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The Case For Mobile Network as a Service

Written By Shawn Sweeney. Attention and focus have turned to Private Networks—think of them as enterprise-owned mobile networks inside the firewall—has gained currency. Less obvious though is the concept of these new networks as stepping stones to broader IoT adoption and edge compute.

Wi-Fi COMES OF AGE

Over 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to deploy some of the first secure Wi-Fi networks for enterprise clients in and around downtown Boston. These were heady times when the air was clean and largely free of interference. The promise of corralling the numerous security issues of the day and integrating Wi-Fi into the authentication systems commonly used in the enterprise while adding additional security capabilities provided enough value to be of interest to buyers. While there were bumps and grinds in the early days, these issues were largely ironed out with a few late nights and a fair amount of coffee.

While Wi-Fi was and remains a great technology for certain applications, it was not without its challenges. For those critical business applications, the issues became hard to ignore. Especially, if your bonus, like that of a plant manager, was tied to predictable performance and continuous uptime.

In addition, Wi-Fi Portability allowed movement from one place to another, while still maintaining some semblance of session integrity. New emerging applications required true mission-critical mobility. The kind that a well-defined mobility architecture can satisfy–an acknowledged deficiency of Wi-Fi portability. In this new paradigm, a disruption in communication had implications—the loss of time and money. Two things of great value to most ongoing concerns.

Whether robots in a warehouse, machines on the manufacturing line or crash carts in a hospital, the demands for true mobility stand apart from their less time-sensitive brethren in the IT realm. The demands of “always on” require “no disruption” and not as a negotiating point but a service guarantee.

CARRIER CHALLENGES

Of course, the telecom industry had planned for this technical perfectionism. The standards bodies set about creating a mobile service architecture that was as reliable as the one it replaced–those pesky wires. Thus guided, the large mobile network operators created a set of consumer products that took the world by storm and transformed how we live, work and play. Rock-solid reliable mobility became a thing.

All good so far, with a few glaring exceptions.

The consumer products that drove today’s mobile infrastructure had a clumsy relationship with emerging enterprise mobility requirements. Enterprises pined for the reliability and control that mobile carriers had. But MNOs, with consumer offers in hand, did not know how to satisfy that demand with the infrastructure they built.

Sure, there have been attempts to bridge the gaps in the interim. Each one coming up short in some material way that drove cost, limited adoption and prevented satisfaction. The simple truth of this has become clear – mobile carrier and enterprise networks were designed to be independently owned and operated. Think of them as distant desert islands in two different oceans—while they share some attributes they remain a world apart.

THE NEW EMERGENCE ENTERPRISE MOBILITY

Profit-driven enterprises tend not to wait for solutions for their most pressing problems. The glacial pace of large telecom providers aside, the show must go on. With the availability of managed spectrum in the form of CBRS now broadly available and 5G looming in the near-term, enterprises now have the critical pieces of what they thus far lacked – viable spectrum for mission-critical applications.

Indeed, the attention and focus on Private Networks—think of them as enterprise-owned mobile networks inside the firewall—has gained currency. Less obvious though is the concept of these new networks as stepping stones to broader IoT adoption and edge compute. The continuum that once and for all codifies the relationship between IT and OT infrastructure. If digital transformation has a Nirvana, it is on this path that it lies.

MOBILE NETWORK AS A SERVICE (MNaaS)

So, what is an enterprise decision-maker to do? There are as many answers to that question as vendors attempting to satisfy it. Predictably, the operators are claiming to have recovered from their slumber with offers that frankly, they could have offered years ago. The pace of glaciers, don’t you know?

There are many more enterprise solution providers driving demand for widgets—as disjointed point products solve all according to them. While there will likely be products and hardware involved, we can envision a lot less of it than we used to imagine. If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it is this.

In today’s post-cloud environment though, enterprises have voted on products and hardware. They have embraced new service models as a result. Hardly a revelation for sure, but informing nonetheless. If the arcane aspects of the mobile network can be simplified and reduced to their basic components, this would offer an alternative whose time has surely come. The building and deployment of a carrier-class network inside the enterprise firewall as a service.

With a few simple API calls. In minutes. Not months. As a service.

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