructures.

We believe that moving virtual network functions onto AWS will become the standard way to build new telecommunications networks going forward

TMN : Why are operators considering AWS for managing and operating cloud native network functions (CNFs)? Is it about the automation environment, flexibility, cost?

Parulkar: Operators look to AWS to help them transform how they serve customers and operate their businesses. For example, mobile networks have traditionally been over-provisioned to manage peak traffic. From a business point of view carriers are challenged in monetising the over-provisioned infrastructure on a day to day basis, with typical network utilisation running well below peak capacity. Running cloud native network functions (CNFs) with AWS gives operators the ability to scale up or down on demand, driving higher network capacity utilisation and tailoring consumption of network resources to customer demand, resulting in lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and enables carriers to monetise used network capacity.

Automation and CI/CD technology used in the cloud reduces the number of network operation engineers required to keep the network running. For example, operators can shrink scheduled maintenance windows required to update, upgrade and introduce patches in the network.

Finally, orchestration of the network functions driven by OSS/BSS and higher layers of service orchestration, makes the mobile network operators more agile in developing and deploying new services. They turn to AWS because of the security, reliability and scale that is inherent in our infrastructure and services.

What network function workloads are candidates (or already have) moved to AWS?

Parulkar: All network functions are candidates to be moved to AWS (either in AWS Regions, AWS Local Zones, or AWS Outposts, depending on where they need to be deployed geographically). We have moved OSS/BSS workloads, 4G and 5G mobile packet cores, IMS core, service assurance applications, network analytics applications, network orchestration systems, SDWAN controllers, LI (Lawful intercept) applications, virtual routers, network firewalls, and several other network functions to AWS.

We are in the process of moving RAN workloads as vendors are developing versions compliant with O-RAN Alliance specifications. AWS is working with major network equipment and network function vendors at engineering levels to develop and onboard CNFs in the most efficient manner on AWS.

In the fullness of time, we believe that moving virtual network functions onto AWS will become the standard way to build new telecommunications networks going forward. Take DISH as an example. DISH recently chose AWS as its preferred cloud provider for the cloud-native 5G network that it is building from the ground up—which is a milestone for transformation in the telco industry. We’re already seeing interest from other telco companies who are keen to do this.