Telecom technology is currently in the transition towards disaggregated, cloud-native networks. However, this technology requires new skills, to navigate cloud-native. The telecommunications market is in transition. The ongoing pandemic has boosted global internet traffic by up to 60 percent, increasing demand for bandwidth and increasing pressure on operators to provide reliable, high-speed broadband connections.
This has challenged operators’ perspective on future-proof and efficient network infrastructure, prompting them to question how they built and operated their networks. While telecom technology has stagnated for decades, we are now on the cusp of shifting to cloud-native that enables disaggregated networks. Industry organisations such as the TIP initiative are pioneers here.
Cloud-Native Leads To A Surge In New Skills
The market is now witnessing a shift in connectivity toward a cloud computing approach, away from the traditional monolithic legacy hardware that has dominated the sector since its inception. Demand for new qualifications accompanies this. Just as the dot-com boom in the 2000s led to the emergence of coding boot camps and reskilling employees for the new age, the shift to cloud-native in the 2020s will boost new skills in the telecom industry.
These new “Cloud Native Engineers” need to understand software-centric, cloud-native, and disaggregated networks, from the Radio Access Network (RAN) to the edge and 5G core. Employees must be able to understand and navigate the world of the cloud quickly, moving an application from a repository to a new operational environment through continuous integration and delivery pipeline.
The challenge now is that there is a skills gap for both internal and external employees. There is already a shortage of technicians who can properly install fibre, power, and radio equipment at telecom sites, let alone engineers with the expertise to navigate the new Cloud Native environment. So how can we build the next workforce for cloud-native technologies?
Adaptation To Cloud-Native Environments
In telecommunications, the term “cloud-native” describes various functions in networks that were developed as software from the start and run on independent hardware. Of course, such a Cloud-Native design has many advantages because the independent microservices are provided and executed in containers. If a new feature or update is required, the software developer delivers a corresponding microservice that updates or adds the individual element within milliseconds without interrupting the service. This way, route editing, updating, and restarting are 20 times faster than traditional router operating systems if open interfaces are also available.
However, the implementation of a cloud-native environment and the code and processes that sit on top of the governing functions and management must be performed by engineers with new skills. Compared to legacy, fixed networks, and hardware, Cloud Native engineers must understand how a container-based architecture works to allow microservices and APIs to work together in a loosely coupled approach for maximum flexibility and development agility. In addition, they must know about running routing software that turns bare metal switches into IP/MPLS carrier routers, often in different areas of the network, such as broadband access, edge, or core. It is not easy for engineers.
New Ways To Build Expertise In Cloud-Native
Of course, traditional routers and dynamic control systems are being challenged by new concepts such as disaggregation and distributed SDNs. These promise significantly faster implementation, automated control, and a shorter market time. For future router designs to meet these challenges, fundamentally new hardware and software must be developed, and modern software architectures and paradigms must be introduced.
A cloud-native engineer must-have software skills, such as coding, testing, design, or architecture. And at the same time, I know how to customise applications to make the best use of the cloud platform services. The best way to build this broad knowledge base is through training and hands-on experience. Training typically includes learning about Docker and Kubernetes in production use cases, writing complex cookbooks, transforming existing applications into cloud-native applications, and so on. Unfortunately, most training is currently focused on the “legacy” engineer deployed in the field to replace radios or fix newer 5G stations. not enough is done
Implement A Cloud-Native Approach
Most operators understand the case for a cloud-native approach given the apparent benefits of improved deployment flexibility, on-premises service adoption, and cost savings. However, they are busy with thousands of operations workers trained to solve yesterday’s problems instead of looking to the future. Imagine if the electric car industry came along and said, “We made this cool electric car, but we don’t sell the motor or the batteries that power it.” This is precisely what is happening now with the cloud-native approach. Operators are not used to building networks this way, so they must employ other workers to implement their plans.
Further Training Of Their Employees
To build talent, a company should first look within its ranks. Indeed some employees resist when they have to start over with a demanding qualification profile. But many young, bright, and eager-to-learn engineers would love to learn new cloud-native skills if given the opportunity. Also, this approach allows for a hybrid model of expertise, which can benefit operators depending on the project.
In Europe and the UK, investment in technical skills is essential to give these markets a competitive advantage in the decades to come. The best way to achieve this is to start at an early age, in school, university, or college, and through on-the-job training, and provide a practical, project-based education that allows young engineers to develop individually and operationally.