Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, spoke ahead of Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014 to outline the past year at the company he leads - and also to link the firm's own shift to new forms of business and development to the communications industry's almost entirely parallel transition from old to new forms of commerce and connectivity
Initially, Combes described Alcatel-Lucent's progress since he was appointed CEO of the French telecommunications equipment company the day before MWC 2014.
"In the past 12 months, we accomplished quite a lot," Combes said. Combes described, then, a company that is financially stronger, more commercially sustainable, restructured to be more relevant to its customers, as well as more innovative and increasingly committed to new ventures and technological partnerships.
"The industry has evolved quite significantly," Combes said, noting that even MWC had moved away from a focus on network infrastructure to a stronger focus on new devices, as well as modes of access and means for managing new demands on the network.
Evolution has been so rapid, even just in the last 12 months since the last MWC, that the need for a step-change in industry operations is even stronger. Networks and devices are faster, more capable, and more integrated, and Combes is a strong proponent of moves away from static networks to more agile networking - for example, through the development of highly-distributed architectures that can deliver carrier grade quality of operations.
Working with the wireless skin
Combes observed, "The time is over when devices had to adapt to the network. The time is now when the network has to adapt to devices." Combes spoke, particularly, of the increasing adoption of wearable technology, "the wireless skin".
Working back to the core, this necessitates the integration of the network and the cloud. He cited the development of network functions virtualisation (NFV), which allows operators to utilise cloud connections and storage to enable the delivery of new services, and so new revenue streams. He cited, then, Alcatel-Lucent's CloudBand offering, which enables faster deployment times and better scaling by creating virtual machine instances in connection with both core and edge network operations.
And what of SDN? This applies where the network can support the cloud, the opposite scenario from cloud support for network operations. This enables "automatised" delivery of end-to-end services, utilising resources within data services to enable different business models amongst communications players. Combes offered Alcatel-Lucent's recently-launched Nuage portfolio as an example of precisely this form of "accelerator" of industry development through SDN, by realising more of the potential of data centre networks.
Working with industry stakeholders, to serve industry stakeholders
Alcatel-Lucent recognised it needed key collaborators, core partners, to accelerate and stay with developments in architecture - "from the legacy world to the new world", as Combes put it. The company cannot do everything on its own, so it has formed associations with entities such as NTT, to introduce incremental but instrumental changes over the coming decade. The big development, however, which has the potential to transform connectivity for enterprises and individuals immediately and into the future, is the partnership formed by Alcatel-Lucent and Intel to support its ambition to advance network architectures, to serve and be served by new devices owned and utilised by consumers, as well as corporates.
Intel was the logical choice, helping to create an accelerated transition for industry stakeholders in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent. This enabled Alcatel-Lucent to introduce a new portfolio of virtualised functions - including IMS, RAN and packet core - which empower network operators to shift resources in more efficient and effective ways.
Of these, virtualised RAN (VRAN) is particularly attractive to network operators, as it moves the control plane to the cloud - clearly, a development operators everywhere can benefit from.
Renée James, president of Intel, joined Michel Combes to speak of the partnership that the two enterprises have signed. She offered a picture of a partnership that is focused on "revolutionising where technology goes", as she described it, where data-hungry devices meet virtualised network operations through new forms of programming and dynamic infrastructure.
High-speed IP packet architecture is particularly important in this regard - but so is real-time, virtualised networking that reduces operational costs dramatically and raises performances to hitherto unseen levels. She added a note on security, which Intel has been seeking to integrate into its own product line, across the cloud.
"It is very difficult to manage virtual workloads," said James, but she then noted that here are key developments happening now and happening at pace, which she expects to lead to an industry where collaboration is the norm - even between previously competitive companies such as Intel and ARM.
There is, of course, a heritage at both Alcatel-Lucent and at Intel of developing industry ecosystems through broad-spectrum collaboration by otherwise competitor entities. Think GreenTouch - the multi-sector initiative led by Alcatel-Lucent to drive down costs associated with energy usage - and then consider which partners Alcatel-Lucent and Intel might embrace in a new virtualised industry.
Consider, then, that the most transformative research and development may be conducted much less by individual commercial entities, but much more by collaborative ventures - and that the pace of industrial change may therefore be quicker.
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