Network as Code: The Path to Unlocking New Value from 5G

How network service providers can reimagine network capabilities, making premium services available to application developers

Ron Hamway
Network as Code: The Path to Unlocking New Value from 5G

Network service providers (NSPs) have invested heavily in 5G, and 5G connectivity is expected to keep growing globally in the coming years. Alongside 5G growth, as-a-service models have taken the tech industry by storm, with OEM providers and hyperscalers joining the fray. Networks are now moving in the SaaS direction, with both mobile and wireline networks investing in new Network as a Service (NaaS) offerings. The desire to “cloudify” network services—to make them faster, OPEX based and easier to provision—is growing thanks to the benefits that SaaS models deliver, from faster time to market to easier consumption.

As network operators look for ways to monetize their investment in 5G, they’ll need to consider new opportunities arising from the paradigm shift to Network as Code. Being able to optimize network solutions from enterprises to clouds to get the best of private, public and multicloud offerings, in a composable, adaptive and competitive marketplace is fundamental for optimized network functions. It avoids long-term single cloud lock-in and creates the ecosystem to drive the best available multicloud offerings at any point in time. Modern applications require a wide range of capabilities, including some capabilities currently baked into networks. But developers need a faster, easier, more consistent way to access these advanced network capabilities from their applications. Many applications have relied on the public internet, but it doesn’t deliver the deterministic performance developers and applications often require. Meanwhile, wireline services like MPLS and Ethernet, which do offer strong SLAs and quality of service, have traditionally been more difficult, time-consuming and costly to set up. So, what if NSPs could deliver the quality of service they’re known for, at the speed and convenience of the internet?

The Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) market has been growing and is a step in the right direction. CPaaS is a way of making SMS, chat and video calling available as a service. But to offer more advanced network services to application developers, we’ll need to go beyond it. Network as Code represents a bigger change in how operators think of delivering network services. It speaks to a future where enterprises have easier ways to consume connectivity, and developers can create more dynamic applications that integrate advanced connectivity, user identity and location capabilities from a network perspective. Putting programmable mobility into the hands of developers will create a new class of applications that benefit from 5G networking. And Network as Code will thus open new opportunities and value for NSPs, developers and telecommunications industry.

Why Network as Code is becoming essential

Forward-thinking NSPs are looking for opportunities to create new value from their investments in 5G, but to do so, they need to figure out how to deliver services programmatically. Network as Code, at its essence, is about radically simplifying network capabilities to put them in the hands of developers and make them part of applications via APIs. It shifts the point of view to focus on enabling developers to build applications that are more network-aware and adaptive.

Network as Code today is in its infancy. We still have a long way to go to make the network truly programmable, but this is the direction everything is headed. To be used by developers, Network as Code will need to become ubiquitous, global and highly reliable. It will need to provide access to the benefits and features of 5G (as well as 4G and LTE) to the fullest extent possible, giving application owners the ability to say what quality of service they want.

Network as Code will be used for a variety of use cases, such as:

  • Enhanced security via authentication services
  • Real-time gaming
  • Autonomous, connected vehicles
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • AI
  • Network-based location data for targeted retail advertising or media digital rights management

In the future, there could be thousands of APIs available to developers—some of which NSPs might offer wholesale to many customers, and others that are high-value and specialized for particular customers. In any event, the shift toward Network as Code is becoming critical to the future of 5G, but the telecommunications industry will have to adapt to make it a reality.

How NSPs can begin to deliver on the promise of Network as Code

Network as Code comes with its challenges. It will require NSPs to make changes to traditional ways of working, like releasing control of data plane assets to OEM vendors to allow those vendors to manage services on behalf of operators. However, NSPs stand to gain a lot. First and foremost, Network as Code can make the high-margin parts of their business easier for customers to consume. Through a Network as Code model, NSPs would expose network features and capabilities that they can charge enterprise developers for—thus helping them further monetize 5G. Developers and enterprises will pay for deterministic service that supports the specific needs of their app and offers high reliability. The trend toward more dynamic, on-demand network capabilities is already taking hold and will accelerate as operators looks to leverage their significant investment in spectrum and 5G rollout.

When network operators are ready to start taking steps in this direction, digital infrastructure offers a low barrier of entry compared to traditional network deployments. For example, with virtual infrastructure, NSPs can enter new markets without having to buy, ship, install and deploy hardware and software into those locations. It also supports short-term use cases and easy scalability to meet changing demand and business needs. And it can help operators leverage network slicing, offering different classes of service for different stakeholders, and other multitenant sharing scenarios.

Network capabilities for mission-critical workloads

While telco cloud has helped NSPs make strides in shifting 5G infrastructure from CAPEX to OPEX, it can’t address all the needs of the data plane—the part of the network that carries user traffic. Data traffic is expected to triple in the next five years,[1] and cloud egress costs, latency impacts and even sustainability will make the idea of putting the data plane in the cloud a nonstarter. If you want to roll out the advanced networking capabilities of 5G, you need carrier-grade solutions at the edge, with global reach and access to the richest ecosystem of connectivity partners.

Equinix solutions have always been designed to cater to mission-critical problems, and we have a wealth of experience and global leadership in private interconnection and curated ecosystems. Our digital services enable operators to take advantage of the rich global data plane ecosystems already present in Equinix. We can help NSPs provision real-time connection between their services and applications living in the cloud and multicloud offerings.

Equinix digital services already lend themselves to Network as Code since they’re API-driven:

  • Equinix Metal® Bare Metal as a Service provides open APIs that allow users to integrate and manage deployments in a fully automated way. And it includes networking capabilities to optimize traffic flows, reduce latency and provide the optimal customer experience.
  • Equinix Fabric® software-defined interconnection includes a collection of RESTful APIs that allow you to programmatically create, order, monitor and delete private virtual ports that connect to Equinix Fabric. It can be used to connect 5G wireless service to applications securely and privately.

And best of all, these digital services are available on-demand, supporting dynamic composability of your infrastructure and interconnection needs. You can change partners and providers whenever you need to, leveraging the best multicloud offerings at any point in time. Equinix has an unmatched global footprint and the richest ecosystem of 3,000+ cloud and IT service providers and 2,100+ network service providers, as well as 10,000 enterprises including more than half of the Fortune 500. And we offer an industry-leading >99.9999% average uptime record.[2]

If you’re a network provider trying to think of new, innovative services to deploy, without breaking the bank, and in a new way where you get the benefits of cloud, Equinix can help. The industry is moving to Network as Code, and NSPs have the opportunity to offer premium services and business cases that create a composable dynamic framework for application owners. To monetize that value, NSPs need to own the orchestration from end to end. They need to decide if they’re going to lead the change or follow behind market leaders as they look to monetize network capabilities.

Learn more about expanding your 5G capabilities with Equinix by downloading the white paper 5G Is Changing the Game.

 

[1] Simon Sherrington and Rupert Wood, Wireless network data traffic: worldwide trends and forecasts 2022–2028, Analysis Mason, June 5, 2023.

[2] As measured from January 1–December 31, 2022, for IBX Operations. See Equinix Company Fact Sheet.

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Ron Hamway Senior Account Executive, Global Accounts
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