The next leap forward in wholesale networks: automation, APIzation and virtualization will change the game

On 03-01-2023
Reading time : 3 minutes

Recent events have highlighted how today’s network is more essential than ever. Lockdowns, video streaming and calling, and working from home resulted in a vast increase in traffic traveling over networks. Flexibility and agility became the watchwords of the operator. We talk to Orange VP Global Wholesale & Enterprise Networks Jean-Louis Le Roux about the next smart step forward in international networks.

Jean-Louis-Le-Roux-Wholesale-network-automation-web Q. How do you summarize what has happened in the past year or so in networks?

 A. We’ve seen a whole new world! 2020 was a year like no other, where demand for   connectivity   and bandwidth   was unprecedented. The ways operators needed to provide   connectivity and   bandwidth changed drastically. We   found that our international customers   quickly wanted   greater  flexibility and agility to fit their new needs. Their   own retail and   B2Bcustomers were   demanding much more bandwidth for a different usage landscape, and we   needed to equip   our   wholesale customers to provide that.

Q. And how did that manifest itself?

 A. We realized that the existing network architecture required more flexibility. We own and manage two international networks: one is our very large footprint international B2B network, which serves multinational corporations; the other is our wholesale network, which has less of a footprint, but massive bandwidth. And in that setup, most of the network functions are in dedicated physical boxes. We saw that this architecture needed to evolve to adapt more quickly to changing customer needs or provide on-demand services. 

The pandemic was a catalyst for us to look inward and ask how we could better address our customers’ challenges and concerns. There was a massive increase in traffic to handle, and our existing network configuration meant that network upgrades were challenging to carry out as fast as the traffic surge required. In parallel, we have observed a rapid convergence of B2B and wholesale customers requirements, and an increased need for more on-demand services. Our customers needed more flexibility and quickly. By converging our two networks, and softwarizing our network service layer, we can potentially provide a best of both worlds solution.

Q. What did you do about it?

A. We decided it would be a smart idea to transform our network from a rigid architecture to a more simplified converged, fully software-defined and automated architecture. We called the new iteration of our network eNGINe, which stands for New Generation International Network. What we have done is to simplify the network backbone by merging our B2B network with our wholesale network. The result is an architecture that can give our customers the very extensive footprint of the B2B network plus the bandwidth of the wholesale network. It offers our customers a lot more flexibility and adaptability to give their customers what they need.

Q. What else does eNGINe offer?

A. We looked at other ways we could give our customers more control in general. We implemented network function virtualization (NFV) and, more recently, network function containerization in the network. This gives them a very clear separation between the infrastructure layer, and the network services later - things like access, security, voice, roaming, and so on. 

To do this, we needed a telco Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Telco IaaS) layer that offered a large footprint. Fortunately, the Orange network already comprises 30 IaaS points of presence (PoPs) worldwide, and that number is currently being expanded to 100 PoPs. The strategy behind this is to get us closer than ever to the end customer, and we want to be at less than 10ms for 80% of our customers.

Our IaaS PoPs are effectively mini-clouds that host our Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), and connect our customers to cloud and content providers. They’re called Orange Next Gen Hubs: they can host any VNF, and they revolutionize how flexibly our customers can operate. It’s a significant shift, moving from a network of rigid boxes to one of virtualized functions. As well as greater flexibility, eNGINe will give significantly reduced time to market. In the previous network model, deploying a service to a new location could take up to six months. Now, in the new virtualized eNGINe model, you can activate a new service in any of the 100 locations with just a few clicks.

Q. What comes next? 

A. This is all underpinned by network automation, APIzation and orchestration, designed to give our customers and partners the ability to request a new service quickly and conveniently and upgrade it easily. Our end goal is zero-touch provisioning, where our customers can use automation tools for all their network and service configuration needs. So far, we’re making great progress, and on the backbone side, we have 75% of configurations already automated. The target is to achieve that level for customer provisioning by the end of 2022. It’s an exciting time, and we’re in the process of transforming all our network services into microservices that can be initiated using APIs. We’re putting our customers’ needs and demands first by making our international networks more agile and adaptable than ever.

You may also be interested in these articles: