TM Forum’s flagship Digital Transformation World (DTW) event returned in person last week after two years of online events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time ever, the event took place in Copenhagen – a bold move away from the conference’s historical home of sunny Nice on the South Coast of France.
This change in location certainly paid off. Industry professionals turned up to the event in droves with many enjoying social activities organised by the TM Forum including walking tours, historical sightseeing and even early morning runs to soak up all the charms of Copenhagen.
DTW isn’t a new event, and neither is its goal to unite the telecoms industry around the banner of harnessing new technologies to drive innovation. But clear progress towards that goal was in the air this year. Hyperscalers were ubiquitous, reflecting contemporary moves to the public cloud from telecoms operators across the world. This was captured best by the presence of Google Cloud on the show floor – who just recently joined the TM Forum as a member organisation – with a buzzy stand kitted out with colorful bikes and a jazz band to bring the show day to a close. AWS and Microsoft Azure, two other public cloud titans, were also present.
Embracing the public cloud is warmly welcomed by the TM Forum as the right step in the industry’s digital transformation journey. Some industry figures at this year’s event, however, took a nuanced tone on this shift to public cloud. While the cloud holds a lot of promise for operators, some TM Forum members made it clear at this year’s show that not everything is destined to live in the cloud. Certain applications and workloads won’t be compatible – whether that’s down to legacy infrastructure that is difficult to replace, or a desire to keep a tight control on mission critical, public facing support systems that could be lost with outsourcing to a hyperscaler. One of the main barriers to public cloud adoption, the fear of vendor lock-in (going all in and then being stuck with one provider), persists and many advocate for a multi-cloud approach where telcos work with more than one hyperscaler to spread their exposure and boost their leverage.
TM Forum is doing its own work to address the issue of cloud interoperability with its Open Digital Architecture (ODA) which defines a standardised deployment environment (they like to call this “the canvas”) for cloud-native network functions. At the show, TM Forum members demonstrated how the ODA ‘canvas’ enables the portability of these cloud-native functions across multiple public cloud environments. The ODA’s promise to standardise the industry’s deployment of public cloud is one that many embrace. The initiative received a massive vote of confidence at the show with major telecoms carriers Axiata, Jio and Vodafone announced as “running on ODA”.
The show wasn’t all public cloud. Discussion naturally turned to what’s next for 5G. Since the last in-person DTW, 5G networks have spread across the world and the industry’s shift to 5G standalone has come into the picture. 5G standalone creates many new opportunities for telcos, including the potential for stronger network performance at the network edge and the ability to support new enterprise use cases. Industry figures at this year’s DTW were bullish on utilising the network edge but stressed the need for telcos to keep a laser focus on specific enterprise problems that 5G can solve as opposed to broad brush deployments of edge points.
My main takeaway from Copenhagen is that the TM Forum’s raison d'être to drive industry collaboration has never been more pertinent. After years of indifference, the telecoms industry can no longer resist the compute muscle of hyperscalers and all the network improvements this can drive. The good news for telcos is that hyperscalers are keen to embrace the industry and get to work. It’s a time of exciting evolution for the telecoms industry, consumers’ ever-growing usage of technology and emerging mobile network edge use cases have thrusted mobile operators right back into the forefront of innovation. DTW 2022 felt like the right event, with the right message, at the right time.