How Network as Code and SaaS Are Shaping the 5G Future

Don’t let 5G become just another “G” with untapped monetization potential—Evolve for 5G standalone with telco SaaS at Equinix

Ron Hamway
Henrik Nieminen
Imran Aslam
How Network as Code and SaaS Are Shaping the 5G Future

5G traffic is already growing and is expected to explode to 5 billion mobile subscriptions by 2028.[1] Companies want to understand how they can tap into the promise and potential of 5G as it gains traction.

5G standalone (SA)—the next development in 5G technology—offers enormous promise to unlock value for network service providers (NSPs). Not only does it deliver clear benefits like higher quality of service, reliability, low latency and massive IoT connectivity, but it also provides new capabilities such as network slicing and API-enabled services to application developers. These advancements in 5G enable numerous emerging technology use cases, ranging from video surveillance and analytics to immersive AR/VR experiences, fixed wireless access, robotics process automation (RPA), connected vehicles and more. 5G SA today is like the early days of the internet: The features we make available today will create the networks of tomorrow, with innovative mobility solutions unlocked by the developer communities and monetized by strategic thought leaders.

But to access the full value of 5G SA, 5G network services need to be harmonized universally and globally. That is, 5G capabilities need to be ubiquitous and unified to deliver a consistent and reliable quality of service that’s easy to consume. When NSPs deploy 5G, they often struggle to bring solutions to market fast enough and face difficulty introducing new features due to resource constraints. But running 5G via a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering can address these problems. 5G SaaS is offered on a subscription basis and provides a fully digital experience and automated lifecycle. It’s a robust solution designed to handle telco workloads, and it provides a nimble time to market, a lower barrier to entry, easier implementation, an OPEX cost model and economies of scale.

Today, operators can deploy 5G SaaS themselves or through a telco vendor. But consider your options carefully, because the decision you make can determine your success with 5G and future monetization of 5G, as well as dynamic capabilities with MEC, compute, network and storage.

5G is changing the game – right now. Is your infrastructure ready?

Learn about how 5G is changing the digital landscape in real-time, requiring fundamental change in infrastructure before scalable

Download Now
Screen Shot 2023-03-24 at 6.03.18 PM

Enter Network as Code

5G use cases like AR/VR, RPA and autonomous vehicles all involve infrastructure, hyperscalers, networks, enterprises, applications and devices. For advanced 5G opportunities to come to fruition, we need a consistent approach to 5G networks across operators globally. You may already be familiar with Infrastructure as Code (IaC)—the idea of provisioning data center and mobility resources through code instead of through costly and time-consuming manual processes. Network as Code applies the idea specifically to the network domain.

Why does this matter? Because Network as Code shifts the point of view to focus more on enabling the application developer to bundle network capabilities into their code—and even to use 5G to make their applications perform better. With Network as Code, applications become more network-aware and adaptive, providing high quality of service, low latency, network slicing, location services and advanced authentication, to name a few examples.

Application owners want to be able to access new features quickly, but how can they do that if hundreds or thousands of NSPs globally need to upgrade their software to enable the new functionality? The networking industry, instead, needs to make the network codable to the application owner in a globally consistent, consumable way, so they don’t have to negotiate with every network operator. Network as Code therefore provides a critical path forward to unlocking the potential of 5G and creating greater value for organizations that partner with NSPs.

Moving forward with 5G as a service, aka CPaaS or telco SaaS

Building upon the capabilities enabled by Network as Code, some telco vendors have now introduced as-a-service solutions for 5G, variably described as telecom or telco SaaS, Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) or 5G SaaS.

Why should you work with a telco vendor for 5G SaaS? This question can create a dilemma for NSPs, since they might not want to give a third party control of, or access to, core network functions and capabilities. It’s definitely a shift away from how they’ve traditionally operated—but we believe it’s one that also creates significant new opportunities for innovation and redirects the focus toward better customer outcomes. 5G SaaS offers many benefits:

  • Faster time to market and time to value
  • Improved quality of service
  • Lower total cost of ownership and a predictable OPEX cost model
  • Greater business agility
  • Flexibility to scale on demand
  • Dynamic capabilities like multi-access edge compute (MEC) and network slicing
  • Consistent carrier-grade security
  • Access to digital ecosystems for new value creation
  • Lower barrier to entry for new providers

These benefits can be a huge advantage given the new requirements for 5G application programmability and the need to dynamically scale services up and down quickly regionally or globally.

Not only that, but NSPs should consider the importance of today’s dynamic business ecosystems to the future of 5G. Emerging technology use cases require partnerships between clouds, enterprises, networks and other service providers. Diverse ecosystems have become a fundamental part of innovation in the digital era. Working with a telco 5G SaaS vendor increases opportunities for new bundled services and experiences.

Deploying 5G SaaS at Equinix

Network operators have choices about how to transform for 5G and where to put networking infrastructure as the 5G future looms. You could deploy networking in the cloud, in your own data center, using a colocation provider, through bare metal—or using a combination of these. There are pros and cons to each option, but many NSPs today are making critical decisions about how to move forward with 5G that will shape their success and opportunities for 5G monetization in the future.

The SaaS model has transformed how we work and do business, and it seems very likely that telco vendor SaaS—and thinking of the network as code—will become more prominent in the near future. A lot of change is in the air as network disaggregation proliferates and innovation with mobility services accelerates. Considering this reality, we believe there are significant advantages to deploying a 5G SaaS solution using digital services and bare metal in a carrier-neutral facility like Equinix.

Equinix is invested in helping service providers and network operators bring innovation to market, and our digital services portfolio can help NSPs leverage telco vendor SaaS solutions effectively and capture greater value. We offer a range of solutions to help NSPs enhance their existing infrastructure to prepare for full 5G functionality:

  • With Equinix Fabric® software-defined interconnection, you can dynamically connect with a robust ecosystem of partners and service providers—which is ever more important in a digital marketplace defined by jointly delivered digital experiences.
  • Equinix Metal® Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS) enables you to deploy physical infrastructure quickly using an OPEX model.
  • And Network Edge virtual network services help you modernize your network and deploy digital infrastructure at the edge in minutes.

Equinix has an unmatched global footprint, so you can deploy in all the right places for your business. And we’re a neutral host and Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)—focused on real estate rentals—which really matters to enterprise customers that want to keep their carrier and hybrid multicloud options open for the future. The ability to offload traffic locally, dynamically and globally at the metro edge with low latency and access to rich, diverse ecosystems will help ensure the relevancy of future successful carrier networks. We firmly believe that the decisions you make today will set the course of your 5G future, and to really access the untapped potential of 5G, you need to choose wisely. Thankfully, there are exciting new solutions and opportunities available.

Learn more about how you can expand your 5G capabilities with Equinix by downloading the white paper 5G Is Changing the Game.


[1] Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2022.

Ron Hamway Senior Account Executive, Global Accounts
Henrik Nieminen Global Principal Solution Architect
Imran Aslam Principal Solutions Architect
Subscribe to the Equinix Blog