The Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent conference is decidedly back post-pandemic, ringing in at more than 350,000 in-person and virtual attendees this year. The focus on telco at re:Invent has been somewhat light in the past, so I was encouraged by this year’s theme of accelerating the sector from “telco to tech-co.” As stated by AWS leaders, that means delivering cloud-native, purpose-built solutions for communication service providers and mobile network operators.
The marriage of the telco industry and cloud computing is a match made in heaven. The proliferation of connected technology such as smartphones, tablets, smart home devices, and fixed wireless access services is driving demand for edge computing solutions across public mobile networks. 5G will only accelerate things further, given its ability to support a quantum-level increase of connected devices in comparison to 4G LTE. With that context in place, I would like to share my insights into some of the more exciting telecom news and announcements that emerged from re:Invent.
Key takeaways and announcements
In a broad sense, this year's event focused on the cloudification of networks through secure and scalable software-defined platforms; operational transformation leveraging automation tools to improve efficiency; and the enhanced utilization of data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to personalize and improve the customer experience. Additionally, AWS and several partners announced agreements and collaborations designed to foster innovation to monetize 5G, edge, and enterprise automation investments and extend the cloud where users need it most.
AWS surprised me by making the focus on its 5G-as-a-service offering less prominent, but the company has made enhancements, including support for multiple radio units. At launch, the service supported only one radio unit per network to provide up to 150Mbps of throughput for a maximum of 100 SIMs. However, the company now offers the option to order additional small-cell radio units and SIMs to expand coverage and users significantly.
re:Invent featured an astounding 2,000 sessions, including keynotes, leadership sessions, and multiple announcements that focused on data, security, and computing—welcome news for the telco industry. Three announcements stood out for me as compelling. First, Dish Wireless began the deployment of its greenfield Open RAN-based 5G network earlier this year. The new mobile network operator leveraged the event to demonstrate how it exposes its network to developers via application programmable interfaces (APIs) to create new 5G applications. Dish has also created an online hub to further the effort to increase long-term engagement with the developer community. This effort should accelerate the creation of disruptive applications in both consumer and enterprise spaces. Dish also participated in a re:Invent session with AWS outlining how it is leveraging AWS CI/CD code to deploy across the cloud provider’s regions. The ultimate objective is speeding Dish’s 5G Standalone deployment from core to edge using AWS, and by all measures this appears on track despite some other technical delays seen earlier this year likely tied to Dish’s Open RAN implementation.
Second, Vodafone announced its Edge Innovation Lab in England for a distributed mobile edge computing platform deployed in conjunction with AWS. Vodafone is leveraging AWS to develop and provide digital services packaged as telco-as-a-service. This effort is a logical step for Vodafone, given that it is a leader among its peers in Europe thanks to its adoption of infrastructure disaggregation, software-defined tools, and the cloud—all critical considerations in as-a-service delivery models.
Finally, Deutsche Telekom's operating service provider business, T-Systems, announced its support for Amazon's External Key Management (EKM) service. This managed service generates cryptographic keys for data security—a vital piece of technology when we consider how the overall attack surface will expand as 5G networks usher in a dramatic increase in connected devices. Although the 5G New Radio standard provides significant encryption improvement over 4G, this is a substantial announcement for both Deutsch Telekom and its U.S. subsidiary T-Mobile.
A potential lifeline for Verizon
Verizon and AWS hosted an informative session about Verizon Connect's journey to the cloud. The companies showcased key aspects of Verizon's all-in AWS migration, which is aimed at transforming the carrier’s business and subsequently improving customer experiences for fleet management. Specifically, AWS has helped Verizon to modernize its platform with serverless event-driven architectures and purpose-built databases, as well as by deploying AWS native and managed services for IoT and device management. This is good news for Verizon. It is no secret that it is trailing T-Mobile and AT&T in its 5G deployment for a handful of reasons, and 5G enterprise services will help it monetize its multi-billion dollar spend in C-Band mid-band spectrum assets.
re:Invent 2022 delivered on many fronts, and its focus on “telco to tech-co" strongly indicates that the cloud has established itself as an essential element in facilitating agility, scalability, resiliency, and high performance for mobile network operators. In many ways, AWS is helping to supercharge 5G use cases. It will be interesting to see what unfolds for AWS and its customers between now and re:Invent 2023.