Back in April, DISH, the fourth wireless operator in the US market announced plans to work with Amazon Web Services to leverage AWS infrastructure and services to build a cloud-based 5G Open Radio Access Network.
DISH plans to spend up to $10 billion on its overall 5G network ambitions. What makes the intention to run all of its network computing functions inside public cloud stand out is how much it’s a break from the way that network providers around the world are executing their own 5G rollouts.
At the forefront of DISH’s push is Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne, the man responsible for the firm’s network architecture, RF network and strategy, core network architecture and strategy, cloud and edge strategy, security, transport, 5G lab management and interoperability testing. He’s keen to point out how big a deal the cloud strategy is:
I joined DISH to build and design a new 5G wireless network from the ground up nationwide and - something that had never been done before - entirely in the cloud. This is a world first. Having a true open cloud native network will be a game changer.
That’s in keeping with DISH’s normal pattern of behavior, he argues:
Here in the US when most people hear about DISH, they probably don't think of wireless. But DISH has a long history of being a pathfinder that is not afraid to reinvent itself, from sending satellite dishes in the back of a truck to launching its own satellites and to disrupting itself with the launch of Sling TV. Now we're forging another new path. It's a first in the telecom industry and we're doing it with AWS.
Not just another G
Existing 4G and 5G networks have been built with voice and smartphones in mind, he explains, but at DISH the firm is looking to empower machines and humans beyond smartphones:
This is not 4G+. Legacy carriers have been upgrading the same hardware and the same infrastructure since the days of 2G. But again, we're not just building another G. We see an opportunity to do more. We're building the first architecture that is truly optimized for the cloud. It promises tremendous advances, not just for human communications, but also for machine-to-machine and, of course, for humans to control those machines, like cars, robots, drones. The results will be a game changer for businesses across the industry and enterprises.
To put all this in context, Rouanne offers up the example of cell phones before the advent of the App Store:
You'd pick up that brick out of the box and the basic features you'd get where all you would get. Then suddenly, with the App Store, anyone could develop their own unique personal apps to meet their needs or their customer's needs. Today as a consumer, I can design the experience that I want. That is exactly what we are going to do and we're going to do that together with AWS.
Each enterprise customer of DISH wireless will be able to use it to define the experience they need. We call DISH 5G, the network of networks, where each sub-network is defined by the enterprise for their customers. It's not just 'one size fits all', like we're used to. It will be customizable by speed, latency and data requirements and many other features. In fact, some say we are the AWS of wireless. AWS transforms our companies and DISH with the power of AWS will now transform wireless connectivity, providing a customer experience the way AWS does for cloud computing.
There are three main benefits that the collaboration with AWS will deliver, according to Rouanne, starting with data centricity:
Because DISH 5G is in the cloud, we'll be able to unlock, but also protect, information in a way that will change any market, any enterprise. Today networks are like that brick phone, but on DISH 5G companies will be able to utilize aggregated and anonymized data to identify patterns and improve customer experience.
Imagine you run a company with a fleet of vehicles, some shops, warehouses. You will be able to augment the data from your vehicles, from your shops, from your warehouse and your customers with the network data to make your service much more competitive.
Secondly, AWS will help DISH to drive automation at scale, something which Rouanne argues matters a great deal:
It matters because we are going to have hundreds of networks and we need to manage the complexity. The truth is today nobody can do this. Existing operators manage one single monolithic network. We'll manage a network of networks because of our ability to automate by leveraging AWS services, like Data Lake, analytics, AI and machine learning.
Finally there’s the ability to connect the edge to the cloud in a simplified manner. Many enterprises have some sort of project to bring services capability to the edge, says Rouanne, but today that’s very complex:
With our cloud architecture, we want to drastically simplify the edge and make running software at the edge as simple as making a phone call. One of the benefits of this cloud native software is innovation at the speed of the cloud and that is so much faster than what we saw in telecoms in the last decades.
To give you an example of what we already see today, in our 5G network in the cloud, we can create a nationwide replica in the network in days and scale it up and down at will. That would have taken years on the classical 4G or 5G network. And we can literally move the software around and north and south in hours, which again would have taken years in existing networks because it's tied to tons of hardware.
DISH has always been a disruptor and that’s going to continue, concludes Rouanne:
Looking ahead, DISH is going to be the enabler of technology that people have not even imagined yet. There is so much potential.