Open-Source in Telecoms – Oasis or ISIS?
Increasing Prevelance of Open-Source in Telecoms
The last years have seen a strong push for ‘open-source’ in the telco industry. Perhaps as an anti-thesis to the closed, proprietary world of telecom or as an alternative to the slow standardization bodies that have traditionally dominated the landscape. It was hoped that open-source communities would drive innovation and shorten time to market, effectively removing the need of multiple vendors investing in similar infrastructures. But has open-source succeeded in achieving these goals?
On the one hand, the telecom industry has embraced this newer, more disruptive methodology. Vendors were perhaps somewhat reluctant to give up their stranglehold on the industry, but eventually had no choice but to participate. In fact, the number of open-source communities is at an all-time high, with hundreds of different communities targeting a variety of industry challenges.
On the other, views of the progress made by open-source communities (or lack thereof) are extreme, and quite contradictory. While some claim ‘this is the future’, others suggest that the effect of open-source communities on the telecoms market have been ‘toxic’. So how do we explain this paradox? Is it just the disgruntled telecoms industry? Or is there an inherent defect to the open-source methodology?
ECI will argue that open-source is an important step forward for the industry, however like any methodology – it is not inherently good or bad. Rather like any methodology it should be adapted to its environment. Open source in telecoms is currently suffering from the flaws that arise from improper adaptation to the industry.
We will discuss:
- The pros and cons of open-source communities
- Where have we seen success
- Where are there gaps in implementation
- What have open-source communities achieved?
- Why have open-source communities been less successful in the telecoms industry?
- Causal analysis
- What needs to be done to ensure success?
- For Service Providers
- For vendors
- For the industry as a whole
There is no doubt that the telecom industry is undergoing massive change. Change is not easy, but sometimes a necessary evil for better days. And yes, everyone needs to pay a price. And yet, fighting the evils of ‘proprietaryism’ with a community of ‘free love’, is not necessarily the answer.
Applying lessons from other industries is a good start, but only while maintaining some of the traditional processes, which have been developed to ensure the ‘five-nines’ capabilities that customers expect. Processes achieved only after a long, difficult, upstream battle to stabilize this industry. The chaos that has overtaken the telecoms industry in parallel with the instigation of open-source may lead to: 1) the industry stagnating for many more years, 2) carriers returning to the traditional single-vendor networks, or 3) strong carriers driving their own solutions, leaving vendors out of the loop.
As with any methodology, open source is not inherently good or bad. A positive outcome requires participants to recognize the symbiotic relationship between all parties. Open source can be free. But free as in “free speech” not as in “free beer”! Expecting a free plug-n-play solution is a bit naïve, especially in the telecoms industry. Along with other fads and hypes of the last years, all should know that it is unlikely that vendors will acquiesce to their own demise without a fight. With 5G on the horizon, true collaboration and cooperation is necessary to ensure the industry progresses to a more stable and profitable future for everyone involved.