Networks are evolving, becoming dynamic every day. As these network transformations occur on a global scale, network operators need the tools and talent necessary to gain greater control, cost efficiencies, visibility, automate key network functions, and deliver top-notch customer services and experiences.
We spoke with Ayush Sharma, Sterlite Technologies (STL) head of programmable networking and intelligence, about his company’s take on networking in the era of 5G, WiFi6 and Gigabit broadband. STL is positioning its Programmable, Open, Disaggregated Solutions (PODS) portfolio as a way to make these technologies frugal for all. In this interview, Sharma talks about the big challenges network operators face today, exciting use cases for the PODS approach, and how STL’s portfolio might evolve over time.
Networking, and the way we think about networking, has changed substantially in recent years. What in your mind has had the most significant impact in the networking world, and what do you see as the biggest challenge network operators are facing today?
It certainly has. In most cases, for good reasons leading to more significant outcomes. To me, it’s the maturity of Cloud technologies and delivery models that had the most significant impact, especially to the Internet.
The biggest challenge the custodians of the networks are grappling with is Profitability and Control.
Sterlite Technologies, in combination with Open Community and other partners, announced PODS earlier this year. Can you walk me through what exactly PODS is and the benefits it brings to the user?
During the early days of establishing our business, my team and I came up with “6 Cs of Modern Networks” framework that subsequently led us to develop the PODS portfolio.
- Capacity: From 5G tofiberization, to edge cloud,enabling data plumbing infrastructure is cash intensive and less profitable for the operators, especially when OTT players capitalize it.
- Control: Control needs to shift from vendor-led to custodian-led.
- Content: Do you partner with an over-the-top (OTT) company or develop your content?
- Consumption: OTT cloud communications media services are running high, what about the Data consumption models for Telco?
- Customer Experience: Measuring and improving customer experience in real time using cloud and AItechnologies, enabling automation.
- Cost of Ownership: It all boils down to the cost of ownership.
All these six tenets get consolidated into the two fundamentals of connectivity and cloud technologies. For most custodians of the network, capacity augmentation or expansion is not a new phenomenon. The opportunity for them is to embrace cloud technologies and delivery models. When they start doing that, they address many of the six tenets, and hence they grow their business. This is where PODS come in.
PODS stand for Programmable, Open, Disaggregated Solutions:
- Programmable: This aspect brings the same tenets of cloud architectures and delivery models into hardware, allowing you to program your node using a variety of languages. You can also process at the software level, which is SDN.
- Open: Many companies claim to be open simply because they’ve opened their interface. To me, “open” is what’s defined by the communities working together to define specifications for open fronthaul or any frameworks that apply to fiber or 5G networks.
- Disaggregated: We build software-based solutions and partner with hardware vendors that provide media-specific white boxes. That kind of disaggregation enables network custodians to build new networks using cloud delivery models and cloud technologies.
- Solutions: We have based our solutions on those three principles, and those solutions are on the access, transport, and cloud sides of the network
Can you talk about some of the various use cases for PODS?
On the fixed access side, we have fiber-to-home PODS portfolio, where we help the tier-1 network operators roll out massive fiber-to-home projects. We have implemented the SEBA (Software Enabled Broadband Access, the ONF reference-based design) complaint PODS into our production network. This platform serves as a benchmark for the community, customers, and industry to adopt programmable FTTX PODS.
When it comes to radio access, together with our partners, including ASOCS, we offer a complete certified private-LTE and 5G-NR PODS that utilizes O-RAN compliant RIC controller. We are in the process of certifying specific uses cases in the field by working with leading mobile operators as well as private enterprises. Thus, they will be offering fully programmable, genuinely open, and wholly disaggregated 5G-NR and Private LTE solution that’s economical and enables cloud delivery models.
On the Wi-Fi side, we use vendor-neutral access points from our partners and our OpenWRT-based controller to provide on-premises and cloud-based Wi-Fi controllers. Our Wi-Fi PODS solution is WiFi6 compatible and can be packaged with our virtualized ePDG, EPC gateways as well as onboarding, authentication, and analytics (SMP, AAA, and ANDSF) platforms.
On WDM, we break down the open-line system that talks to the TIP community defined Cassini transponders, and work with disaggregated component suppliers who are stepping up their game and bringing that open white boxmodel into optical networking.
In the cloud domain, where we work with companies like Red Hat, we build that telco and edge PODS and integrate them and certify them in our network. We have our multi-access cloud network on which we certify and customize these PODS and deploy and deliver them to our customers.
How does PODS approach these use cases differently from what’s currently on the market or solve challenges that are currently unaddressed?
Today, you have several scenarios available. You have companies that provide integrated, proprietary, and monolithic hardware and software. Their products are used in a variety of networks. Then you have companies that operate in the white box domain and you have companies that operate in the pure software domain. If you have to build those networks, you have to put those things together and somebody has to certify the solution. If the traffic is running on an operator’s network or any defense network, the custodians need a single point of contact from a manageability or support point of view.
To build commercial products, someone needs to work with hardware vendors, establish a partner ecosystem, work with the community, and certify those solutions for the network. They need to handhold with the network custodians to make sure everything works, and they’ll see benefits in profitability, automation, and the cloud.
How does PODS complement the rest of Sterlite’s portfolio?
PODS bolsters our programmable networking business, and our real-time intelligence, which is the OSS/BSS portfolio that we integrated through a company called EliteCore, which we acquired. That lets us provide real-time OSS/BSS solutions and experience management solutions (which are machine learning and AI enabled) into PODS. All of that complements our infrastructure or programmable networking business portfolio.
With our optical fiber and now global 5G hybrid LTE capabilities, 8 of 10 tier-1 companies use our fibre network and optical fibre cables. We have capabilities that put us in a different league, where we have a good understanding of how the optical fiber networks work, how the passive media works, and now we bring active components to that on radio and optical transport domains. We call it “zone up destruction.”
Where traditional vendors provide monolithic hardware and integrated boxes, we’re bringing PODS, along with optical fibre and partners’ radio heads, as well as experienced professional services to put it all together.
How do you see PODS evolving in the future?
We’re focused on the infrastructure, and as programmability becomes common in the networking world, we see intelligence playing a huge role. That’s why we call it programmable networking and intelligent business. We see PODS evolving into the intelligence domain and the edge cloud domain.