Open source software (OSS) serves as the foundation of IT infrastructure worldwide, allowing e-commerce platforms and innovative over the top (OTT) players to bring services to market quickly. OSS is gradually driving the innovation agenda for communications service providers (CSPs), and by extension, it is now challenging the dominance of proprietary solutions in the telecoms industry.
ABI Research predicts that OSS holds the potential to play a key role in telco cloud deployments, a market that will potentially grow to US$29 billion by 2025.
CSPs that wish to keep abreast with OTT and web scale companies may have to implement the same technologies and agile processes to stay competitive and rapidly innovate. OSS and by extension, cloud technologies, promise nimbleness, but whether CSPs can seize the opportunity remains to be seen.
Telecoms are driven by standard bodies that have long cycle times to next-generation technologies. On the other hand, open source is characterized by an agile approach that moves faster.
“Though CSPs are at different timeslots in their digitalization journey, they should collectively propel the open source agenda forward. A close collaboration between standard bodies and open source communities is a step in that direction,” said Don Alusha, senior analyst at ABI Research.
Furthermore, a key consideration before OSS garners vendors’ support is the means of monetization.
There are two main monetization models that vendors can potentially use to commercialize OSS. Namely, there is the support model and the alternative where the core of the product is open source, but vendors add proprietary bells and whistles on top.
Red Hat pioneered the support model and it remains the leading vendor in commercializing OSS using that option. Other companies such as Cloudera and Hortonworks have successfully embraced underlying OSS to offer enterprise-grade modules under a commercial license.
In telecoms, the adoption of OSS is already underway among CSPs and it will almost certainly be mainstream by 2025. To that end, CSPs no longer hold reservations in adopting OSS but are now considering ways to include it in their network operations and commercial undertakings.
The industry at large stands to benefit from OSS innovation with the introduction of IT and cloud solutions. But, unlike the IT domain, telecoms infrastructure is characterized by stringent performance, reliability and security requirements that require telco-specific arrangements.
Alusha added that commercial models notwithstanding, telco vendors like Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE can potentially leverage OSS to realize performance and scalability as they transition their products to cloud-native equivalents.
According to ABI Research OSS serves as an enablement technology for these vendors as opposed to building a business out of OSS.
“But eventual diffusion of 5G may well mean that vendors will need to invest significantly in open source projects to develop carrier-grade products and services in next 5 years. When that take place, vendors will need to channel time and investment to establish a presence in open source communities,” Alusha concluded.