AT&T sees value in collaborating to monetize NaaS
AT&T is making progress toward its goal of monetizing network-as-a-service (NaaS) through collaborative relationships with hyperscalers and others, and the creation of new business models. TM Forum’s Catalyst Program is helping the company accelerate implementation of its strategy through the development of standard APIs and by engaging stakeholders across the ecosystem.
“The concept of the Catalyst is to establish a technical framework to make these digitized network capabilities and resources available in the hyperscaler marketplace, to the end user, in a simple and seamless fashion,” explains Anjali Banerji, Director, Digital Services Integration at AT&T. “So, it becomes a one-stop shop for that end user. It could be an application developer that needs network connectivity underneath their application that they’re building.”
She adds: “The idea is to make it easy for businesses and developers alike. With the global world that we live in, the person just wants their application to work, regardless of its location. They don’t want to have to deal with the complexity of multiple CSPs [communications service providers], so having these capabilities be available in a standard way makes it easy for application developers to develop network-aware applications that work anywhere.”
Proving the concept
AT&T championed four Catalyst proofs of concept which were demonstrated recently at DTW-Ignite in Copenhagen. Three of the projects are interrelated, focusing on development of new NaaS APIs and new avenues for monetization by creating opportunities to sell network services via hyperscalers.
The Private optimized connectivity and the Network insights for customer experience (NICE) projects created industry-standard process APIs to provide performant, reliable connectivity between a set of CSP devices and a hosted cloud application, and to provide application and network performance monitoring and insights to enable improved customer experience. The third project, Simple hyperscaler integrated network experience (SHINE), created an end-to-end solution framework that uses industry standards to integrate CSP network services and APIs with a hyperscaler’s marketplace, resulting in new revenue channels and faster time to market for digitized network services while also creating a simplified end user experience.
The SHINE Catalyst leveraged TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) and TM Forum and CAMARA APIs to build an end-to-end solution for offer publication, order orchestration, provisioning, and usage of the Quality on Demand (QoD) and Location Verification APIs from multiple telcos (AT&T, Orange and Telefónica) via Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace. The project won the Outstanding Catalyst – Business Growth award and was a finalist in two other categories (Best Innovation and Future Techco & Best New Catalyst), demonstrating successful collaboration with multiple partners including AT&T, Orange, Telefónica, Amdocs, Infosys, Microsoft, Prodapt and ServiceNow.
The bigger picture
AT&T’s focus on NaaS monetization is part of the company’s strategy to converge its wireline and wireless networks at the edge using Linux-based commodity computing infrastructure and software routing capabilities, according to Jeremy Legg, the company’s CTO.
“We’re moving from proprietary hardware models in how we’re converging those networks…” Legg explains during this conversation with TM Forum CEO Nik Willetts. “The economies of scale that you get by combining those networks … enables us to handle the amount of traffic that we think consumers and businesses are going to need in the future. And then it enables some interesting, proprietary things for AT&T in terms of how we offer security or other types of services.”
AT&T’s network transformation is happening in three phases. The first steps have involved moving all software development and development of AT&T’s packet core networks to the public cloud. The company’s relationship with Microsoft is well documented. In 2021, Microsoft acquired AT&T’s Network Cloud technology, which supports the telco’s 5G core network. The deal included offers for AT&T’s Network Cloud platform engineering team to join Microsoft.
Now, AT&T is aiming to change its allocation of capital to focus on software. This includes adopting software-as-a-service (SaaS) for operational and business support system (OSS/BSS) functions such as order management, customer relationship management and workflow management.
“These are examples of off-the-shelf software solutions that are better than what we’re going to develop internally and they’re already readily available in the industry,” Legg says. “While those solutions are critical implementations, it allows us to then shift the capital to things that really do differentiate us: the API platform…the development of cybersecurity solutions, the development of precise location solutions – things that telcos specifically are able to do that other folks are not going to be able to do.”
A ‘win, win and win’
The SHINE Catalyst featured network services and APIs from the CSP champions (AT&T, Orange and Telefónica) along with software and SaaS from Amdocs, ServiceNow and Microsoft. Amdocs and ServiceNow contributed product catalog, order management and orchestration capabilities, while Microsoft contributed not only its Marketplace, but also the Azure Programmable Connectivity (ACP) service for user authentication, authorization and service dispatch. Systems integrators Prodapt and Infosys helped design the ODA-compliant SHINE architecture, leveraging the Microsoft Azure ODA Canvas, (see graphic below), and leveraged TM Forum Open APIs for building multiple integrations and interfaces with Azure and the CSPs.
A next phase of the Catalyst could add more ecosystem partners (telcos and hyperscalers) and demonstrate the ability to support multiple business models, so that all partners can derive value from delivery of the NaaS capabilities. “For that there are a couple of things that need to happen,” Banerji says. “We’d want to enable multiple business models through this solution, but you need to walk through the details of each: who pays what to whom and how. For example, do you pay by time, by how many API calls are made, etc.? As commercial discussions occur between the companies that choose to expose network APIs via hyperscalers, there will be impacts to the current solution.”
In any case, she adds, “it’s a win, win and win. It’s a win for the CSPs because they can monetize network assets and get additional revenue channels. It’s a win for the hyperscalers because they get additional revenue opportunities. And for customers, it’s one place to get the resources you may need for compute, connectivity etc. – you don't have to go to a separate CSP portal to buy connectivity or call a number to have that network connectivity serviced.”
The idea is for AT&T and the other CSPs championing the SHINE project to use what they’ve built to develop commercial products. Indeed, commercialization is an important part of AT&T’s strategy, according to Legg.
“This isn’t about PowerPoint presentations or PR for us,” he says. “This is a technology strategy that the company is embracing around how we build our core business, but also how we’re building the products and services that sit on top of it. And so, the announcements that you’ll see us making in the coming months and years will be tied to that strategy.”
Collaborating with other telcos globally, as AT&T has done in the Catalyst projects, is also an important part of AT&T’s strategy. “We’re better together than we are apart, and people want interoperability,” says Legg.
That interoperability is key to being able to offer 5G services like quality of service on demand and guaranteed low latency. “Our customers want there to be some consistency in how this works across the globe, particularly multinational corporations or large corporations that are going to have relationships with many domestic telcos here in the US as well as across the globe,” Legg explains. “Simplifying that for them is what’s going to enable us to participate in the revenues that exist on top of our networks, rather than relying solely on the subscription revenues.”
Legg concludes with a call for faster interoperability among companies that have historically focused on competing: “It’s like, everyone put down their swords. Here are the ten things that we can go and work on together as an industry… That’s been a hard thing to do historically. It’s certainly happened on the wireless side of the fence with interoperability around the globe. But it takes too long.”
He adds: “We need to do it faster and set up some milestones that are going to be in timeframes that are relevant in order to show the broader industry as well as our collective customer base that we’re serious about this and can actually deliver.”