In the run up to Total Telecom Congress 2019, we caught up with Andy Rowland, head of customer innovation at BT to discuss the emerging trends in today’s telecoms market

How important is network automation as we move towards the new era of next generation connectivity?

There is now the real prospect of being able to define the corporate network in terms of the company’s business intent. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can be used to monitor, identify and react in real time to changing network conditions such that the network always acquires a steady-state. Our customers now expect a different level of service, it’s not good enough to just have a solution that works. Through our reporting tools and expert support teams we can set experience based SLA’s for our customers. When the performance of the customer’s solution falls below the agreed parameters we are proactively alerted and our experts resolve the issue before it impacts the end user experience. Through APIs we can also share that information and control with our customers. We can link the solution we provide to their systems like ServiceNow giving them a single pain of glass and improving their experience.


How big a role will edge based innovation play in the evolution of the network?

With the move to intent based networking (IBN) where the network is constantly fine-tuned to align with user and application needs, a holistic view of LAN, WAN and Wireless connectivity is required. Traditionally Telcos have provided global WANs, but now need to focus much more on LANs to get to the heart of the enterprise with the Edge bridging the gap. The Edge is also becoming the new compute environment of choice as customer close their regional data centres and split their processing between the Edge (for real time analytics) and the cloud for less time critical applications.  In future we will see convergence at the Edge as it supports the intersection of a wide range of network technologies and increasing compute needs being driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G specifically multi-access edge compute (MEC).


What security challenges does this present?

The Edge bridges the gap between the worlds of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT). OT systems typically used for running manufacturing processes have for years relied on security through obscurity. They run on old or proprietary operating systems that are rarely patched and have no authentication or security logs. Password control is poor with the focus on availability not security and integrity. For years they have relied on being segregated and air gapped to keep them safe. To support IoT the Edge now need to take data feeds from IT, e.g. from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) which compromises the OT side of the business.  According to our security team 80% of OT threats come from the IT world. As the Edge become the point of convergence security become paramount. Vulnerabilities need to be exposed, virtual LANs (VLANs) need to be enforced and privileged users need to be monitored.       


What new technologies are you particularly interested in at the moment?

The exploitation of 5G especially in manufacturing is a hot topic for our global customers as is the evolution of Industry 4.0 from predictive models to prescriptive guidance. If we look at the Edge then zero touch is the really interesting area. Large-scale deployments of geographically dispersed edge clouds cannot be managed manually. Unlike cloud data centres with teams of technicians, administrators, and engineers, most remote edge deployments will not have anyone on site to manage operations. Of course the servers need to be shipped and physically installed but once they are up and running, we or the client need to be able to remotely manage the edge infrastructure as well as the application workloads via the cloud using a portal. It is essential to centrally manage the configuration and status of the edge cloud infrastructure to save time and minimize operational costs. Specific things we are looking at include remote attestation, bootstrapping and configuration, using tools like Intel’s Secure Device On-boarding (SDO).   


What are your predictions for the industry over the next 12-18 months?

In the next 12 to 18 months we expect to see a much greater focus on management and network orchestration (MANO), with greater use of open source developer platforms in the networking space. We also anticipate increased consolidation of virtualised network functions (VNFs) and security e.g. firewalls and potentially compute. 5G will also drive some interesting developments with MEC being used to support a range of new business applications like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the business world with the compute again being run at the Edge. Finally we expect IoT already one of the key drivers for Edge to finally take-off, with customers moving beyond myriad pilots and scaling the benefits using the newly emerging infrastructure we have discussed.